In considering the media role in the Duke Lacrosse Case I asserted that one of the deeply troubling trends found in the conclusions being made on the national coverage level exhibited an incredible level of hubris and illustrated little knowledge of Duke, Durham, and North Carolina in general. There was never a starker example of this than Michael Wilbon’s comments on the April 21 PTI program on ESPN. The discussion centered on the Duke Lacrosse topic du jour for that day; the sale of Duke Lacrosse apparel at Duke University stores. The discussion surrounded the motivations certain people had for buying the jerseys with some doing it for support and others as some sort of sick joke. Wilbon then bloviated that the selling and wearing of Duke lacrosse jerseys might not play well in North Carolina since it is a "Red State"(read: conservative) and also had population with strong religious convictions(read: Christian fundamentalists). I scarcely know where to begin with the implication made by that one point.
The first is the use of the term "Red State" to imply that North Carolina is overtly conservative. While NC did vote for George Bush in two elections by overwhelming majorities and does have two Republican senators, it also has a majority Democratic state government. It also should be noted that while most of the state went red in 2004 and 2000, Durham County is a blue county largely due to the black population which traditionally votes at a 90% clip in favor of Democrats. Of course the question I would like Wilbon to answer is why NC being a Red State versus a Blue State makes a bit of difference in this case or why does having a population of individuals who trend towards a more Christian way of life matter either. I would hope that regardless of what you believe, who you vote for, who, where, or what you worship that you would be outraged at what allegedly happened in Durham on March 13th. Is Wilbon implying that Blue Staters or religious novices are somehow less sensitive to the issue or would be more accepting of people wearing Duke Lacrosse jerseys as some kind of novelty? I would think not and essentially what Wilbon did was make some kind of asinine speculation based on commonly held generalizations and patterns of behavior.
Another point of note is two issues concerning the DA. The first is statements made by his opponents in the race for Durham County DA. The other two candidates are basically taking Mike Nifong to task for overexposing the case to the media. There is truth to what they are saying but somewhat in Nifong’s defense is the fact he got pulled into a media war with the defense and anything other than straightforwardness would have led to accusations of a cover-up. I honestly believe that Nifong has put what too much of himself and this case in front of the media. I think reelection politics has a lot to do with that as well the need to match the defense sound bite for sound bite. Time will only tell how much it hurts his case in the end.
Speaking of hurting the case, a revelation was made Friday that the line-up the accuser used to glean the identifications of the two indicted players was made up of only the lacrosse team members and may have broken state procedures on how such photo arrays are done. According to experts photo arrays should include person who look similar to the suspect in question. This apparently was not done and it may jeopardize the identification in its entirety. One question that enters my mind is why they failed to use proper procedure. I think the answer lies with the police and the DA being unable to zero in on a suspect which made it impossible to assemble a photo array of similar pictures since they did not know who to start with in the first place. What basically occurred here was the accuser was presented with a photo array of the whole team from which she picked her alleged attackers. Now, this is not saying she misidentified her attackers or that she is lying. It is however disturbing to think that IF she was making this story up she could have in that moment picked ANYONE out of that array which could have and may have resulted in the indictment of an innocent person. The reason the procedure calls a photo array centering on one suspect is that it protects the rights of individuals who are not under suspicion. Imagine for example a man attacks a woman on the street in front of his apartment building and then runs inside to his apartment. The woman only gets a marginal look at him and did not see where he went once he entered the lobby. So the police decided to assemble a photo array including only the men living in that building. What are the chances she is going to wrongly identify the wrong man and land someone in hot water? I say the chances are really high and that is why the identification may be virtually worthless if it makes past pretrial hearings.