It’s become an increasingly common point of discussion to link the Imus firing to the dismissal of all charges in the Duke Lacrosse case. I was not yet blogging when, just over a year ago, allegations emerged from an African-American escort/dancer that she had been gang raped at an off-campus party by members of the Duke University Lacrosse team. The case was problematic almost from the start. It emerged relatively early on that the witness had a troubled past, including a previous unproved allegation of sexual assault, that there was no DNA evidence linking the accused to the alleged crimes and that the DA, Mike Nifong, had acted in a reckless manner, publicly and repeatedly vilifying the accused before he had amassed convincing evidence against them. Almost from the first, Nifong’s critics accused him of pushing this case in order to aid in his re-election campaign in a city with a substantial African American voting population. Whether this is true, or whether Nifong’s ultimate re-election hinged on African American support, I don’t know. But, whatever the motive for his conduct, the misconduct hearing he now faces appears well-deserved. My thought when Nifong first brought the case was that a DA would not pursue such a case unless he really thought he could get a conviction. And, as I’ve noted previously, the New York Times, in a long article last July, after the case had already begun to unravel, reviewed in detail the case file and found that there was a basis for moving forward, even without the DNA evidence. But, the accuser’s changing stories, the lack of DNA evidence, the incontrovertible alibi of one of the three accused and the fact that Nifong himself was so obviously incapable of acting impartially about this case meant that it just didn’t have a leg to stand on. We’ve all known for months that eventual dismissal was the likely outcome.
The inter-weaving of this story with the Imus story comes not only from the timing of the firing and case dismissal, within twenty four hours of one another. It also stems from the intense focus on the role that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson played in the public unraveling of Imus. In my earlier Imus posts this week, I maintained that the lumping of Jackson and Sharpton on this issue is curious, since they’ve played very different roles in the controversy - Sharpton a relatively significant one, Jackson much less of one. But, the two have also been lumped together in the linking of the Imus imbroglio with the Duke Lacrosse case. Beginning Thursday night, when I heard Adam Gold on 850 the buzz in Raleigh (and almost all of his callers), there was a trope repeated endlessly over the next couple of days: when are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson going to apologize to the falsely accused Duke Lacrosse players? Gold himself asked that question throughout the evening, though he answered it by saying that he wasn’t going to hold his breath. But, between Gold and his callers, there was repeated goading directed at the two activists for having come down to North Carolina, stirred the pot, agitated for the conviction of the players and for having vilified those players - (in some versions calling them devils - and not Blue Devils). Gold, I should note, still believes that something very ugly likely happened on the night of March 13, 2006 - that the accuser was likely mistreated (and no one disputes that racial epithets were directed at both women involved in the party), felt genuinely threatened and may have been a victim of what we would call ’sexual harassment.” (a view of the situation that seems plausible to me). But, Gold noted, this is still a far cry from rape and therefore, a terrible miscarriage of justice.
In any event, some variation on the theme of Jackson and Sharpton needing to apologize aired repeatedly on many sports media. Jason Whitlock who has become a media darling as America’s favorite new spokesman on what ails Black America, told Colin Cowherd that Sharpton and Jackson were “ambulance chasers” and “terrorists” (yes, he used that word) and told Cowherd’s audience that “Jesse went down to Duke and stirred in that mess…and I am not saying that Jesse is totally responsible…Mike Nifong is responsible too.”
And, then voice rising in anger, he said:
“have we had an hour long press conference putting these people up on a cross yet…they faced rape charges for a year based on the word of two people with no credibility. And, Jesse Jackson went down there and called people out and offered this woman a scholarship when anybody with a brain, any grown man over 21 with a brain, I mean come on, you’re talking about college kids versus escorts…come on, if this had been black players at Georgetown versus two white escorts, would anyone have believed that story…it was terribly easy to call this…has jesse offered them an apology…” (Whitlock made almost the same point to Tucker Carlson onCarlson’s MSNBC program. He also attacked Sharpton and Jackson during a debate with Sharpton on the Today show Friday morning. I don’t share The Big Lead’s characterization of who got the better of whom in that exchange, but here’s their account, including a transcript of the segment).
Michael Kay, of ESPN radio in New York, also angrily decried the double standard at work in Imus’ firing and asked: “has Al Sharpton apologized to the three kids at Duke? Remember, he was front and center down there when the three kids got charged.”
Kay was, I should note, more worked up about the “gutless” behavior of CBS for waiting eight days and a mass bail-out by corporate sponsors before deciding to act on its supposed “revulsion” at Imus’ comments. But, his rhetorical question about Sharpton echoed, as I’ve noted, a sentiment raised by almost every commentator and caller I heard between Thursday afternoon and late Friday.
I should mention, too, that even before commentators started
questioning whether Sharpton and Jackson would apologize to the Duke
Lacrosse players, many were, following Whitlock’s lead, asking why they
haven’t made a big deal out of the misogyny and incivil language of rap
music. To give one of countless examples, On Mike and Mike Friday
morning, in an interview otherwise devoted to discussing Jackie
Robinson, Peter Gammons weighed in on Imus by telling Greenie and Golic
that he wished “certain African American leaders” paid more attention
to offensive lyrics in rap music.
Interestingly, a few minutes after Gammons went off the air, Greenie was dismissive of this line of attack:
“There are some who are now saying, well why aren’t Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson going after the rappers. Well…I don’t know whether they are or aren’t…the point of it is this. Outrage is a purely subjective emotion and it is not outrageous to suggest that Al Sharpton may or may not have been outraged by what Don Imus said and is not outraged by what is said on an album…or CD, whether it’s Snoop Dogg, or 50-cent, or Jay-Z…The Janet Jackson episode is a perfect example…I wasn’t outraged by it, you weren’t outraged by it…and some people were. But, if you’re one of the people who’s emailing this show saying why isn’t anybody doing anything about this - why aren’t you? If you’re outraged, go do it. What happened to Imus is that some people were outraged by it, they did somehting about it, and that’s how things get done…”
Greenie also addressed directly Jason Whitlock’s question/challenge about why Sharpton and Jackson didn’t talk about rap music:
“I’ve already answered that question, Jason, because outrage is a selective feeling…you don’t have to be upset about the rappers in order to be upset about Imus.”
I mention Greenie’s comments because he was virtually alone among mainstream sports media in not having presumed to know whether Sharpton or Jackson had or hadn’t spoken out about rap music. Whitlock, to take one example, has been particularly intent on substituting assertion for argument and innuendo for analysis when it comes to Jackson and Sharpton.
I did about two minutes of googling earlier today, and here’s one account I found (from the right-wing Newsmax), from a speech Sharpton gave to the Urban League in 2005:
“Sharpton also took aim at black popular culture. Noting that in some U.S. cities, black male unemployment exceeds 50 percent, Sharpton said black music and movies only aggravate the situation.
“We come out in response to that with movies like (the 2005) “Hustle and Flow” and tell our kids that the personification of black men is a black pimp of a white prostitute that wants to be a rapper who shoots the rapper and at the end of the movie, [a] black woman he had as his prostitute has his baby and the white prostitute becomes the head of the record company and makes the money while he’s in jail. That don’t make sense,” Sharpton said to applause.
“People emulate what they see …We cannot succumb to a generation that acts like it’s all right to celebrate being down. It’s one thing to be down, it’s another thing to celebrate being down,” he explained.
Referring to gangster rappers, Sharpton said, “We’ve gone from ‘black and proud’ to groups now calling themselves “Niggers with an attitude.”
Sharpton told the panel discussion of how he has confronted rappers about their lyrics only to be told that the rappers simply “reflect the times.” Sharpton said black art and culture used to project its “hopes for the future.”
“In slavery we wasn’t singing, ‘you a low down cotton pickin ho.’ That would’ve reflected the times,” he said to more laughter and applause.
“In the civil rights era, we sang “We shall overcome” we didn’t sing ‘You in the back of the bus, got gum on your show, no good MF.’ I mean we’ve been down before. We never romanticized it and put melody to it and acted like it was all right,” he added.
I am willing to bet that this is not the only statement Sharpton’s ever made on the subject and, on Friday, after the Imus firing, Sharpton promised to take the fight to all media that use degrading language. And, in fact, Golic offered a criticism of Sharpton and Jackson Friday morning that completely undercut the claim that they never spoke out about rap music: that, in fact, a criticism Golic said he heard was that both men had repeatedly condemned hip hop and hadn’t accomplished much, so had decided to bail on that cause for the easier pickings of the Imus situation. But, of course, the Imus case took just over a week to play out - hardly a basis for saying that the two bailed out on the cause of fighting offensive music lyrics.
Inspired by Greenie to ask - rather than assert - what role Jackson and Shaprton played in the Duke case, since Whitlock, Kay, Gold and many others asserted that they played a central (and inflammatory) role, I started to hunt around to look. And, I confess, I was shocked by the result: neither Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson ever came to North Carolina at any time after the accusations were first made. In fact, in April 2006, when Sharpton was contemplating coming to Durham to get involved in protests, local community leaders specifically asked Sharpton not to because they thought his presence would unnecessarily inflame the situation. And, being the media-hound, hothead and “terrorist” that Jason Whitlock thinks he is - Sharpton agreed. For his part, Jesse Jackson never came either and when, in April 2006, was asked about his plans to do so - said he didn’t have any, because he was involved at that time in projects related to Hurricane Katrina and immigration (because, again, Jesse never involves himself in substantive issues of real concern to people in tough circumstances). Jackson did famously offer to pay the college tuition of the accuser, even if it turned out she was making a false accusation. Here’s what Jackson told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now in April 2006:
Well, you know, the circumstances surrounding the Duke case are still being revealed by the prosecutor. What I do know is I have compassion on the young woman. And if her argument is, as she tries to pay her way through school and sustain her two children, that she had to strip and to bare her body as a way of making a living, let’s relieve her of that burden. While there are those who would say, Dont abort; adopt, I would say, you know, Don’t strip; scholarship. Let’s get her a scholarship and a job, that she may be able to work her way out of the hole without going deeper into it. It is unfortunate that we’re so tolerant of violence against women, and that becomes another reason, I think, to stand with her until we find out what’s happening.
Just out of curiosity, does this sound like a hotheaded, inflaming terrorist to you? It’s actually, even for sports media, a stunning display of negligence and professional incompetence - to actually fabricate a role for Jackson and Sharpton in the Duke case that they simply did not play. And, by the way, isn’t the role imputed to these two men not itself a sign of racism - that these hotheaded Black leaders must have engaged in certain activities because they’re hot headed Black leaders? So much so that we don’t need to find out anything about what they actually do and don’t do, because we can just assume the worst about them at all times.
In fact, the very sober-minded Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an African American writer who is often critical of various aspects of Black culture, had this to say about the Duke case last December:
There was a lesson too for black leaders. To their credit, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t stampede to the barricades and demand conviction and severe punishment for the accused assailants. In the past they have done that in other hot ticket racially tinged cases. Who can forget Tawana Brawley and the black students that tore up a football stadium in Decatur, Illinois a few years back? Sharpton and Jackson instantly screamed racism. Every time they did, they hopelessly muddled the case, and inflame racial tensions. In the Duke case, a reflexive shout of racism would have further discredited the legitimate fight against sexual victimization. Because of that, black leaders should have gone one step further and urged the Duke protesters to cool their rhetoric until all the facts were in. They didn’t.
I need to return briefly to Whitlock’s comments, quoted above. Whitlock is making a fascinating spectacle of himself (incredibly, he was reduced to telling Cowherd, unprompted, that he loved Black people) and seems to outdo himself with each passing day. More specifically, two issues merit attention. The first is Whitlock’s statement about the martyrdom of the three Duke players - David Evans, Reade Seligman and Colin Finnerty. That they were falsely accused of rape is terrible. But, Whitlock’s comment suggests not merely that these three men were unfairly and grossly singled out for unwarranted legal persecution. Rather, Whitlock intimates, that they represent something larger. But, what is that? That well-off white men suffer unfairly in our legal system? If Whitlock believes that, he’s genuinely suffering from a break with reality. As wrong as Nifong was, the context that is missing from discussions of the case today is that the events of that night did take place in an ugly, racially charged atmosphere that led many people, understandably, to see in the case the playing out of long-standing patterns of abuse and power in America. And, only the fantastically disillusioned could imagine that white males, especially those from well-off families and privileged universities, are somehow more persecuted, more degraded and more mistreated than African American women who are selling their bodies for a living. Did many people rush to judgment? Absolutely. Did many individuals read into the situation a history of degradation and power imbalance that led to that rush to judgment. It would seem so. But, can we please stop accusing the “Black community” of self-pitying martyrdom while at the same time allowing to go unchecked this whining self-pitying by many whites in the media that they are the unfair victims of a “double standard.” And, on the issue of a rush to judgment, that’s not something that sports media, in general, have generally cared about whenever a professional athlete is mentioned in any connection with a criminal proceeding, even if it later turns out that the athlete in question was not found guilty of any wrongdoing at all. What happened to Dale Davis last summer is a good example. What happened to Fred Weary, detailed a few months back by Dwil, is another.
Whitlock’s other noteworthy comment was that the word of college guys should always be taken over that of strippers. He’s essentially saying out of one side of his mouth that these boys were persecuted because of a facts-be-damned attitude pervaded by unfair stereotypes about what they represent demographically. And, out of the other side of his mouth, Whitlock insists that they should have been taken at their word (and the women disbelieved) precisely because of who they all were, demographically, even before we knew the facts. “Knee-jerk” has become a Whitlock trademark. And, given the media exposure he’s getting, I guess it’s working for him.