KC Johnson on New Duke Hoax Scholarship.--

KC Johnson has a long post taking apart a recent scholarly article on the Duke Rape Hoax by three faculty members — Wahneema Lubiano, Michael Hardt, and Robyn Weigman -- the first two of whom were involved in stirring up hatred against the Lacrosse players.

Apparently, some of the Social Text article is unintentionally funny:

Lubiano, Weigman, and Hardt had little difficulty in identifying the true victims of 2006-2007 events in Durham—themselves, and their fellow members of the Group of 88.

The victimizers? Not Mike Nifong, or Sgt. Gottlieb, or Duke administrators who failed to enforce the Faculty Handbook. Not the Duke professors who rushed to judgment or abused their classroom authority. No, the victimizers, according to the Lubiano Trio, were “the blogs.”

According to the Lubiano Trio, “the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident — scholars of African American and women’s studies. Instead, administrators, like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case. Some faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race and gender) without being legitimate participants in it.”

If the Group’s expertise made its members “most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident,” there was nothing, to my knowledge, to prevent them from doing so. Instead, of course, Group members by and large pursued an opposite approach. They rushed to judgment in issuing their statement when most people presumed the lacrosse players guilty—and then, when the case started to collapse, they either refused to explain their earlier position or offered almost comical rationalizations for their spring 2006 statements and actions.

The Lubiano Trio’s new narrative requires some . . . creative . . . re-interpretations of the past. To take some examples:

The Group of 88’s Ad

Here’s how the Lubiano Trio’s article described the Group of 88’s ad: It “sought to grapple with issues of campus life and the cultures of privilege sustained by elite institutions such as Duke University.”

Yet here’s how Lubiano herself described the ad in early April 2006, when she invited people to sign: “African & African-American Studies is placing an ad in The Chronicle about the lacrosse team incident [emphasis added] . . . We will not be listing the names on the ad itself (only the supporting departments and program units).”

The Lubiano Trio’s article makes no mention of this inviting e-mail, nor the ad’s unequivocal assertion that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum, nor the ad’s thanking—“for not waiting and for making yourselves heard”—the protesters who had presumed guilt, nor the ad’s claim that five departments officially endorsed its contents even though none of the departments actually voted on the matter. It remains unclear how any of the above items relate to “issues of campus life and the cultures of privilege sustained by elite institutions such as Duke University.”

The Blogs

Intoned the Lubiano Trio, “The latter framing [focusing on the accuracy of the allegations] was embodied most prominently by Friends of Duke University, an organization formed to raise money for the defendants.”

What are they talking about? FODU, a grassroots organization of Duke alumni and supporters, was created in summer 2006 not to raise money for the defendants but to urge the Duke administration to publicly demand that Durham authorities accord to Duke students the same due process rights granted to all other Durham residents.

The Lubiano Trio appears to have confused FODU (which wasn’t a fundraising organization) with the Association for Truth and Fairness, the organization that did raise money to help defray the defendants’ legal bills.

The only problem: the ATF wasn’t a blog—which makes its existence irrelevant to the Lubiano Trio’s commentary on the blogosphere.

The Media’s Role

The Lubiano Trio informed their readers that “the television newsweekly 60 Minutes aired five segments on the topic, and stories appeared in the New Yorker, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated, on the editorial pages of every major newspaper in the country, and on local and national evening newscasts.”

Actually, 60 Minutes ran three, not five, segments on the topic. And the New York Times, which most people (especially, I suspect, members of the Group of 88) would consider a “major newspaper in the country,” did not publish an editorial on the case.

The Defense Attorneys and the Group of 88

After scouring the defense attorneys’ change-of-venue motion, the Lubiano Trio concluded, “Since its publication, the ad has figured prominently in both campus and media debate and was cited as evidence in a defense motion for change of venue, on the assertion that the accused players could not receive a fair trial in a town in which prominent community members, including faculty, had failed publicly to defend their innocence.”

In fact, the December 2006 defense motion contained no such assertion. (The Lubiano Trio’s article contains a footnote citing the defense motion, but the authors, perhaps unsurprisingly, elected not to specify a page number in which this assertion allegedly was made.) To my knowledge, no defense lawyer, at any stage of the case, stated that “prominent community members, including faculty, had failed publicly to defend [the players’] innocence.” Defense attorneys spoke about the presumption of innocence—a far different thing than an outright declaration of innocence. And many critics of the Group of 88, including me, spoke of the need for academics, of all groups in American society, to speak up for due process—which is also a far different thing than an outright declaration of innocence.

That the Lubiano Trio equated calls for professors to defend due process and the presumption of innocence with demands that academics actually affirm the players’ innocence gives a sense of how skewed were Group members’ conception of the justice system. . . .

Blog Criticism of the Group

Blogs, according to the Lubiano Trio, used “powerful tactics of harassment” against members of the Group. “Typically we [Group members] should . . . work as maids for the players’ families [or] return to the slave quarters.” Group members “have also been found guilty of numerous crimes, including treason, sedition, and tax evasion(!).”

Although the Lubiano Trio’s article does contain footnotes, the Group members elected to supply not even one citation for any of these outlandish claims. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out why.

What does the inclusion of these unsourced ramblings say about the editorial policies of the Duke University Press journal Social Text?

Here is what the scholars wrote in Social Text regarding the Group of 88:

[They] would become the objects not simply of hostility, on campus and off, but also of enormous faux-juridical speculation that sets forth the “legal” case against them and establishes the terms of the judgment they “owe” to make amends. (Typically we should resign, work as maids for the players’ families, return to the slave quarters, apologize, or simply hide in shame. At the very least, as Joseph W. Bellacosa has argued in a Newsday opinion piece, “Duke Faculty Should Be Shunned by Students.”). . . . In the language of the blogs, we were not just communists but traitors, and the fields of study we occupied were not areas of scholarly inquiry but pathological hothouses in the service of anti-American sentiment and reverse racism.

Here is the confusingly written footnote supporting the last quoted sentence:

A number of blogs have focused on discrediting the scholarly projects of specific members of the so-called 88 as a means of casting suspicion on their possible standing in the Communist Party and their complicity with terrorism and anti-Israeli sentiment. They have also been found guilty of numerous crimes, including treason, sedition, and tax evasion.

First, I strongly doubt that suggestions that the offending professors should "work as maids" or "return to the slave quarters" were "Typically" offered by their critics. Indeed, in a very quick Google search, I couldn't find any instances of these two suggestions. Such disgusting insults must have been relatively rarely made by their editorial and blogger critics, if made by them at all.

Second, the way that the footnote's comment about being a communist is presented makes it appear that such a claim is unwarranted. But according to a mainstream news magazine review of Johnson's book, Michael Hardt is a "self-described 'joyful communist.'" Is Hardt now implying that he was misquoted, or is he objecting to people describing him in the same terms that he describes himself? Certainly, there is nothing sleazy about calling a self-described communist a communist, just as it would be fair to call a self-described fascist a fascist.

Third, as KC Johnson notes, it was bad form for the professors not to have supported their claims about the blogs with actual citations to the offending posts. Assuming that the professors are not engaged in their own little hoax, I wonder whether their complaints about blogs aren't mostly about commenters to the blogs, rather than the posts of actual bloggers. Given the three professors' documented sloppiness with the truth and their unusual claims in their new article, the editors of Social Text should have required citations before allowing them to make such questionable claims in a scholarly article. (Indeed, it's not too late for the editors to publish an errata online giving citations for each claim I quoted and indicating which of them were actually made by bloggers themselves.)

Last, why do these Duke professors bother to write about the Duke lacrosse hoax if they are not going to deal with their own actions honestly? If they can't simply face the truth, they should put down their shovels and stop digging.