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Book Review: “It’s Not About The Truth”

Former Sports Illustrated associate editor Don Yaeger’s book about the Duke lacrosse case, written with former head coach Mike Pressler, is a very good overview of the circumstances surrounding the fateful events of March 13-14, 2006, when members of Duke’s lacrosse team created a “perfect storm”: hiring two adult entertainers for a party that went dreadfully wrong.

It’s Not About The Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered supplies some details about the events of that evening that I wasn’t familiar with from my contemporaneous coverage of the case, supplied in interviews with players for the book, and as such gives us a more complete picture of what actually happened at the house at 610 North Buchanan in Durham that evening. The bulk of the book, however, is about heroes and villains, and more of the latter than the former; those looking for a balanced, objective account of events may want to take some of the book’s aspersions with a grain of salt.

The obvious villain is Mike Nifong, but Duke administrators Joe Alleva and John Burness, as well as the school’s president, Dick Brodhead, take their fair share of the blame, as do the infamous “Group of 88″ Duke professors (including several former colleagues of mine in the Duke political science department); the Durham police also take their lumps. About the only mainstream media figures to be praised are News and Observer columnist Ruth Sheehan, who did much to aid and abet Nifong’s poisoning of the well in the early days of the case but quickly changed sides once the wind started blowing in the opposite direction; Bill O’Reilly, whose involvement in the case was peripheral at best (MSNBC’s Dan Abrahms was a far more effective advocate for the accused players at the peak of the media frenzy); and Duke Chronicle columnist Stephen Miller, whose position as the chief campus cheerleader for David Horowitz goes unmentioned. A few bloggers, like K.C. Johnson and LieStoppers, get credit; others, such as JohnInCarolina and the infamous DukeObsrvr, do not, suggesting a research strategy that was based on who was still writing on the case in early 2007.

A bit more disturbing is the degree of whitewashing of the lacrosse team throughout the book. One notable example: the allegations of assault and battery in Washington D.C. involving Collin Finnerty, one of the three players ultimately accused of rape, go completely unmentioned. Nor is there much effort to place the lacrosse case in context: Duke’s responses to the 610 party allegations are compared to a similar 2007 incident allegedly involving a party organized by members of an African-American fraternity at an off-campus house—a case in which the alleged assailant wasn’t even a Duke student. Duke’s past crackdowns on on-campus fraternities for minor infractions–less serious than the allegations in question in the lacrosse case–aren’t mentioned at all, although Yaeger might have gotten a hint of the Duke administration’s level of discomfort about the Duke party scene when recounting Nan Keohane’s notorious keg control scheme or more recent efforts to rein in Tailgate.

In closing, while I think Yaeger’s work is a pretty powerful polemic–aided by the access to Mike Pressler, his family, and a number of lacrosse team members–this is not the definitive story of the “rush to justice” in the case that many will be looking for; perhaps the forthcoming book by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson will be more satisfactory on that score.

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About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State College in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi.

Comments

  1. Duke lacrosse book review…

    As promised, the review is up at OTB. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the book, although I’d imagine that those less familiar with the case would think it was better….

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  2. Derrick says:

    Chris,

    If you are looking for an honest account of this case, I have serious doubts that KC will be the person to provide it. I think that some of his reporting and investigating should be commended, but he has obviously become an advocate for the Lacrosse teams. It seems that most people either believe that they did it or that they were some choir boys railroaded by the system, where for me its somewhere in the middle.

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  3. Mark says:

    where for me its somewhere in the middle.

    Expand on that. Certainly hiring strippers for a party doesn’t violate any laws, and they were completey exonerated of what they were charged with.

    In my view, once it was clear these guys were being railroaded by Nifong it would be imprudent not to become advocates on their behalf.

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  4. Alan Kellogg says:

    One notable example: the allegations of assault and battery in Washington D.C. involving Collin Finnerty…

    How is that relevant? How does the one incident play any sort of role the other? Or is it a case of showing what he’s capable of, and so he must have done wrong in the present matter. When did being involved in an assault make one guilty of rape?

    I know, that’s not what you said. I’m sure it’s not what you intended to imply. But, that’s how i read it. A man capable of assaulting another man is capable of raping a woman, and therefor…

    All an accusation means is that someone is thought to have done something. It is up to the justice system to determine if he has or not. An accusation is not a conviction. The three were found innocent (my emphasis). Not only were they not responsible for any crime, there was no crime in the first place. Nothing happened, and the defendents were not responsible for what did not happen.

    The accusations were false and it is time for you to acknowledge that fact and get on with your life.

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  5. Of course, the allegations were false. But that doesn’t excuse Yaeger for spending over 300 pages without once mentioning anything about the Finnerty assault allegations*–even as evidence in favor of the thesis that Nifong was fishing for suspects and Finnerty was thus an easy target. The closest he comes is quoting someone else talking about “Georgetown,” which makes no sense unless you know the context.

    Nor, come to think of it, does Yaeger go into Nifong’s efforts to intimidate cabbie Moez Mustafa into changing his story about Reade Seligmann’s alibi. It’s just bad reporting all around, in my opinion.

    * After checking again, he does mention this in the timeline at the back of the book, but I don’t remember anything about it in the body of the text.

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  6. just me says:

    I think the behavior of the Lacrosse players isn’t all that different from what a lot of college students do and are capable of.

    Most of what the players did, while not commendable, really isn’t that far outside of the norm for many young men in the late teens, early twenties. Drinking and sex are pretty standard for that age group, and I hiring strippers isn’t illegal and I can easily see college age men hiring one.

    Underage drinking was the only thing illegal that apparently happened that night, and the DA didn’t even bother investigating or charging anyone for that, and that is a crime that goes on all the time at colleges everywhere.

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