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.