The 32 Worst

K C Johnson, on his web site Durham-in-Wonderland, has written about 850,000 words over the past 18 months on the Duke lacrosse scandal. It has been an astonishing, brilliant effort -graceful, accurate, penetrating and fair. Because of the terrible performance of the mainstream press, Johnson’s blogging quickly became the gold standard of reporting on the case. As one blogger said last January, nobody would think of writing about the subject without checking with KC first. If bloggers were eligible for the Pulitzer Prize, Johnson would have won hands down. (Asterisk here: of course those voting for the Pulitzers represent the papers that failed so miserably in covering the non-rape case.)

Every now and then, Johnson supplies a list of worst performances, such as the ten worst columns or the ten worst editorials on the case. Now he has produced, over three days, his list of the 32 worst statements made by anyone.

Wendy Murphy, an adjunct law professor and an unsually appalling talking head for MSNBC, surprised many of us by making the list only twice, getting as high an Number 11 for saying “I bet one or more of the players was, you know, molested or something as a child.” (Several winners assumed guilt and speculated on why the accused were such monsters.) Another surprise is that New York Times writers achieved only two listings – one by sports columnist Selena Roberts, the other by the worst of all reporters to cover the case, sportswriter Duff Wilson.

Rabid professor Grant Farred (Number 5) argued that white Duke students who registered to vote in Durham were engaged in “secret racism,” because the X made by voters on the ballot is “the sign of the white male franchise, itself overridden with the mark of privilege, oppression, slavery, racism, utter contempt for black and native bodies.”

Michael Nifong accounted for 8 of the 32 listings., including Number 1: “If I were one of those (defense) attorneys, I wouldn’t really want to try a case against me either.” Johnson may have been unfair to include Nifong in the competition. Expecting amateur quotemongers to compete with a pro like Nifong is like telling a Little Leaguer to go strike out Babe Ruth.

Number 2 was the always-wrong Duke president Richard Brodhead, who said a month after the story broke: “If (Finnerty and Seligmann) did what is alleged, it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn’t do it, whatever they did is bad enough.” Johnson comments: “We know now that ‘whatever’ Finnerty and Seligmann did: they attended a party they had no role in organizing and they drank some beer.”

Johnson is, of course, co-author of the brilliant new book on the case, Until Proven Innocent co-written with Stuart Taylor, Jr., one of the best columnists and legal writers in the country. To order the book, go to Amazon and be patient – the publisher has been slow in supplying more copies.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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