I am suspending blogging for an indefinite period. During that time I do not plan to clear comments*. Thanks to all for their interest.
*update 7/28/09: I will clear comments but sporadically.
Shouting at the ocean with pebbles in my mouth since 2008. The subjects of this blog include forensics, the war-on-terror detainees, the Duke lacrosse case, the Knox/Sollecito case, and the academic world as it intersects the political. It will sometimes examine issues of particular interest to Wilmington, NC and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Recently I posted a response to a post by John in Carolina (JinC). As part of that post I touched up an alleged incident at a bar in Durham called Charlie’s. My reason was that JinC had initially expressed doubts about two witnesses who confirmed the disputed story to KC Johnson, and this troubled me greatly. At the time I had no wish to offer an opinion on whether the incident did or did not happen, but I was concerned that JinC said that KC Johnson and I were “hyping” the story (http://johninnorthcarolina.blogspot.com/2009/07/why-are-kc-johnson-halkides-hyping.html). Therefore, I posted a comment at JinC to indicate my support for the DL players on a subsequent JinC post. JinC seized upon my comment to ask for my opinion about the Charlie’s incident on the grounds that, to put forth the opinion that the incident is anything other than a hoax is in effect to harm the players. I would like to consider the events at Charlie’s before returning to its relationship to the players.
Jill Hopman wrote an article in the Duke Chronicle in which she lashed out at some Duke Lacrosse players for allegedly slamming shots and behaving obnoxiously (http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/2006/03/28/Columns/Acute.Embarrassment-1751335.shtml). Jane Stancill and Anne Blythe’s article in the Raleigh News and Observer (N&O) discusses how Hopman felt ostracized (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/story/423966.html). Their second article only devotes a portion of a paragraph to Hopman’s allegation (http://www.newsobserver.com/122/story/424563.html). Newsweek (4/10/06) noted Hopman’s allegation but also reported a alternative version of events, “(A source close to the families who did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter said there were three players in the bar and they made a single, regretful toast to the team, whose season is on hold for now.)” Sally Fogarty, mother of two DL players, disputed the events, "There was absolutely no scene of lacrosse players at Charlie's yelling 'Duke Lacrosse' after the false allegations. My daughter was actually at the bar with Steph Sparks-Bob Ektrand’s sister-in-law-and two lacrosse players-one of whom is my son."
There are three possibilities with respect to the Charlie’s incident. Jill Hopman’s account of rowdy lacrosse players might be accurate. Or her account might be exaggerated, either deliberately or unconsciously. Finally, her account may be complete fiction.
There are some things about Ms. Hopman’s account that strike me as questionable. Some have asked how the event could possibly be true, given that Hopman indicates that members of the media were there. If they had seen such behavior, they would have reported it. This argument is not airtight; the reporters might have interpreted the players actions differently from Ms. Hopman or decided that the players needed to let off some steam. I wonder whether the lacrosse team had twenty players of legal age to enter a bar, and if underage players were there, it suggests that the person checking IDs must have been deceived. Perhaps she meant to say that only some of the twenty were lacrosse players, but if so, it would suggest that she is a poor reporter.
On the other hand, the idea that someone will make up a story out of whole cloth when that story could be refuted by so many people is also hard to credit. OneSpook wrote here at VfW, “In my opinion only, I believe that the reason Johnson found her “credible” is that (1) there were witnesses that collaborated her version of the events, and (2) that it seems hard to imagine that a first-year law student would make up an entirely false story of a public event that was, by her own admission, witnessed by many others.”
Sally Fogarty’s denial does not cover as much ground as one would wish, in two ways. First, unless her children were at the bar the whole evening, they cannot discuss what might have happened in their absence. This point, however, cuts both ways: It also means that one can believe that some players slammed shots without disputing the Fogarty’s veracity, and I do not question that they are being truthful. Second, the Fogarty children have not said what did happen, only what did not happen. Is their account of what happened similar to the Newsweek story or not?
Some have questioned other aspects of the story. Tarheel Hawkeye asked me in a comment thread at JinC, “How about telling us why the three reporters didn't get the story into the news media. There was a feeding frenzy at the time, but nobody reported anything about lacrosse players at Charlies. And if there were three cops there, why didn't any of them get the word out to their colleagues [Gottlieb and Himan] in the Durham PD?” Good questions, but what could the police at the bar tell their two colleages? It is not a crime to slam shots (assuming it happened). If there were reporters saw rowdy behavior, we should consider two possibilities. One is that they saw the events with a different frame-of-reference than Hopman’s, thinking perhaps that the players needed to let off steam. The other is that one of the reporters in Hopman’s account is Blythe or Stancill, in which case the reporters did get the story into the media. Hopman’s account does not name the reporters, and their identity is unknown, to the best of my knowledge. My conclusion is that the evidence is not strong enough to support a claim that Hopman’s story is utterly without basis in fact.
OneSpook wrote to me to speculate about Hopman’s perspective, “Hopman, steeped in her ‘feminist ideology’ was spring-loaded to believe the worst about the lacrosse team. She likely believed that at least some of them were guilty of a horrible crime against a woman. Thus, not having even the slightest clue about how men think and react in certain situations, and failing to even consider that the rape claim might be a complete lie, she viewed the toast she purports to have seen and felt an ‘Acute Embarassment’ at the behavior exhibited. And it is obvious that she laid it on, as thickly as possible; her account is hyperbolic in the extreme.”
Ultimately, I just don’t think the DL players would choose to behave as Ms. Hopman described. On the other hand, I agree with OneSpook that Ms. Hopman is unlikely to have made up a story out of whole cloth. Thus, I am left with case two, that she exaggerated the events that she witnessed. To me the Newsweek alternative version has the ring of truth.
Now that we have considered each case, let us ask ourselves what if the first case were true? In retrospect, it would not reflect all that badly on the players. Knowing that they were innocent and feeling marginalized by their school, let us say that they slammed shots and yelled. In a college bar this would not exactly be atypical behavior. Moreover, as OneSpook has again helpfully pointed out, the innocent players may have felt much as the American soldiers at Bastogne felt. I would hope that one of them did slam a shot to the 101st Airborne. In the context of 2006 it could be argued, this hypothetical behavior might have reflected an inability to assess the environment in Durham and the need for good public relations. In other words one could argue that if the players did exactly what Hopman had described, they would have been guilty of poor judgment.
Even more enlightening is the comparison of the hypothetical Charlie’s incident with other things the players did or were alleged to have done. When I discuss the case with those only slightly familiar with it, the use of racial slurs at the party comes up most frequently. People have also taken the Georgetown incident to be a case of gay-bashing, and Ryan McFayden’s email may also have come up once or twice (most students of the DL case know that these events were grossly mischaracterized), but I have never heard anyone bring up uncouth behavior at Charlie’s. In my view the incident does not belong in the front rank of events that gave the lacrosse players a worse reputation than they deserved.
Moreover, Duke Dad (who would seem to have a more personal and direct stake in the reputation of Duke students than I do) has indicated in his comments here that DL players slamming shots in a bar would not be a big deal for him, likewise Gregory. For these reasons I politely but firmly resist JinC’s implication that entertaining the possibility of Hopman’s story being even partly true is to turn the players into “collateral damage.” Duke lacrosse supporters can take a range of opinions with respect to what happened and still remain DL supporters in good standing. To extend OneSpook’s football analogy, I may just be a second-string player on the specialty teams, but we are all on the same team with respect to our fundamental interpretations of the case and our complete support of the team and especially of the three indicted players and their families.
Finally, let us return to the question that made me bring up the Charlie’s incident in the first place. In “KC Johnson Now” JinC initially expressed doubts about the existence of two confidential sources, and I discussed in my response why this struck me as being a serious matter. JinC disputes my reading of his words in his follow-up post “Chris Halkides’ Important Opportunity.” It seems to me that JinC is now saying that KC Johnson’s sources existed but that they are not credible or that KC Johnson should not have believed them. If that is so, then what is “settled” is that the sources existed, and JinC and I can agree to disagree about the interpretation of his earlier post.
AppendixStancill and Blythe’s second article pairs Hopman’s story with the candlelight vigil in the same paragraph. This is not the only time in the article in which the authors appear to be unsympathetic to the players. I think it is not an article of which the N&O should be proud. I contacted the reporters to ask about their sources, but I have not received a reply. AMac has indicated that he or she has attempted to contact Ms. Hopman.