'Rape' case should serve as cautionary tale for all of us

Thirteen months ago, three Duke University lacrosse players, all white, were charged with raping an African-American stripper they had hired to perform at a team party. Last week, they were exonerated.

What happened in between should serve as a cautionary tale for Americans everywhere.

Perhaps it was only fitting that on the day North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the three men innocent, his apology was lost in the cacophony of CBS's firing of Don Imus. After all, the media hurricane caused by the allegations against them makes the Imus situation look like a squall.

But as most of America continues to sit on its moral high horse about an ill-advised slur from an out-of-touch shock jock, I'm left to wonder: Where's all the outrage on behalf of three young men who always will have the word "rape" attached to their names for the rest of their lives thanks to a lying accuser and a rogue district attorney?

Where are you, Jesse Jackson, the man who compared the players to slave owners, then offered to put the stripper through school, no matter the outcome of the case? Where are you, "Duke 88," the arts and science faculty who took out a full-page ad in the Duke newspaper condemning the students, then put up "wanted" posters featuring mug shots of the entire team all over campus? Where are you, throngs of protesters who paraded outside the home where the alleged assault occurred, carrying signs that read "CASTRATE"?

The saddest part about all of this for me as a journalist is that the only person to express contrition in this case -- which affected countless other lives when the lacrosse team saw its season canceled and its coach resign amid tremendous pressure -- is Cooper. Nifong's "apology" is half-hearted at best; the university's official statement is hypocritcal, given its initial actions in the wake of the allegations; and even many in the media have refused to make amends, continuing to take pot-shots at the accused. One specific blogger, Terry Moran, asks us not to "feel too sorry for the Dukies":

As students of Duke University or other elite institutions, these young men will get on with their privileged lives. There is a very large cushion under them -- the one that softens the blows of life for most of those who go to Duke or similar places, and have connections through family, friends and school to all kinds of prospects for success.

Then, in a move most often attributed to lawyers defending accused rapists, Moran proceeds to shred the character of the victims, citing their presence at the party in the first place and a two-year-old charge against one of the victims, among other things, presumably as evidence that they at least somewhat were "asking for it."

The irony here is dripping and would be comical if it weren't so blatantly self-serving.

Just like a woman's promiscuity doesn't make her deserving of rape, these students' privilege doesn't somehow make what happened to them any less egregious. Its precisely that privilege that put them in the spotlight in the first place.

Why can't the leaders of our nation's media simply come forward and say, "We're sorry. We were wrong to rush to such quick judgememt, and next time a high-profile case such as this comes along, we pledge to cover it better, exercising appropriate restraint until the facts come to light"?

Why is it so few people can admit when they're wrong?

Moran's main point is that cases of prosecutorial abuse happen everyday all over this country, and that these men only got the apology they did because of their status. That's a short-sighted viewpoint.

Rather than lamenting what seems like special treatment, I'd like to see someone stand up and take the opposite stance, championing this as an opportunity to serve notice to prosecutors everywhere, letting this serve as a catalyst for change in prosecuting crimes all over our country to ensure that the traditionally abused get the fair shake from the justice system.

In a case where there clearly are no winners, maybe some good can yet come from this.

Other thoughts on the exoneration of the ex-Duke players:

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