At Best of the Web Today James Taranto posted: The Narrative Was Right, but the Facts Were Wrong. (scroll down)
Taranto found what he says is a “a damning quote” in American Journalism Review editor Rachel Smolkin’s “ post-mortem on the Duke rape hoax and journalists' credulity in reporting it.” Read along and see if you agree with him.
He begins with this extract from Smolkin’s article:
Perhaps the most complex lessons about the media coverage of the Duke case involve issues of narrative. Unquestionably, the media too readily ran with a simplistic storyline, sacrificing a search for truth. Not only were the accused innocent of rape, the allegations of racial taunts that received so much media attention appear to have been exaggerated.Taranto took it from there
"We fell into a stereotype of the Duke lacrosse players," says Newsweek's [assistant managing editor] Evan Thomas. "It's complicated because there is a strong stereotype [that] lacrosse players can be loutish, and there's evidence to back that up. There's even some evidence that the Duke lacrosse players were loutish, and we were too quick to connect those dots."
But he adds: "It was about race. Nifong's motivations clearly were rooted in his need to win black votes. There were tensions between town and gown, that part was true. The narrative was properly about race, sex and class. . . . We went a beat too fast in assuming that a rape took place. . . . We just got the facts wrong. The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong."
If the facts are wrong, though, why explore the narrative at all? Is it fair to use the Duke lacrosse players to tell a larger story of athletes run wild--a theme that appeared not only on sports pages but also was splashed, repeatedly, on the front pages of major newspapers and amplified on cable shoutfests? Says [KC] Johnson [an early skeptic of the case]: Once the facts are "proven not to be true, you certainly have to consider whether the narrative is relevant."
"The narrative was right, but the facts were wrong." This is reminiscent of the "fake but accurate" defense of CBS's Bush National Guard hoax.Taranto nails it.
If Thomas were giving a plainer account of what happened, he would have said something like this: Our reporting was guided by our prejudices, and even though the story turned out to be false, we stand behind our prejudices. (italics in original)
If you’re a regular reader here, you may have noticed I almost never use the phrase “rush to judgment” when posting about people like Duke’s widely-discredited faculty Group of 88; the pot-bangers who rallied under the large “CASTRATE” and “GIVE THEM EQUAL MEASURE” banners demanding “swift and stern justice;" and many in the media whose “hearts were with" the 88 and the pot-bangers.
That’s because such people didn’t rush to any place, particularly a place where one might judge.
What we got, and in many cases continue to get, from the 88- and pot-banger-types and most in the media can better be termed “a gush of prejudice.”
As Taranto’s riposte makes clear, the journalists who did the kinds of stories Thomas loutishly and revealingly defends weren’t "rushing" anywhere. They were “reporting” their prejudices, which they carry with them 24/7.
If they’d judged what they saw and heard, could they really have gotten the Duke Hoax so wrong for so long?
Taranto is an outstanding pundit and blogger.