Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Kristin Butler "Classic"

With Duke on break, The Chronicle didn’t publish today. As a result, there’ll be no Kristin Butler column this week.

We can all do without those “sugar-coated” emails BOT Chair Bob Steel sends periodically telling us we should “look to the future.”

And that uninformed and mean-spirited letter Professor Ole Holsti sent to The Chronicle recently? We’ve seen a good many such letters and emails from Duke faculty, haven’t we?

But Butler’s columns are special. They’re organized, fact-based, literate and to the point. They speak truth to the powerful at Duke. Not many on campus do.

Thanks to a prompt from JinC Regular Insufficiently Sensitive, I went to The Chronicle archives to find a Butler “Classic” to post and tide you all over to next Tuesday.

It was tough selecting one. Just about all her columns are “Classics.” I finally settled on her Nov. 3, 2006 column (Her columns were then published on Friday’s).

After Butler’s column, I offer a few comments.


In 239 days, Mike Nifong has sullied his 27-year career with the Durham District Attorney's office. During that time, Nifong has been roundly criticized for procedural and ethical violations.

So will Durham County voters consider his misconduct at the polls?

According to a Raleigh News & Observer poll, the answer is no.

That Oct. 16-19 survey of 600 "likely voters" indicates Nifong is strongly favored to win, attracting 46 percent of those surveyed. By contrast, 28 percent pledged support for Lewis Cheek, 24 percent remained undecided, and 2 percent preferred write-in candidate Steve Monks.

Now for once, I'm speechless: What could 46 percent of Durham's likely voters possibly be thinking?

If the past seven months have taught us anything at all, it's this: Mike Nifong is not fit to be our district attorney.

His highly unethical and unprofessional conduct is as serious as it is systematic; prominent among Nifong's most egregious acts is his refusal to consider exculpatory evidence, even as he misrepresented the facts of the case to media outlets.

Of course, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans may not have ever been indicted if Nifong had not orchestrated a tainted photo lineup, whose conditions violated not only Durham police standards, but also those of the Actual Innocence Commission, an organization that advocates for the rights of the accused.

And as we all found out last week, Nifong has never spoken-not once!-to the alleged victim about the events of that night; still, he had no reservations about telling Bill O'Reilly that "there is not a doubt in my mind that [the alleged victim] was raped and assaulted at this location" and announcing to Dan Abrams that "I am convinced that there was a rape, yes sir."

This brings us to an important point: It was Mike Nifong's mouth-at least as much as Durham's racial or socioeconomic tensions-that blew this case out of proportion.

While giving more than 50 interviews in the first days of the investigation, Nifong called the players "hooligans," wondered aloud "why one would need an attorney if one had not done anything and was not charged," and denounced their "blue wall of silence" to the press.

Despite the fact that such grandstanding is clearly in violation of prosecutors' ethical code, Nifong continued to claim that the students' "daddies could buy them expensive lawyers" and that they knew the right people, while even questioning their "manhood."

This arrogant, self-serving commentary is chief among the reasons why I will be voting against Mike Nifong on Tuesday.

Nifong did, indeed, have a responsibility to carefully and dispassionately investigate the alleged rape when it was reported. In that regard, he has done more than just fail; he has use this investigation as a bully pulpit to inflame racial and socioeconomic tensions in our community.

Now, some among his supporters-notably the Independent Weekly, which is widely distributed on campus-have noted that although Nifong "may have mishandled the case," we should ask, "How could anyone know whether or not the person the governor would appoint [if Nifong loses] would do any better than Nifong?"

Well, the answer is that we certainly couldn't do much worse. As we've seen, Nifong has violated every ethical rule in the book, all the while attempting to leverage his role as prosecutor for his reelection campaign.

And never forget that we're talking about a profoundly stubborn, unstable man here, one who colleagues say will "curse you, scream at you, call you names over nothing." Others report seeing Nifong "lose his temper and berate attorneys in an unprofessional manner."

In his defense, some Nifong supporters have rationalized that "we don't have a school to tell you how to handle crisis situations" and "he was very new to the situation at the time." Yet given the district attorney's mercurial personality, these defenses seem irrelevant.

Nifong has no one to blame but his own antagonism for his electoral woes.

And woes they are-especially on the Duke campus.

Whether or not it was true that "there's been a feeling in the past that Duke students are treated differently by the court system," Nifong has made sure that we are today.

Does the man who vowed to "not allow Durham's view in the minds of the world to be a bunch of lacrosse players at Duke raping a black girl from Durham" really think his behavior has done anything to "address the underlying divisions that have been revealed?"

Of course not; he is the one who has "revealed" them.

Butler’s column appeared four days before Nifong was elected to a full term as Durham DA with the public support of many Duke faculty.

Seven weeks later Duke’s President, Richard H. Brodhead, finally abandoned his support for Nifong’s plan to put three obviously innocent young men – two of them Duke students; the other a recent Duke grad – on trial at which time Brodhead said they’d have their chance to be “proved innocent.”

A question for all of you who regularly read Kristin Butler's columns: If President Brodhead, the trustees, “Dick’s senior team,” and most faculty had shown the judgment, fairness, integrity and courage we’ve seen week after week in Butler’s column, how far would Nifong and the others have gotten with their criminal plans?


Joan Foster said...

Kristin Butler is both a great talent and a treasure.

Someday, we all will say.."We knew her when...."

She has star quality!

Anonymous said...

I second Joan who herself is outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that so many Duke students have more sense and integrity than the trustees, Bordhead and most of the faculty?

Butler is outstanding!

Duke '73

kbp said...

Thanks John!

That was a wonderful thing to do. Kristin is due the recognition you give her and much, much more.

I like Joan too! ;)

"If President Brodhead, the trustees, “Dick’s senior team,” and most faculty had shown the judgment, fairness, integrity and courage we’ve seen week after week in Butler’s column, how far would Nifong and the others have gotten with their criminal plans?"

Tough guess, but being conservative on it, I'd say no further than the closest exit available after 4/11/06, when the SBI results came out.

Just imagine what it would be like with a Kristin or two in every media office!

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Glad I'm not alone in the KB fan club. And agree that Joan's gotten off some good ones too.

Thanks John, we got a KB hit after all. KB and KC - where would Durham be without them?

Anonymous said...

"If President Brodhead, the trustees, “Dick’s senior team,” and most faculty had shown the judgment, fairness, integrity and courage we’ve seen week after week in Butler’s column, how far would Nifong and the others have gotten with their criminal plans?"

Not sure. However if all the MSM wrote like Butler the case would have died before there were indictments.

Anonymous said...

Kristin Butler is an amazing journalist. I agree with Joan that "She has star quality!" I wonder if she really knows how much she is admired? Someone should syndicate that young woman NOW. She's only going to get better and better!

P.S. Kristin, we could use you in Houston!

Anonymous said...

I'd say many people could have benefited from Kristin's good judgment. No doubt, the outstanding work she did, helped some. Many others could have benefited by reading with an open mind.

I did not start reading everything connected to this case until April but I had read this article. I will now go back and make sure I have read everything Miss Butler wrote. Thanks for the thought.

Anonymous said...

Joan Foster's right.

Kristin Butler has some future as a pundit.

Thanks, John, for digging out the "Classic."

I needed that fix.