Dom Imus and Mike Nifong
Bill Long 4/13/07
A Study in Black and White
In an incredible one-day concatenation of circumstances America witnessed on April 12 the spectacular fall of two accomplished senior Caucasian males over issues of race in our society. But when you get behind the headlines, you realize that the racial realities are far more complex and engaging than on first reading. We have, for example, a senior white radio announcer (Don Imus) behaving badly, and young African-American women (the Rutgers Basketball team) reacting with dignity. Then, in contrast, you have a young African-American woman acting wildly (accusing three Duke University lacrosse team members of raping her), and young Caucasian men acting with dignity (the accused lacrosse players). In order to get the Caucasian broadcaster fired, senior African-American men (Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton) acted with dignity in meeting with CBS President Leslie Moonves, though these same African American leaders had acted badly in the other case (by fueling the allegations against the Dukies).
The two cases, therefore, are shot through with ambiguity and self-righteousness, with resentment of a district attorney (Mike Nifong) who was "only" a UNC graduate going up against the "Wall Street sons" on the Duke Lacrosse team, with lies and cover-ups, and finally, to top it all, with the Governor of New Jersey lying in critical condition in a NJ hospital. How does Jon Corzine's massive bodily injuries as a result of an auto crash relate to this? He was rushing along the Garden State Parkway at 6:00 p.m. last night to be at the Governor's mansion to "host" the meeting between Don Imus and the offended Rutgers University Basketball players when his car was forced into a guardrail and Corzine, in the front passenger seat, was badly hurt. All these circumstances cry out for a patient consideration of where we are, in America, on issues of race and gender. This and the next essay will only touch on a few of these issues.
Starting with the Duke Case
It isn't as if Durham County (NC) District Attorney Mike Nifong's "fall" happened in one fell swoop. He has been gradually "falling" ever since the allegations of gang rape made by an African-American stripper/dancer against Duke University lacrosse players arose after a wild party at an off-campus home owned by Duke University on March 14, 2006. The allegations led to indictments in April of three Duke players, though DNA evidence showed that none of them was "with the woman" as early as the end April 2006. But DA Nifong acted incredibly badly in at least two ways during his tenure on the case. First, he made repeated inflammatory statements to the press about a culture of "Blue" that led the lacrosse players not to cooperate, about the Duke players being a "bunch of hooligans," and finally that if they were "real men" they would come forward with information about the case. These statements will come back to bite him very severely. Of course, several of the Duke players were silent because they hired lawyers who told them to be silent.
But Nifong did something even worse. When his DNA expert examined the DNA on the woman and compared it with the DNA samples submitted by 46 of the 47 Duke University lacross players (the 47th is African-American, and he wasn't required to submit his DNA sample because the accuser alleged an attack by white women) he discovered that there were no matches. Other men's DNA was on her, but not that of the Duke players. So far so good. But Nifong told the head of the DNA lab in writing up his report only to give the information about the positive DNA found on the woman. Thus, the exculpatory evidence supporting the Duke players was suppressed. And Nifong did two other things that will get him disbarred. He reported to the judge that there was no exculpatory DNA evidence which he was, by law, required to turn over to the defense and then he surmised that the Duke players might have used condoms to "cover their tracks." A worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in our day is hard to imagine.
Yesterday all charges were dropped against the Duke players. Rape charges had been dropped in December, but the NC Attorney General, who received the case from Nifong in January after Nifong's work had been compromised, dropped all remaining charges yesterday--along with delivering a stinging rebuke of Nifong. Thus, though Nifong's biggest humiliation to date occurred yesterday, he will certainly face the coup de grace this summer when the NC bar finishes dealing with him. They will, no doubt, "disbar" him, though they may show a certain measure of mercy because this is his "first offense."
Don Imus' Fall
If Nifong's fall is happening in slow motion right before our eyes, Don Imus plummeted from Everest to the Dead Sea in a matter of days. His derogatory comments against the Rutgers Univ. women's basketball team of April 4, which have been so reported in the media that I don't have to repeat them here, richocheted around the CBS board room like a cue ball hit by Minnesota Fats around the pool table. CBS took a "wait and see" attitude, no doubt waiting to see the extent to which the outrage over his comments built over the days after April 4. The result was stunning and fast. Sponsors pulled ads; MSNBC pulled his show; finally CBS decided to fire him. No doubt CBS' decision was not a "purely moral" decision, if such a decision is ever possible--i.e., they considered the downside of continuing to support Imus against the "upside" of the revenue he provided for them and decided that this time the shock jock was too hot to handle. Imus' profuse apologies in a variety of fora, and his "very productive" meeting with the women from Rutgers last night, couldn't stem the tide that he had unleashed against himself.
He may be beyond redemption. He may always have a ready reception among conservatives or of those who remember him in his "glory" days, but he will now always be associated with his three offensive words that brought a career crashing down on him. In the wake of all this, we must agree with the future King David of Israel, when news came to him of the ignominious way in which King Saul and his three sons were slain on the Mount of Gilboa. David sang the mournful song, "Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!" (II Sam. 1:19). Indeed, the mighty lie "fallen" around us. But the real "meaning" of these events is not simply in the fall of two visible Caucasian males. There are loads of other observations that are appropriate to make. The next essay ruminates on these "lessons."