Words that hurt

There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth lately about words. Kathy Sierra claimed to be too scared to leave her home in the woods because of threatening words left by anonymous cowards in her blog’s comment section, and the result was general uproar, trips to CNN, and speech codes. Don Imus described a women’s basketball team in unflattering language, and the nation’s race pimps demanded – and got – and end to his employment.

Perhaps that reaction was justified. Maybe it’s reasonable to fear violence at the hands of people who are too cowardly to use their real names in blog comments. It doesn’t seem that way to me, but perhaps I’m just insensitive. And perhaps there’s a magnetic force that freezes radios to the Don Imus show such that they can’t be tuned to any other station when he says stupid things. Or perhaps the radio listening public is too weak, too stupid, and too infantile to tune him out. Legitimate civil rights advocates such as Connie Rice (cousin of Condi, not a typo) who defended Imus are full of it and words of that sort can’t be tolerated and I’m just too insensitive again.

But there’s something about that reaction that doesn’t add up to me. Sometime after the Sierra hubbub broke out and the firing of sad old Imus, the Attorney General of North Carolina held a press conference where he said he was dropping all criminal charges against the three Duke athletes accused of rape by Crystal Gail Mangum. He offered a new law to prevent such miscarriages of justice in the future, and he blasted the DA who brought the case and suppressed evidence, Mike Nifong. He made the extraordinary assertion that the Duke Three are innocent, not just “not guilty.” They were framed, slandered, and abused for no good reason. And it all started with bad words: lies.

And none of the people who sympathized with Kathy Sierra or accused Don Imus of “violating the black community” had a word to say about it.

What the hell is up with that?

The words of Mike Nifong and Crystal Gale Mangum had real consequences. The Duke Three were suspended from school and smeared in newspapers and TV and radio shows all over the country. Their reputations have been permanently altered, and I don’t expect they’re ever going to be as optimistic about justice and fairness in America as they were before those words were spoken again.

The words spoken against Kathy Sierra and the Rutgers basketball girls, on the other hand, were hollow bullshit and everybody knew that and reacted accordingly from the beginning. They weren’t harmed in any meaningful way, certainly not on the same level as the Duke lacrosse boys.

Jesse Jackson falsely accused the Duke boys:

The Duke scandal should lead colleges across the country to hold searching discussions about racial and sexual stereotypes, exposing the myths that entrap so many. But it shouldn’t take the brutalizing of a mother of two to raise these issues. Justice must be pursued at Duke. But Duke should not be treated as an isolated extreme – but as a goad to probing discussion and concerted action to lift students above the hatreds, the fears and the fantasies that still plague our society.

And also gloated over his pound of Imus flesh:

CBS refused to lower its standards anymore to house Don Imus. It is a victory for public decency. No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation.

Now I see it: instead of using the airwaves for racial or sexual degradation, we should return them to their rightful mission: slandering innocent white boys. Now it’s all clear.

Perhaps the severity of the reaction to Imus’ admittedly idiotic comment was driven by the needs of Jackson, Sharpton, and the feminist left to avoid any discussion of the conclusion to the Duke case, which doesn’t exactly make them look like heroes.

So why is the media letting them get away with it?

The answer to that has to include the obvious fact that the media was by and large complicit in the symbolic lynching of the Duke Three. The discussion went straight from allegations of rape to national soul-searching about the brutality of sexism and racism without every stopping to consider whether the boys were actually guilty. As it generally goes in rape cases, the defendants were guilty until proved otherwise. Rarely are defendants acquitted of rape because it’s treated in such a special way by the justice system, but this case was so egregious it didn’t even have to go to trial, just to a semi-honest prosecutor.

So the mere fact of the charges being dropped should be enough to make news. Maybe not as great as the feeding frenzy that accompanied the false allegations, but something. (UPDATE: See Terry Moran of ABC News spin his irresponsible journalism.)

And what will the consequences be to the accuser, Crystal Gale Mangum? Nifong faces disbarment, which would be appropriate, but I don’t see any hint that Mangum will be charged for making a false report, libel, defamation, or anything else. She’s going to keep on taking her clothes off for money, turning a few tricks on the side, and running her con games as if nothing had ever happened.

And that’s not right. If words have consequences, if they’re so scary they keep consultants away from conferences, radio hosts off the air, and cause attorneys to lose their licenses, they should have consequences for rape liars as well.

This is America, and fair is fair.

One thought on “Words that hurt”

  1. Probably Ms. Magnum isn’t really a good target for prosecution, because, in all fairness, she’s probably demonstrably nutty.

    But generally I agree, although Moran had one decent point: these guys were more privileged than many. They can suffer the slings and arrows of a Jesse Jackson, who ought to be the target of some well deserved litigation in this matter.

    One thing I vehemently disagree with Moran on: yeah, they paid 2 strippers. And? It’s perfectly legal to do so. That it offends somebody’s morals isn’t the lacrosse players’ problem. It is, after all, what many young men do, and what many young women agree to do in exchange for money.

    There’s far worse scandals.

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