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A “Wildly Misleading” Self-Defense

March 18, 2008

Selena Roberts, a former New York Times sports columnist, now with Sports Illustrated , is still trying to justify her garbled coverage of the Duke lacrosse case. A Roberts column of March 31, 2006, devoted to pre-judging the lacrosse players, said they had been forced to provide DNA (untrue, they provided DNA and hair samples voluntarily), reported that “According to reported court documents, the accuser in the case has been raped robbed, strangled and made the victim of a hate crime” (there were no such “reported court documents” – Roberts was mistakenly referring to search warrants) and said the victim “was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape” (the hospital records said nothing about “trauma in the victim’s vaginal area” and contained no evidence of rape). Roberts was so certain that the boys were guilty that she complained about the code of silence under which players protected one another (there was no code of silence – the accused talked freely and honestly about what really happened – no attack, no rape). She even suggested that the players were subhuman (“a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their status as human beings. Whatever the root, there is a common thread: a desire for teammates to exploit the vulnerable without heeding a conscience.”)

In a recent interview on the sports site, The Big Lead, Roberts offered this cleaned-up version of what she wrote in 2006:

“Basically, I wrote that a crime didn’t have to occur for us to inspect the irrefutable evidence of misogyny and race baiting that went on that night. Not a popular stand. I received lots of hate mail, some of it threatening. I think the intense response came from Duke-player supporters who felt threatened when someone, whether it was me or another columnist, started poking at the culture of affluence and entitlement. We’re always dissecting the African-American and Hispanic communities – is it gangs? is it the rap lyrics? – when trouble strikes minority athletes. Obviously, some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.”

These remarks are “wildly misleading,” according to K C Johnson, the Brooklyn college professor whose site, Durham-in-Wonderland provided daily accounts, detailed and accurate, for the length of the Duke lacrosse case. The problem wasn’t that “the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.” It was that the scrutiny by Roberts got almost everything wrong. Johnson, co-author with Stuart Taylor, Jr., of the definitive book on the Duke case, Until Proven Innocent, wrote that “for anyone who followed the lacrosse case closely (Roberts) sacrificed her journalistic credibility in an attempt to advance a preconceived ideological agenda.”

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