Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Selective Outrage?

Last week, shortly after the Duke Lacrosse players were vindicated, Radly Balko (whose blog I really do like) posted a somewhat snarky comment observing that many of the folks who were outraged about the attempted railroading of the Duke Lacrosse players were utterly ignorant of Jame Giles, a Texas man, recently exonerated by DNA evidence after spending ten years behind bars (and another 14 on probation as a "registered sex offender") for a rape he did not commit.

This generated a response from MichaelW over at A Second Hand Conjecture who rather convincingly points out some of the salient differences between the two cases. Balko, in an admittedly rambling post, backpedals a bit:

Well first, I wasn't saying that everyone who has written or commented on the Duke case is a bigot. I'm saying the sudden rush of coverage and I-do-declare outrage from law-and-order conservatives strikes me as disingenuous, given that for many, this is the first time they've ever given a damn about prosecutoral misconduct and due process. Generally, they spend their time doing their damndest to underplay the former and undermine the latter. If MichaelW doesn't fit into this category (and he doesn't), then I wasn't talking about him, and he has nothing to take offense at.

Fine. Balko isn't talking about MichaelW, and I assume he isn't talking about me, as a) I've never blogged about the Duke case before now, and b) I'm a libertarian not a law-and-order conservative. Just who is he talking about, then? Who are the "many" who are giving a damn about "prosecutorial misconduct and due process" for the first time here? Can Balko identify one person who generally evinced apathy about due process before, but who became outraged about the Duke case? I mean, he says there are many, but he doesn't identify even one. I think that he's attacking a caricature here, and that his inability to generate even one example is indicative of that.

But let's suppose he's right. Let us suppose that there are some law-and-order conservatives who generally don't care about due process, but who suddenly recognized its importance in the Duke case. Wouldn't it be better to use their newfound awareness of the possibility of prosecutorial misconduct -- whatever its source -- to get them to think about other cases in new ways?

By the way, I do agree with one of Balko's larger points -- that some cases get pumped up in the media while others don't. That is surely true. In and ideal world, we would all give every matter the attention it deserves, and so we would all know both about James Giles and the Duke Lacrosse players. But hey, we don't live in an ideal world -- we live in a world of media feeding frenzies. The Duke Lacrosse case may have been overcovered relative to the vindication of other innocent individuals, but it's certainly more newsworthy than the various legal proceeding involving the late Anna Nicole Smith.

But Balko is so anxious to kick the law-and-order conservatives in the shins that he skates around a pretty salient fact. The case of the Duke Lacrosse players became a big media event in the first place because, as originally pitched, it played so well into the hands of the identity politics driven left. Many of the more cynical among us have noted that on the TV show Law and Order, one can usually identify the criminal early on: the real perp is almost always the rich white person. Well, as the story originally was told, this case was like a pretty predictable episode of Law and Order: rich, white, privileged jocks at a tony private university rape poor black stripper.

That's what set off the initial media feeding frenzy. That's what made activist members of the Duke faculty so anxious to comment. That's what made it a national story. If these guys had been black football players who were accused of raping a white cheerleader, it would have been a one-day blip. And it certainly would not have been used as a vehicle for larger social commentary -- the perpetrators would then have been seen as isolated bad guys.

In this case, we have a situation in which the identity-politics left drove a story to the front page because, they thought, it was the perfect story. They wanted these guys to be guilty, because it fed their larger narrative about how rich white people victimize blacks. Once the story had come to national prominence, it was perfectly legitimate to continue to pay attention as the case unravelled.


Radley said...

"Just who is he talking about, then? Who are the "many" who are giving a damn about "prosecutorial misconduct and due process" for the first time here? Can Balko identify one person who generally evinced apathy about due process before, but who became outraged about the Duke case? I mean, he says there are many, but he doesn't identify even one. I think that he's attacking a caricature here, and that his inability to generate even one example is indicative of that."

Actually, I gave several examples in the two posts you link to.

How about LaShawn Barber? The Powerline bloggers? The bloggers at Red State? Also, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. Michelle Malkin. John Derbyshire. Jack Dunphy.

I could go on.

MichaelW said...

Thanks for the link, CI. If you haven't done so, please read my response to Radley. As you also noted, I think he raised some good issues, not the least of which is that each falsely accused and/or imprisoned defendant deserves his chance at exoneration like the Duke lacrosse players got, and like James Giles eventually received. Of course, one would also hope that most cases would get to the exoneration phase as quickly as the DLP and not Giles, but we don't live in a perfect world. Doesn't mean we can't strive for it however.

Actually, I gave several examples in the two posts you link to.

Actually, no you didn't, Radley. You only provided links in the second post, which was why your brush seemed so broad in the first.

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