Friday, May 2, 2014

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire

From How the Media Again Failed on the Duke Lacrosse Story by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr..

In the past couple of weeks there have been a number of instances of almost alternate reality narratives.

There is certainly this issue of the new book on the Duke Lacrosse Story. Read Johnson and Taylor's review for all the sordid details. A mentally unstable accuser makes an accusation against innocent people; for political purposes the District Attorney champions the accuser despite all the evidence that contradicts her accusation; the University abandons all pretense of neutrality and due process and piles on the innocent lacrosse players (it's students) owing, apparently, to its own unacknowledged biases; the District Attorney suppresses exculpatory evidence; is found out and disbarred; the case reinvestigated by the State DA and the students pronounced innocent; the University ends up paying the accused students some $30 million.

The case was thoroughly documented in the press, in a book published soon after the State DAs investigation, and the court records. There is virtually no disputing what happened on an empirical basis. But the press has received the new book as if none of that documentation existed.
More than a dozen major newspapers and magazines have rushed in recent weeks to publish reviews heaping praise on what we have demonstrated -- and will demonstrate again below -- to be a guilt-presuming, fact-challenged new book about the Duke lacrosse rape fraud of 2006.


First, most of the mainstream media have proved incapable of learning from their own egregious mistakes. Eight years ago this spring, in a frenzy of liberal groupthink, they ignored obvious evidence of innocence for months. Meanwhile, they sought to uphold a storyline of a modern-day morality play, with privileged, loutish, white athletes brutally raping a noble African-American working mother.


Second, it seems that many book reviewers don't do much homework, or even read the books that they are supposed to be evaluating -- at least, not closely enough to notice the numerous contradictions, inconsistencies, and non-sequiturs (as well as false assertions) that litter Cohan's book.

As Radley Balko wrote in a Washington Post blog post, “While Cohan’s book continues to win airy praise in elite outlets from reviewers who have little prior working knowledge of Durham, it’s getting panned by people who have specialized knowledge of Nifong, and of the lacrosse case in particular.”
How could this possibly be? Eight years is not a long time. It is easy to remember the tragic arc of the story and the wholesale failure of the legal system (in the early stages) and of Duke University.

Johnson and Taylor are likely right that this is simply a product of the bien penant clerisy wanting a story to be true even though it isn't. But still, it is grossly egregious. No wonder few people trust the press any longer.

And this is just the example of the moment. There have been several others. Three or four times in the past month I have come across both reporting and opinion pieces citing the Zimmerman/Martin case in the context of stand your ground. Despite the outcome of the trial and all the evidence, most journalists apparently are simply sticking with what they wish would have happened rather than what did happen and sticking with the narrative as they want it to have been rather than as it is. Zimmerman/Martin never had anything to do with stand your ground. Have an opinion one way or the other on SYG but at least reference cases that involved SYG. It is a matter of public record, neither the prosecution or defense invoked stand your ground in the Zimmerman/Martin case.

Perhaps not quite as blatantly, there is also the reception of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty has done some redoubtable historical research which is both admired and disputed among economists. The bulk of the six hundred page tome deals with the research. Tacked on at the end are some standard left of center continental European policy tropes that have little or nothing to do with the research. Increase taxes, redistribute wealth, etc. This is not a policy book and these recommendations are not argued, merely asserted in the manner of a cossetted French academic.

In the mainstream press the book has been deliriously received, not on the basis of the research, which the reviewers apparently have not read nor understood, but on the basis of the throw-away policy endorsements. The fact that none of the policies have worked on a sustainable basis anywhere at anytime seems to escape the reviewers.

It almost feels like there is some sort of primitive cognitive calculus occurring. "If these policies, which I admire, are in a book with a lot of formulae and research, then they must be true." You read these reviews, and as with the Cohan book, you wonder - What were they thinking?

Duke Lacrosse is settled, Zimmerman is settled, Das Kapital is settled. Sure there are always nuances and details. But we know the broad factual foundation. No, the lacrosse players did not commit any crimes. No, Stand-Your-Ground had nothing to do with the Zimmerman case. No, confiscatory taxes and wealth redistribution are not credible policy recommendations. You know it. We know it. Why do you keep returning to these failed narratives.

Reminds me of the concluding lines of Kipling's The Gods of the Copybook Headings, written in 1919 in part as a rebuke of "habits of wishful thinking."

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

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