We finished Until Proven Innocent over the weekend, the new book about the lacrosse case by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, and we recommend it, strongly but sadly.
Strongly because it's a thoroughly researched book about what amounted to a perfect storm: the perfect victims, according to one commentator, who didn't commit the ideal crime as some insisted they did, but who were close enough for many.
And sadly because, well because what happened didn't happen in a vacuum, and it's going to happen again.
You might think you understand what happened - we did - but when you see it laid out, in all its ugliness, and you understand that this was not a misunderstanding, but rather a deliberate attempt to frame these guys, it's hard not to come out of it with a righteous and outraged anger.
But as disgusting as most of it is, in the bigger picture, it shows a poor reflection of a good many things.
Academia, where the pursuit of truth sometimes falls to ideological conformity. The power of the state, maliciously used to prosecute obviously innocent victims via the justice system, which all too often can be gamed. And then the media, which has need of 24 hour news programming, and which jumps on any case like this with both feet, featuring any number of people who made complete and utter fools of themselves, all of them marching behind the baton twirler for Trial By Media, the repulsively misnamed Nancy Grace.
What they all have in common is lies, or at least a cynical and thorough disregard for the truth.
Mike Nifong was a petty tyrant and an evil man, but his willingness to distort and deny the truth reflects greater political trends. It's sad to say it, but we are lied to constantly by our leaders, so-called, who would prefer a docile population which stirs just often enough to re-elect them. This is not to take political sides; they all do it. You can point to whoever your political opponent might be and say he does it more, but the truth is, yours does it too. No one is willing to treat the voters like adults, and when they do, they're ignored by the media, which prefers something sensational to punt around among themselves.
And with which they can distract us.
And we have taken our eyes off the ball, which is unfortunate, since our greatest institutions, among them the justice system, our brilliant universities, our mass communication systems, and our political system, are all diminishing or offering us next to nothing nutritious and often, in fact, something toxic.
Until Proven Innocent is not a perfect book - for one thing, the evidence assembled is so strong that the authors need not make editorial asides or harrumphs. As you understand the magnitude of what was done to these guys, and how so many were ready to throw the rope over the branch of the nearest hanging tree, you get it and don't need to be coaxed along in that way.
There are a number of odd characters floating through, and while the authors rightly chose not to focus on local color, they still missed some things. When for instance Bob Harris told off Nifong at his polling place, that the case was about the truth, and that Nifong wasn't interested in the truth, Bob's integrity took a big jump with Duke fans, and the authors might not have seen just how important the episode ultimately was.
But Harris hit on something important. What makes this book critical is the documentation, and what makes it relevant is that the authors tirelessly used the documentation to debunk what Dave Evans called a series of fantastic lies. But just as importantly, they set out to prove the truth.
In an unfortunate way, we've all learned to use megaphones, if you will, to shout each other down and to impose as much ideological purity as possible. This is a characteristic of our culture now, not of any particular aspect, but of us in general.
In this environment, the determination of the authors to focus on the truth is very nearly revolutionary. We urge you to read it, and when you're done, for God's sake go clean yourself with some of Orwell's essays.