Abigail Thernstrom: A stunning new book shows how elite culture made the Duke rape hoax possible





[Ms. Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the recipient of a 2007 Bradley Award.]

Privileged, rowdy white jocks at an elite, Southern college, a poor, young black stripper, and an alleged rape: It was a juicy, made-for-the-media story of race, class and sex, and it was told and retold for months with a ferocious, moralistic intensity. Reporters and pundits ripped into Duke University, the white race and the young lacrosse players at the center of the episode, and the local justice system quickly handed up indictments. But as Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson show in "Until Proven Innocent"--and as the facts themselves would show when they finally came to light--it was a false story, a toxic controversy built on lies and bad faith.

There was plenty of wrongdoing, of course, but it had very little to do with Duke's lacrosse players. It was perpetrated instead by a rogue district attorney determined to win re-election in a racially divided, town-gown city; ideologically driven reporters and their pseudo-expert sources; censorious faculty members driven by the imperatives of political correctness; a craven university president; and black community leaders seemingly ready to believe any charge of black victimization.

"Until Proven Innocent" is a stunning book. It recounts the Duke lacrosse case in fascinating detail and offers, along the way, a damning portrait of the institutions--legal, educational and journalistic--that do so much to shape contemporary American culture. Messrs. Taylor and Johnson make it clear that the Duke affair--the rabid prosecution, the skewed commentary, the distorted media storyline--was not some odd, outlier incident but the product of an elite culture's most treasured assumptions about American life, not least about America's supposed racial divide....


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