Barry Saunders, annotated

Let me start by saying that I’m fond of Barry, the News & Observer columnist with whom I worked for 14 years. I’ve long admired his writing touch, and envied his savoir faire (something I notably lack). But his column yesterday on the latest wrinkle in the Duke lacrosse case was bad. No, it was worse than that. It was lazy, uninformed and essentially illogical. Barry deserves better editing and handling than he’s getting at the N&O. If pushed to do more thoughtful work, a Pulitzer could be in his future. But a column like yesterday’s is only an embarrassment.

With some help from the book “Until Proven Innocent,” which stands as the most scrupulously researched examination of the disgraceful prosecution of three Duke University students on a rape allegation cooked up by an emotionally unbalanced stripper, let me explain the problems with his piece, which is reproduced virtually intact here:

It’s time to concede that the Duke lacrosse players, even the ones who came no closer than you or I to being charged in the discredited rape case, have indeed been damaged.

That means they may be justified in seeking damages from the city of Durham, Duke University, the 911 operator who took the mock distress call, the dude who built the house on Buchanan Boulevard where the non-rape occurred and the automaker who built the cars in which the two strippers came to the house.

The only tangential person not named in the latest lawsuit filed by 38 players was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone on which presumably they called the escort service and ordered up a couple of hootchy-kootchy dancers.

I exaggerate, sure, but not by much. In all, the suit names 29 defendants, including the nurse who performed the rape test on Crystal Gail Mangum — the woman whose cry of “rape” has created the biggest money grab since the Gold Rush of ‘49.

Here’s where Barry’s indignation first starts to go off track. He clearly sees the nurse as just a continuation of the absurd list of potentially responsible parties (”the automaker who built the car “), but that nurse — a trainee, by the way — exaggerated Mangum’s claimed (but nonexistent) injuries so much that police investigators announced as fact that she’d been battered, bruised and violated, allegedly by the lacrosse players. Why shouldn’t the nurse be a defendant? And as for the rest of that sentence, perhaps Barry doesn’t know that just a few days after the alleged rape, Mangum told the security manager of the strip club where she worked that “I’m going to get paid by the white boys.” That was the “money grab.”

The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs have been aggrieved by the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Say what? Oh, their wittle feelings have been hurt.

You have to have more than hurt feelings to win in court. Demonstrations against you on campus, ostracization by your fellow students, accusations that you’re stonewalling a criminal investigation, harassment at the hands of the Duke faculty, wanted posters featuring your photos scattered around the campus, threats of prosecution for aiding and abetting rape — yeah, those things might add up to emotional distress. Ya think?

Come to think of it, mine have, too. As a Durham resident, I should file suit against the lacrosse team because of the emotional distress various members of it have inflicted upon the city of Durham and, by extension, me.

A News & Observer story from 2006 reported that nearly one-third of the players on that year’s team had been charged with various offenses such as underage drinking, public urination, and open container violations.

Assuming that Barry refers to the same March 28, 2006 story that the book mentions, then “one-third” totals 15 people, four of whom were later found not guilty — meaning that in the three-year span covered by the N&O’s report, a total of 11 players were guilty of the minor excessive partying that we all did in college. Indeed, during that same three-year span, more than a thousand other, non-lacrosse Duke students were cited for “alcohol-related disciplinary violations,” the book reports. Furthermore, during that same 2005-06 academic year, strippers had been featured at 20 other parties staged by Duke students. The lacrosse players were hardly alone in their zeal for partying. If Barry was so emotionally distressed by such behavior that he’s considering a lawsuit, he’s got lots of defendants to choose from.

That doesn’t mean they or their indicted teammates raped someone, but it indicates a proclivity to flout the law. When daddykins is loaded, though, such rowdyism is dismissed as “boys being boys.”

Fewer than a dozen players at a notoriously hard-partying college are guilty of alcohol offenses over three years, and that “indicates a proclivity to flout the law”? Oh, please. That’s just laughable.

How many of our tax dollars went toward the police department’s investigation of citizens’ complaints against team members over the years?

Let’s call it a fraction of 1 percent of the ultimate bill for the whole scandalous prosecution. And by the way, most of the off-campus parties that brought citizen complaints didn’t involve lacrosse players.

A lawyer for the players contends they, uncharged though they are, suffered “grievous, lasting injuries” and suffered “a horrifying personal nightmare.”

I’ve got a grievous and lasting injury for ‘em. Right here. After that, I’d introduce them to Dwayne Dail, Darryl Hunt and Alan Gell, three North Carolina poor boys who combined spent decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Y’all guys ought to be ashamed, because unless you wear your lacrosse jerseys to job interviews or on first dates, no one but family members and friends know who the heck you are.

This is where Barry goes completely off the track of logic and coherence. Yes, Dail, Hunt and Gell are victims of a justice system gone awry. They deserve compensation for their suffering in prison. But you know what? Unless they wear their prison stripes to job interviews or first dates, no one’s gonna know who the heck they are, either. Fortunately, the law doesn’t take into account the silly, frivolous assertion that future anonymity means there was no past damage. How does a sentence like that one of Barry’s even get into the paper? I worked at the N&O for 14 years. I know there are a lot of people with the word “editor” in their titles. Were they all off duty that day?

In the March issue of Men’s Health magazine, former head coach Mike Pressler is hailed as a martyr who lost his job for the sins of a corrupt legal system.

What a crock. From 1999 through March 2006, 41 players on Pressler-led teams were charged with various crimes.

I don’t know where this number comes from, but I’ll take it at face value. But without context, it’s useless. How many Duke basketball players were “charged with various crimes” in that same period? (And by “crimes,” I assume Barry means those same, low-grade drinking violations.) How about the other Duke teams? In fact, it would be nice to know what percentage of the student body as a whole was charged in that period. We might find out that the lacrosse team was better-behaved than the rest of the student body. Adding context to such a statistic is (or is supposed to be) a basic reflex of journalism. Again, any editors around?

The reverence expressed for him was laughable, as the writer described him announcing his resignation to protesting players “in measured, Churchillian tones. ‘Gentlemen,’ he began, ‘our darkest hour has arrived. The season has been canceled, and I am resigning.’ “

Cue the violins, the tears and the slow hand-clap.

Let me get this straight: If a magazine writer goes over the top with hyperbole when describing you, then you can’t complain about having been the victim of a witch hunt?

With such revisionism, with their previous reputation for boorishness swept away like a discarded candy-bar wrapper in a tornado, it’s no wonder the little darlings see themselves being owed recompense.

The only thing being swept away here is any claim Barry might make to thoughtful, incisive comment.

2 Responses to “Barry Saunders, annotated”

  1. John Says:

    I’m not a resident of Durham and I’m no more familiar with Duke than is any other casual observer of a nationally renowned institution. I have no ties to the town or the school - emotional, familial or otherwise. But since this whole Duke Lacrosse Case transpired, I’ve found myself intrigued by both.

    I guess “The Duke Lacrosse Case” has become the defacto name for this ugly affair. It coulda been “Making It Rain: The Case of the Unbalanced Stripper ” or “The Case of the Abusive Prosecutor” - nah, those sound too much like PERRY MASON episodes. But hell, lets face it; it’s all about Duke here. So, The Duke Lacrosse Case it is.

    This thing strikes a nerve on so many different levels that it seems to render the best among us no more than shrill partisans.

    I guess that’s because Duke ain’t real popular outside of it’s circle of alums and the extended Blue Devil family. How do the residents of Durham feel about this bastion of elitism planted in their midst?

    And I guess that’s because a stripper (the notorious evening’s hired help and a member of a racial minority) decided to make scurrilous and false accusations in retaliation to offenses (real or imagined) perpetrated by some members of the Duke Lacrosse team.

    And, I guess, there’s a subset of Dukies (i.e. namely the Duke Lacrosse team) who may not be real popular with the school’s administration and a significant number of their fellow students. They’re all just jealous no doubt.

    Anyway, the point of this awkward post is to offically declare my mild objection to you Dan Gearino, equating the scorn of teachers and classmates to wrongful incarceration. I’m sorry sir, it ain’t the same thing.

    Dude, I guess one hazard of being in your profession is that pipsqueaks like me pour over your prose until they find a sentence fragment they can take exception to (OK, OK, - to whcih they can take exception).

  2. robin Says:

    I don’t know why no one has come out and said it but Saunders is a racist. Look at the comments he posted about Amanda Maynard’s murder. Because the murder was black Saunders attacks the mother for not realizing her daughter came back home from the friends house. He doesn’t blame the black murderer for stabbing Amanda. In the Duke non-rape case he doesn’t come down on the black stripper for going to put on a show but the white guys for calling the strippers. He doesn’t say to the black stripper if you had been home this would not have happened. But he practically says that to the white mother of the murdered Amanda Maynard.