Witness for the Prosecution?


Imagine you are the world’s most powerful newspaper and you have invested your credibility in yet another story line that is falling apart, crumbling as inexorably as Jayson Blair’s fabrications and the flawed reporting on Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD. What to do?

If you’re the New York Times and the story is the alleged gang rape of a black woman by three white Duke lacrosse players–a claim shown by mounting evidence to be almost certainly fraudulent–you tone down your rhetoric while doing your utmost to prop up a case that’s been almost wholly driven by prosecutorial and police misconduct.

And by bad journalism. Worse, perhaps, than the other recent Times embarrassments. The Times still seems bent on advancing its race-sex-class ideological agenda, even at the cost of ruining the lives of three young men who it has reason to know are very probably innocent. This at a time when many other true believers in the rape charge, such as feminist law professor Susan Estrich, have at last seen through the prosecution’s fog of lies and distortions.

The Times took its stand in a 5,600-word, Page One reassessment of the case on Aug. 25, written by Duff Wilson, a sportswriter responsible for much of the paper’s previous one-sided coverage, and Jonathan Glater. The headline was “Files From Duke Rape Case Give Details But No Answers.”

The Dangers of Judicial Hubris


Never in recent history have the courts looked so much like another bunch of partisan players in the political wars, camouflaged in black robes that cannot hide their partiality and willfulness. The worst may be yet to come: A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision this week anointing George W. Bush president–with the more conservative justices outvoting the more liberal ones–would be hard to see as anything but evidence that either the majority or the dissenters (or both) were swayed by politics, not law. And although I haven’t altogether given up hope for a unanimous decision, the smart money is betting on a bitter 5-4 split as the oral arguments (at 11 a.m. ET Monday) approach.

Election 2000–with the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature in open revolt against the Florida Supreme Court, with top Republicans in Washington trashing the Florida court as a bunch of political hacks, with top Democrats intimating the same of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority that stopped the Florida court’s manual recounts in an interim order Saturday, with some of the justices themselves lobbing thinly veiled charges of hypocrisy back and forth–has been a disaster for the judiciary’s image (at least in some circles) as politically impartial. The election aftermath may also have started a cycle that could destabilize the rule of law for years to come by launching a new era of warfare between imperial judges and other branches of government. The backlash against the Florida judges–and against others across the nation who are deemed to have usurped legislative and executive powers–will reverberate for a long time, in ways both foreseeable and unforeseeable.

Estrich and Taylor Jr.


From: Susan Estrich
Subject: Start the Coffee
Posted Monday, Sept. 28, 1998, at 2:08 PM ET

Dear Stuart:

What timing.

Here we are, back at Slate, just in time for the President to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit. The unthinkable becomes a footnote. What a difference a year can make. If he’d settled it before his January deposition, none of this would have happened. All he had to do was say he was sorry for whatever it was that he couldn’t remember, and then explain the next day that he said it to protect his friends, family, etc. from the intrusion on their privacy….

Which leads me to my favorite question. Why didn’t he settle before testifying? How could his lawyers have ever let him go into that deposition, if they’d known how vulnerable he was? Here he is being sued for allegedly demanding a blowjob from a 24-year-old employee, and you know your client had a secret relationship involving blowjobs with another 24-year-old employee would you let him go into a deposition? Not to mention the independent counsel down the block, the media, your political enemies, etc.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the lawyers didn’t know the truth–that they thought Monica Lewinsky was a stalker with a crush, that it was handled, under control. The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client; he loses the objective judgment that the lawyer is supposed to provide. Bill Clinton didn’t want to tell his lawyer (and/or his wife) the truth about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and because of that, he’s had to tell the world….

But does the world care?

Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?


From: Susan Estrich
To: Stuart Taylor Jr.
Posted Thursday, Nov. 7, 1996, at 3:30 AM ET

Dear Stu:

This is going to be fun. Before too long, I hope, we can talk about what really interests me, which is that sex is back at work–and that might just be fine, if we could just learn to respect each other. My students wear unbelievably short skirts to interviews and assert the right to flirt to equalize things with the guys, who talk about sports. I think they might be right. So, first Anita and Paula, and we can fight about who is consistent, and who has bad motives, and then on to what matters.

Let me begin. I don’t really think of either of these as sexual-harassment cases, if you want to know the truth. What troubled me in the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas affair was less what he said to her a decade ago (you know me, I would’ve laughed and told him to get lost, but she’s not me, and he was chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–which makes him pretty “shabby” in my book, but wouldn’t disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court) than what those senators did to her, and how Clarence Thomas–a man I thought unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court–responded by playing the race card and turning himself into the victim of a racially motivated attack. I wouldn’t want Johnnie Cochran to be on the Supreme Court either.

The Norplant Option


Now that Congress and President Clinton have opted to use the threat of utter destitution to dissuade poor teen-agers and women from having children on the public dole, it’s time to revive a more humane, and perhaps more effective, proposal with the same objective.

This idea surfaced briefly and spectacularly in 1990, when the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested in an editorial that perhaps some welfare mothers should be “offered an increased benefit” if they would agree to practice effective birth control–specifically, to use the then-new Norplant contraceptive, which prevents pregnancy for five years after being implanted under the skin of the upper arm.

An uproar followed. The editorial writers–who had insensitively suggested a desire to reduce births of poor black babies in particular–were savaged by many Inquirer staffers and others as racist advocates of eugenics, even of “genocide.” They also caught it from some abortion-rights zealots, who are suspicious of any government efforts to influence reproductive choices, and from conservatives, who think the only proper way to discourage teen pregnancy is to preach abstinence. The newspaper abjectly apologized for a “misguided and wrongheaded editorial opinion.” And ever since, the whole subject has been taboo.

But it’s still a good idea, for poor girls and women themselves, and for the rest of us. Millions of babies are being born to poor teen-agers so lacking in elementary skills, work habits, and self-discipline that they are unlikely to be either responsible parents or self-supporting providers. Many of these babies grow up in squalor and themselves become dependent denizens of the welfare culture.