Fast, Loose and Mean in the Blogosphere

Durham Herald-Sun

January 18, 2007

By Orin Starn


I don’t think “Jezebelle” likes me.

“Starn is a consummate a-hole” is the exact assessment of this anonymous message-board poster.

Welcome to Blog World!

The Duke lacrosse saga has played itself out as much on the Internet as in the courtroom, newspapers, or university halls.

I like youtubing Ronaldinho’s greatest goals and e-mailing bad golf jokes to my friends as much as the next guy. But the lacrosse mess has put on display the more squalid, sometimes vicious side of the Internet. Only a click away lies a whole ugly galaxy of insults, misrepresentations, and, at worst, sick racist hate.

The virtual lacrosse world is Mad Max’s Thunderdome in gigabytes and bandwidth: no rules apply, or at least not any involving those horse-and-buggy, oh-so-yesterday ink age values of civility, accuracy, or accountability.

The Duke lacrosse accuser?

A “whore.” A “tramp.” A “slut.” And those are the only printable names you’ll find for her on the message boards.

At least the blog rage is spread around.

Duke President Richard H. Brodhead may not have always pleased everyone in his extremely unenviable task of responding to the crisis.

Does that make him a “coward,” “bitch,” and “shill POS”?

Those “stupid clowns” who signed a controversial faculty ad expressing concern about Duke’s campus climate have “blood all over (their) hands,” according to “”

The greatest, most adolescent intoxication of the Internet is, of course, the anonymity. You can be nasty, spiteful, and crude with the delicious, untouchable impunity of a high school crank caller.

One “djones” has been flooding the mailboxes of everyone at Duke from Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange to the cafeteria clerk with his outraged, sometimes would-be funny or clever lacrosse hate messages.

Memo to “djones”: Master Po says it’s bad for your chi to make an obsessive habit of sending anonymous poison e-mails.

Another quaint newspaper custom is the requirement of accuracy. But, Bill Gates be praised, you don’t have to worry about pesky fact-checkers or editors in the wonderful, self-published world of the blogs.

The most prolific lacrosse blogger is K.C. Johnson, a Brooklyn College history professor with plenty of spare time and a worshipful following among those who think that Mike Nifong will go down as one of world history’s most evil men.

Johnson is a good storyteller who emplots the lacrosse controversy as a great moral parable of reason and civilization threatened by the dark forces of racial pandering, blind ambition, and the sinister machinations of tenured radicals and university political correctness run amok.

But Johnson’s Edward Gibbon-length postings are shot through with factual errors.

Just one of many examples: Duke’s African and African American Studies Program has five full-time faculty. Johnson reports it has fifteen, a number that better serves his Tolkienesque yarn-spinner’s desire to paint the program as a menacing Orthanc of grim radical power and intolerance

The magic of the blogs is tapping into what historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the “paranoid style” of American politics. Blog readers find the promise of revealed truth supposedly censored by the “liberal” mainstream media and other jack-booted forces.

In truth, the newspapers – and every tv news program from Sixty Minutes to your Cousin Ed’s cable show — have extensively chronicled Nifong’s apparent prosecutorial incompetence and misconduct, not to mention the accuser’s seemingly ever-changing stories about what happened that miserable night.

Now that Nifong has stepped aside, we can hope for a speedy resolution to the case. The Durham District Attorney may soon himself be facing disbarment proceedings and lacrosse supporter lawsuits and, if the charges prove false as what we now know about the evidence suggests, the whole prosecution will go down as a sorry misadventure of the justice system gone awry.

And the blog rage?

Those sending vile racist messages like ones received by prominent English professor Karla Holloway show just how far we have yet to go towards ending racial hatred and encouraging common human decency in this society.

As for the rest, it’s a free country. I’m glad K.C. Johnson and his Sunshine Band of Duke lacrosse bloggers have found a way to keep busy over the long winter.When the books close here in Durham, they’ll doubtless find some new cause to embrace with the same strident, self-righteous, and loose-with-the facts crusading fervor.

Blog on, dudes.

The real beauty of the blogs, after all, is that you don’t have to read them.

My New Year’s resolution was to stop following the Duke lacrosse blogs. It’s been a pleasure to keep.

And those e-mails from “djones”?

Our computers come with a delete button for a reason.


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