In the movie, Tom Hanks would play K. C. Johnson. He’s the most impressive of the “bloggers who have closely followed the case,” in the Times’ tacitly pejorative construction. But Johnson is the Platonic ideal of the species—passionate but committed to rigor and facts and fairness, a tenured professor of U.S. history (at Brooklyn College), a 38-year-old vegetarian who lives alone in a one-bedroom Bay Ridge apartment and does pretty much nothing but study, teach, run, and write.
Johnson has no connection to Duke. (His B.A. and Ph.D. are from the Harvard of the Northeast.) His attention was grabbed in April by the “deeply disturbing” public comments of Duke faculty that righteously indulged in invidious stereotypes and assumed the lacrosse players’ guilt. “One area that the academy, especially since McCarthyism, is supposed to stand up is cases where due process is denied,” he says.
He usually posts at least once a day—not standard autoblog rim shots, but carefully argued, deeply researched essays running 1,000 words or more. “I need to ensure that it meets what I consider to be an acceptable level of academic quality.” He has traveled to Durham several times. When he wanted to find out if Nifong’s unfair photo lineups were standard provincial practice—they’re not—he spent days talking to fifteen North Carolina police departments and prosecutors.
People assume he’s a right-winger. “I’m a registered Democrat who has never voted for a Republican in my life.” Not that he doesn’t wildly speculate—he is a blogger. I wondered why, after Nifong won his primary, the D.A. didn’t start tacking away from the case, setting himself up to drop the charges. Because, Johnson argues, if it doesn’t go forward, he would be vulnerable to civil suits from the indicted players, and disbarment. “This is someone whose career is on the line. He has no choice.”
The Times has not addressed any of this. For the past few years, I’ve tended to roll my eyes when people default to rants about the blindered oafishness or various biases of “the mainstream media” in general and the Times in particular. At the same time, I’ve nodded when people gush about the blogosphere as a valuable check on and supplement to the MSM—but I’ve never entirely bought it. Having waded deep into this Duke mess the last weeks, baffled by the Times’ pose of objectivity and indispensably guided by Johnson’s blog, I’m becoming a believer.