A few weeks ago I got an email from Barry Porter, Director of Marketing, Adult Publishing Group at Simon & Schuster, who is responsible for promoting "It’s Not About the Truth" a new book about the Duke lacrosse team case from last year. The book was written by Don Yaeger with Mike Pressler, the former Duke lacrosse coach. Mr. Porter asked me if I’d like to review the book and I told him I would.
Last weekend I got my copy of the book in the mail and I read it over the last several days. Since I’m not a professional book reviewer I figured the best approach would be to provide some bullet points of my initial impressions. I’ll start with a couple of negative impressions I had, but for the most part they’re positive. Here goes:
- It’s no surprise that the book is pro-Pressler and pro-Duke lacrosse players. What did surprise me were some of the one-liners that Yaeger used that I felt were an unnecessary distraction from his narrative. For instance at the beginning of the 10th chapter Yaeger writes, "Nifong jumped on his media opportunity like a fat kid on a cake." Chapter 16 has this nugget: "Nifong may have been a political virgin, but he did know something about being a whore."
- Yaeger seems to be a political conservative and he tends to use "liberal" as an epithet. Part of his thesis is that Pressler and the players were undermined by a group of liberal professors, the "Group of 88", who used the case as a way to promote their radical-left theories, but in the process he seems to lump all "liberals" with those who penned their names to a controversial ad that appeared in the Duke Chronicle student newspaper. The first sentence of Chapter 12 reads, "It is one of America’s worst-kept secrets: College campuses are a breeding ground for radical left-leaning faculty." Um, I think the faculty at Grove City College, Brigham Young University or Liberty University would take exception to being classified as "radical left-leaning." Not that the faculty in question at Duke aren’t radical or left-leaning, but making such sweeping, blanket statements detracts from the writer’s credibility.
- Yaeger discusses the influence of blogs on the developing story, and even uses some blogs in his research and background materials. One such blog is Durham-in-Wonderland, which is run by KC Johnson who is a professor of history at Brooklyn College. I can’t think of another book I’ve read that references blogs as a resource.
- Putting aside the author’s biases, and at least he doesn’t hide them, he does offer a lot of background information on the case and in particular there is a lot from the perspective of the coach. While most of us, especially here in North Carolina, have read about the prosecutor’s (Mike Nifong’s) alleged misconduct and have read about the alleged rape victim’s changing stories, I think many people will be surprised by the information contained in the book. There’s a lot of information about police behavior that’s downright creepy, some of Nifong’s unbelievable decisions and some decisions by Duke administrators that I’d call ill-conceived at best (chicken-shit would be another description).
- Yaeger writes over and over that as the "true" story came out lots of people could see themselves in the players’ shoes if they hadn’t been lucky. In other words the poor decision the players made in hiring strippers to come to their house to perform is not dissimilar from decisions made by many of us, but we never had the misfortune of having that decision turn our lives inside out. That is definitely true for many folks, including myself. Put bluntly I can remember at least two bachelor parties that featured private dancers (and their requisite 300 lb. escort) and it’s not hard to imagine a situation like that spinning out of control.
- I don’t think this book will change anyone’s world view. For those who are offended that young men would hire a stripper to come to their home they’ll probably see this case as "justification for all those other men who get away with subjugating women to such humiliation". For those who think that all cops/DAs are crooked they’ll see this as further evidence of that "fact", and for those who think that "all liberals care about is political correctness and not the truth" this book will really stoke their fires. Still, I think the book provides value in that it offers a detailed timeline and overview of the events that make it easier to understand how it all happened. The author did a lot of interviews with the principals involved; the players, the coach, the attorneys and school representatives and as such the book offers lots of good information for those interested in the case.
- Unless the author totally botched his research, and I seriously doubt he did, Nifong is toast as soon as his disbarment hearings are complete.
- Finally, it’s not a bad read. I’m not a particularly fast reader and I was able to finish it in a few hours. Sure I didn’t like some of the adjectives and adverbs that Yaeger used, but on the other hand the narrative flowed well. If you have any interest at all in the case then it’s definitely worth the time.