Unrepentant MediaWith the announcement by North Carolina’s attorney general, Roy A. Cooper, that he was dropping all charges against three Duke University lacrosse players wrongly charged with rape, a lengthy travesty of justice has been undone. Errors in the case were so egregious, exoneration should have come a long time ago. The complainant changed her story several times; District Attorney Mike Nifong ignored exculpatory DNA evidence and made prejudicial statements during the course of the investigation. Three young lives have been damaged. As David Evans, one of the accused students, remarked on CBS’s 60 Minutes, when he dies his obituary will note he was once charged with rape in an infamous case. But it appears that Mr. Nifong will pay for his misdeeds. The North Carolina Bar has undertaken an ethics investigation that could lead to his disbarment, and federal charges of prosecutorial misconduct and civil rights violations are possible.
Free of penalties will be the media, who spun a moralistic tale of class, race and college boys gone wild. Nancy Grace of Headline News, herself a former prosecutor and the know-it-all big sister of cable legal commentators, had chided, I’m so glad they didn’t miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape. One of the lessons to be learned from the case of the Duke lacrosse players is how shallow is the moralism that drives media coverage of the news. As the talking heads comment on the fall of Don Imus from radio stardom, they need to take a hard look at themselves and the harm wrought by today’s unaccountable journalism of personal destruction.
Corporate Hall of ShameAbusive practices by various corporations have earned them a place in Corporate Accountability International’s Hall of Shame. ChevronTexaco holds a prominent place in the Hall of Shame’s rogues’ gallery for oil polluting and human rights abuses. Not only does it inflict environmental damage, it gives little back to poor local communities in Nigeria. Chevron’s mirror-image giant polluter, ExxonMobil, holds its own prominent place in the Hall of Shame. Opposing the Kyoto Protocol’s call for reduction of carbon emissions, Exxon-Mobil supports organizations that deny the existence of global warming.
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest maker of soft drinks, is another corporation in the hall. It is expanding into the bottled water industry. It is buying up and drying up sources of fresh water all over the world to turn it into soda or bottled water, C.A.I. notes. Water bottling, it adds, is one of the least regulated industries in the United States, and studies show that not only is it not safer than tap water, it may actually be less safe, sometimes containing high concentrations of toxins like arsenic and mercury.
These are just a few of the Hall of Shamers spotlighted by C.A.I. Visitors to its Web site are invited to vote on those most deserving of the honor. A hard choice, especially when one realizes that Dow Chemical already holds a place on the list. Dow richly deserves it as the owner of Union Carbide, the chemical corporation responsible for the world’s biggest industrial disaster, in Bhopal, India, in 1984. Over 20,000 died from poisonous fumes released into a poor neighborhood. Union Carbide has denied responsibility. Dow’s connection with Union Carbide could easily make it worthy of the highest place in this rogues gallery.
Happy Numbers?Andrew Lang (1844-1912), a learned Scottish writer whose interests ranged from translating Homer to collecting fairy tales and studying the origins of religious ritual, once remarked that people often use statistics as a drunken man uses lamppostsfor support rather than illumination. Granted that opinion polls, for instance, can be interpreted in different ways, a Newsweek poll whose findings were released on March 31 provides an instructive profile of religion in the United States today.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted the poll on March 28-29, interviewing 1,004 adults age 18 and older. A Newsweek press release highlighted some conclusions from this sample. Nine out of 10 Americans say they believe in God, and 87 percent identify with a particular faith. Eighty-two percent say they are Christians, and 5 percent say they subscribe to a non-Christian religion, like Judaism or Islam. Nearly half the respondents, or 48 percent, reject the scientific theory of evolution. Seventy-three percent of evangelical Protestants believe that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Forty-one percent of Catholics agree with that view, which was not shared by Pope John Paul II.
Only 6 percent of those questioned said they do not believe in God at all. None of these is likely to be elected to public office, since 62 percent of registered voters say they would not vote for an atheist. On the other hand, 32 percent of the sample think religion has too much influence on politics, and 31 percent think it has too little. In other words, this survey doesn’t say much about religion that is specific, but at least its generalizations are not told in mournful numbers.