August 08, 2018

Tawana Brawley

Tawana Brawley

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, if you are one of the few bad people who are familiar with Tom Wolfe’s theme of the “hunt for the Great White Defendant”—the observation that everybody is so bored with the endless supply of nonwhite criminals that they would love to boost their careers by reeling in a high-status white villain, like you see on all the TV shows—then it’s easier to remember Tawana Brawley.

In the history of The New York Times, the phrase “Great White Defendant” has appeared about five times, including one online comment from me. Thus, it’s not a concept that exists in the mental toolbox of the average Times reader, or even Times writer.

The absence of this idea makes it much harder to notice how often the press goes crazy hunting for Great White Defendants who turn out to be not guilty, such as Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson, or nonwhite, such as George Zimmerman, or nonexistent, such as cruelly handsome UVA frat-boy rapist Haven Monahan.

Not surprisingly, the name “Haven Monahan” has never appeared in the Times. Nor has the last name of the coed who catfished him up, Jackie Coakley. The full story is hilariously memorable, so the NYT has suppressed it to make Rolling Stone’s shame seem like a dull tale of methodological shortcuts.

Amusingly, the newest member of the Times’ editorial board, Sarah Jeong, was a true believer in the Rolling Stone campus rape hoax, even after Rolling Stone walked it back. Jeong blogged:

The more I see these “inconsistencies” and “discrepancies” touted as evidence of falsehood, the more convinced I am that Jackie is not lying.

Jeong even continued to have faith in the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape hoax years after the local district attorney had been disbarred for his misconduct in framing those Great White Defendants. (The phrase “Duke lacrosse” has been mentioned in the Times 25 times in the current decade, which isn’t too shabby, but is hardly “Emmett Till.”)

But Jeong’s credulity at falling for hate hoaxes is hardly surprising when you notice that the Times has never printed the phrase “hate hoax.” It has used “hate crime hoax” only once (in reference to last year’s Air Force Academy fiasco).

Now, you know and I know that hate hoaxes have been common in the newspapers at least since Tawana Brawley. But we possess the phrase “hate hoax” for this recurrent phenomenon so it’s easy for us to recognize the many new hate hoaxes that come along.

But many people are cognitively unarmed for noticing this pattern. How would an intellectual conformist like Sarah Jeong learn that hate hoaxes are even a thing? Would any of her tenured Harvard Law School professors have dared mention their existence in a lecture? And she’s definitely never read the phrase in The New York Times.

No, for poor Sarah these are just random but fascinating news stories about hateful yet sexy white male rapists who can’t control their vile but arousing lusts.

Granted, Sarah’s favorite kind of news story/rape fantasy often proves disappointingly ill-founded in fact. But she has no conceptual category labeling why she is so often fooled.

Would it help her to have a better-equipped mind?

Personally, I subscribe to the motto of Faber College in Animal House: Knowledge Is Good.

Yet considering how successful young Sarah’s career at The New York Times has been without her knowing much that could cause her trouble, perhaps she knows best: Ignorance is bliss for today’s careerists.

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