Dahlia Lithwick Rewrite Challenge 2007

In Monday’s edition of Slate, Dahlia Lithwick penned a column in which she described how a conservative journalist had taken a piece Lithwick had written about the Duke lacrosse rape scandal and used it to set up a straw-man argument about the liberal rush to judgment. The original article, in fact, made the argument that everyone was rushing to judgment.

So, how did Allen turn this into a hysterical men-are-pigs “hanging party”? She just cut and pasted until she’d rewritten the column to say it. Where I had referred to “mounds and mounds of significant physical evidence”—listing both exculpatory and inculpatory evidence, and highlighting the ways in which they conflicted—Allen inserted her own language to have me claim there were ” ‘[m]ounds and mounds of significant physical evidence’ that a rape had occurred.”

Lithwick then invited her readers to rewrite the same column in a slightly different way:

So, I turn to you, my readers, to help me invent a new Imaginary Right-Wing Hack. And I’m asking you to start with that bilious conservative wing nut, Dahlia Lithwick, whose April 22 column on the Duke rape case was a full-bore assault on women and minorities, and a stunning piece of right-wing vitriol to boot. Make free with the cut and paste functions, and please don’t be afraid of those ellipses … Rewrite the column as Ann Coulter channeling Bill O’Reilly . . .

I took this challenge on, thinking that it would be an amusing exercise. I used entire original phrases and sentences where possible, in order to make the resulting piece convincing. Where it wasn’t possible, I swiped individual words and made my own sentences up. But each and every word is Lithwick’s, though my version bears about as much resemblance to her original column as Frankenstein’s monster bore to Abby Normal.

When I sent this in to Ms. Lithwick, I said in my cover letter, “Having finished, I am embarrassed by my own handiwork. This has been an interesting lesson in the finer points of distortion.” I will post it here because I promised to, and because I do feel it is an interesting lesson. But please know that I feel slightly dirty having written it.

Read the original column first for comparison!

Now my version:

The Duke lacrosse team’s rape scandal cuts . . .this country . . .
deeply. It reaffirms everyone’s deep-seated . . . suspicions . . . that . . .
white men . . . can’t get a fair shake under our legal system. This
case will be chewed over, regurgitated, and chewed over again by
television pundits unafraid of venturing opinions in no way informed
or changed by the . . . facts.

It’s easy to have doubts . . . when you stop to consider that . . .
black . . . people . . . have no idea what . . . truth . . . is[:]
Kobe Bryant and his accuser . . . Michael Jackson and his accuser . . .
Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill . . . why is there never any truth at
the conclusion . . . of . . . these legal processes? The answer is
that . . . black women . . . are . . . privileged people . . . [in]
court proceedings, hearings, and investigations[.] [D]efendants . . .
are being . . . assault[ed] . . . by lawyers . . . search[ing] for . .
. a . . . victim . . . long after the . . . public . . . has . . .
kn[own] for certain . . . . that . . . the . . . “crypto-hooker.” . .
. is . . . a liar and a tramp . . .

This is . . [in] [p]art . . a case about consent[;] . . . it . . is
. . . seemingly . . . a classic “he says/she says.”. . . [S]ome truths
are . . . subjective . . . Subtle distinctions between consensual sex and
date rape, between coercion and force, between silences that sound
like “yes” and silences that sound like “stop,” are difficult for . . .
women . . . themselves to work out. How can a juror really divine
what went on in the mind of another person? . . .

[A]fter the Kobe Bryant accusations surfaced[,] [p]eople made instant
judgments—based on their own experiences, or what they read in the
paper. . . Women who had never even heard of Kobe Bryant knew
absolutely that he was a rapist . . . And that’s what’s happening in the
Duke case . . . A Duke English professor has called for the university
to expel the whole lacrosse team to stop the “drunken white male
privilege loosed amongst us” . . . Jesse Jackson, knowing nothing [but]
. . . rank speculation . . . is comfortable saying this is an archetypal
racial conflict. [B]ut . . . [w]e already . . . know . . . the truth,
with great certainty. [T]his nameless accuser. . . is . . . lying . . .

And what about all this “physical evidence?” That unambiguous,
objective scientific evidence? . . . [T]he lack of a DNA match exonerates
. . . the Duke players. The . . . Duke students say someone else raped
her . . . Time-stamped photos suggest the alleged victim was already
injured before she arrived at the party . . . Photos say she was
intoxicated upon arrival . . .The second stripper implies she was
drugged at the party . . . The lack of any DNA material under those . . .
fake fingernails in the bathroom . . . suggest she never fought back.
Black women; white men. A stripper; and a team blowout. The white
athletes of Duke; and the . . . poor . . . black . . . woman from
North Carolina Central. . . . What happened? The fantasies . . . of . . . a
“ho” . . . happened . . . This case serves as yet another depressing
reminder of all that is wrong with this country: . . . [O]ur colleges are
hotbeds of . . . creepy . . . identity politics . . . Our . . . white
. . . sons are victims . . . of . . . black bigots . . . and . . .
exploitation . . .

. . . [T]his case . . . [is] about sex and race and power. But it’s
. . . about social messages [and] identity-based misunderstandings . . .
as well . . . Either a . . . rape, kidnapping, and strangulation happened
in that bathroom in Durham or it didn’t . . . [T]here is evidence here:
Mounds and mounds of significant physical evidence . . .One might hope
that all this evidence, and the unambiguous legal charges, would lead
to reasonable legal inferences and unequivocal legal conclusions. But
that is where we’d be dead wrong. Because the so-called objective
“evidence” currently being meticulously weighed and evaluated by the
media is no more “objective” or “conclusive” than the . . . rapidly
changing . . . accounts of . . . the . . . accuser . . . Pick your fact,
any fact. Each of them . . . dismisses . . . the alleged . . . rape . . .
This scandal has become yet another exercise in fiction-writing as
opposed to truth-seeking; we can use the . . . evidence to confirm
what we already know . . . to be true. [T]he accused students . . .
are . . . innocent.

And now I’m going to go wash my mouth out with soap.

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Sara said,

    Wow. That is really depressing, a confirmation of how easy it is to distort rational and balanced journalism into one-sided, bigotted nonsense.

  2. 2

    Mom said,

    How scary. Maybe this explains how my students are able to paraphrase me in exams or papers and get my ideas so wildly wrong, sometimes. Except they’re not doing it with malice or with a hate-filled agenda – they’ve just taken bad notes.

  3. 3

    husband said,

    Just another case of she said she said she said.

  4. 4

    from away said,

    *hork*

  5. 5

    Frank said,

    I’m afraid to say anything for fear it will be misconstrued and eventually used against me…

  6. 6

    uccellina said,

    Frank – now you’ve made me curious.

  7. 7

    […] 16, 2007 · Filed under Writing Remember that contest I entered? The results are in, and they are good: I have been mentioned. Honorably. Uccellina G. (who not […]

  8. 8

    elsewhere said,

    Australian comedian Charles Firth actually created several fictitious blogging personas, including a right-wing blogger named Edward McGuire (complete with wikipedia entry). He got taken seriously and was endorsed by other conservative commentators. (He’s written a book about it called _American Hoax_.)


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