Lee’s Take on “Fantastic Lies” – ESPN’s 30 For 30 Documentary on the Duke Lacrosse Case

Written by Lee Roggenburg on . Posted in .


I’m pretty comfortable in saying a number of our readers watched the debut of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Fantastic Lies, about the Duke Lacrosse fiasco in 2006.  A few years ago I read the Don Yaeger book on the subject, which was pretty damning, and after watching last night’s documentary I could say I learned some new things and finally got a better appreciation for how the whole event affected the players involved.

Before I get too involved in this, a few notes of caution.  A documentary is not everything that happened, it’s a two-hour story woven around what resources the producer and director has access to.  Because of settlement agreements most of the players did not appear on film in an active way, although the team’s roster picture did appear multiple times.  I did watch Director Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski documentary so I was coming into this with a belief I was going to see a fair approach, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Another thing to note since it is only fair is to say I have gotten to know two of the players on that team because of their current involvement down here in Florida and while neither overtly appeared in the movie one was captured a couple of times in it on film.  I’ve recently asked both of them if they would talk to me about the human aspect of it (as far as I’m concerned there are plenty of sources available if you want to read more about WHAT happened and that needs no rehashing) as far as their own emotional feelings of being in the media cauldron and most intriguing to me the interactions with other campus ecosystems . . . fellow students, professors, administrators, etc.  I am not going to talk about who until they decide to say yes or no to my request and if the answer is no I will continue to respect their privacy going forward.  In the past they have been very helpful in fulfilling a request with the Duke program for a charity event and I consider both of them to be of the highest level of character.


Some of the things from the documentary that I learned from were:

The vitriol the players faced from their fellow students was far harsher on video than in any of the writings I read.  The ‘rush to judgment’ by professors and administrators was what was featured and highlighted in previous publications but the student component was downplayed in my mind, and after seeing it on video I can see why the Duke administration needed to settle . . . the environment the school let go on was scary at the least, and potentially life threatening if it had gotten further out of hand.

If you doubt this, here is something that did not make the documentary, from a 2014 Vanity Fair article:

“Within weeks of the party, McFadyen was in his history-of-labor-relations class. At the start of the class, the professor and McFadyen’s advisor, Reeve Huston, addressed the allegations. According to McFadyen, “He got up and said, ‘I just want to take the first couple minutes of class to discuss a few items that are hot in the news. I want to talk about the alleged Duke rape case.’” In the class of about 15, eight students were on the lacrosse team. “‘Three things are identified to be fact,” the professor continued, according to McFadyen. “‘One: there was definitely intercourse that night. Two: a condom was most likely used, as cited by . . . ’”

Casey Carroll, a junior defenseman who had not been at the party, decided he had heard enough. “I remember Casey just getting up in the middle of class and just walking out,” McFadyen says. “He said, ‘I’m not going to sit here and have you berate me with what you’ve established to be facts.’” McFadyen and the other players followed him.”


The appearance of Crystal Mangum’s former Minister, Delois Burnette was very surprising to me, I would have thought she would have been more discrete about her feelings.  The fact that she was willing to talk about how Ms. Mangum was a troubled person who had trouble with reality was to me one of the most damning pronouncements in the whole story.  I’m amazed the Minister would go on record like this, which tells me there is likely to be more to their relationship than what the movie showed.

Crystal Mangum is a poster child for mental health issues.  Two children, trying to get through school.  And not able to handle the mental stress she was under.  Certainly seemed like she was manipulated by those who had a political agenda.  And the poster child with Tawana Brawley for hurting the cause of racial equality.  A tragic figure who would be at home in a Shakespeare play.


How anyone of good character could hire Nancy Grace or her strident sycophants (Wendy Murphy, Lisa Pinto and the rest of their ilk), after their disgraceful coverage of this case for ANYTHING is beyond me.  Ditto to the NY Times authors who also fanned the flames of this beyond their so-called motto of ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print’, as they so piously proclaim.  Former NY Times Ombudsman Daniel Okrent completely destroyed his own employer’s ludicrous position on this.  One very damning item that is not in the film is that the day the 3 players were completely cleared Nancy Grace was nowhere to be found on her TV program and her substitute had to do the mea culpa for that night.  Gutless.


Duke Lax Nancy Grace #2

I believe this is the night Ms. Grace called in sick . . . click on it.


The influence of the major investigators, Benjamin Himan and Sgt. Mark Gottlieb, was delved in to but it would have been good to see that fleshed out more.  Mr. Gottlieb committed suicide in 2014 and that was certainly new to me.  What role his involvement in this played in that is also left open.


David Evans’ press statement.  It was pretty powerful when it happened.  In the documentary it was even more powerful to me.  It got lost in the shuffle during the press frenzy.  Seen now it is extraordinary.  A 22-year old staring down an entire network of know-it-all’s and slaying them like he was Leonidas at the battle of Thermopyalae.




The role of Michael Nifong’s DA campaign manager came off as self-serving to me . . . if she truly had her doubts she should have quit his election campaign a lot earlier than she did.


The most stunning omission of the documentary to me was this:  At approximately the 4:10 mark of this clip the accuser’s stripper partner completely blows the case up as she confirms Mangum actually made this up.  I’m stunned this does not make the documentary.



But the documentary does make the most incredible point that many have long forgotten.  Nifong never spoke to Mangum for NINE MONTHS and Nifong never spoke to Seligmann or Finnerty.  I’d certainly forgotten that too.  And when he did speak to her she wasn’t even sure she had been raped at all.  Oh Lord.


The team does not, and should not, get off scot-free.  Their verbal abuse was pretty stupid and even though the referenced e-mail was supposed to be a movie reference you do need to be a lot smarter than that.  When it was clear that the stripper was alcohol-impaired (and probably drug-impaired too if you read between the lines) the night should have come to an end.  I’ve had multiple discussions with my son that if a girl is impaired that even if she says ‘Yes’, you take it as ‘No’.  You do not take advantage.  They should have called a Paramed to come to the house.  The money involved is not worth it.  And it would have likely saved everyone a lot of aggravation.

One reason this story hit home to me is that my college also had it’s own sexual abuse scandal that involved the athlete(s), which was covered by the NY Times.  Most of my readers know my fondness for my school and to read this hurt pretty badly.  I can certainly say that when I was in college incidents like this either went unreported by the media or just were not submitted to the authorities, either at the college level or the police level.  Thankfully I never witnessed anything like it, but it was certainly part of the rumor circuit that some things did happen.

So for any kids who are reading this, just one bit of experienced advice . . . if someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, CALL IT A DAY and help that person sleep it off.  SAFELY.

What could possibly be worth going through something like this?

I’d like to congratulate Ms. Zenovich for a job well done.

And to justice truly being served in the long run . . . for most.  From what I hear Nancy Grace actually still pulls down a paycheck from CNN . . . as one of the parents so aptly notes . . . there are no Walter Cronkite’s or Edward R. Murrows left.  Shame on you CNN for giving this woman a forum.

Something else good came out of this too:


The 3 players became involved with helping others wrongfully charged and convicted to get a fair shake.

Not bad if they help to overturn some other wrongful decisions . . . and the documentary makes clear that Mr. Nifong’s past cases are a primary focus.  Maybe one day Mr. Nifong will spend more than one day in jail . . .