The Lynching of Patrick Witt
Journalists and bloggers glory in the role of iconoclast. Nothing falls with quite such a crash as a hero toppled by disclosure of their failings. The writer who wields the toppling axe struts like a hero. But the line between iconoclasm and gratuitous mudslinging is a thin one. The New York Times demonstrated that this week with its story on a Yale student named Patrick Witt.
While college football fans sat dazed this fall over the allegations of sexual misconduct by a former football coach at Penn State University, and the abrupt firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno for reportedly covering it all up, a new hero emerged. Patrick Witt, the quarterback at Yale University had a choice to make. He could either take the field with his team in the final game of the season, “The Game,” against Harvard, or he could fly south to attend an interview for a Rhodes Scholarship, one of 32 awarded each year to permit young people of exceptional talent and character to study at Oxford University.
Witt chose loyalty to his team over ambition. There was room, or so it appeared, for virtue in college sports after all.
In a story this week by Richard Perez-Pena, the Times reported that the former Yale quarterback had been accused of rape by a fellow student this fall. The story then went on to report that when Witt publicly placed his team above an opportunity for Rhodes Scholarship, the good people at Rhodes had already lost interest in Witt. It seems someone, a named source the Times report, told the Rhodes committee that Mr. Witt was investigated for rape. The Times ominously reported that Mr. Will was not currently at Yale, and that his whereabouts were unknown.
The picture that emerged was that of an unscrupulous and scurrilous liar who fled New Haven to avoid the inevitable prosecution for rape.
It must have felt good to hit the send button on the story. Perez-Pena reminded us all that there are no heroes, that life is far more complex than it appears, that there are victims everywhere in need of the protection offered by the keyboard class.
But what if the story is a set-up? What if it was made to appear more than it is? What if Perez-Pena, the Times, and some politically correct folks at Yale decided to kick a field goal for a rancid form of feminism by crying rape where there was no rape?
The complaining witness in this case is a former girlfriend of Mr. Witt’s. She complained of a sexual assault to college administrators but elected an informal complaint procedure that yielded neither formal hearings nor a chance of any sort for Mr. Witt to confront his accuser. The university did not discipline Mr. Witt. As of late Friday afternoon, neither the Yale Police Department nor the New Haven Police Department had opened an investigative file. No complaint was made to the Office of the New Haven State’s Attorney. The woman is expected to graduate this Spring from Yale.
This is the rape that most likely wasn’t, by a complaining witness who was probably no victim. The real victim in this case is Patrick Witt.
It turns out that when the allegations surfaced, privately, at Yale, Mr. Witt requested a formal hearing to clear his name. The university rejected the request on the specious grounds that as the complaining witness had elected an informal complaint procedure, there was no formal complaint to investigate. What kind of mealy-mouthed garbage is this? Administrators meet to discuss career-ending claims against a young man with a bright future. When he asks to confront his accuser, to meet the claims head on, the university puts its head in the sand? Shame on Yale.
And what of the Times? Perez-Pena’s story relies on confidential sources, each of whom apparently spoke on condition of anonymity because they knew they were violating the law. Writes Perez-Pena: “This account of the accusation against Witt and how it affected his Rhodes candidacy is based on interviews with a half-dozen people with knowledge of all or part of the story; they all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing matters that the institutions treat as confidential.”
Yale is required to treat such matters as confidential under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The good folks at Rhodes are not bound by such requirements as they receive no federal funds of any sort. The complaining witness, if she lied, can be held accountable for defamation.
Witt has claims against those officials affiliated with Yale who spoke to the Times and others about this matter. Discovering who these people are will be difficult. FERPA does not support a private right of action, meaning a person harmed by an individual who broke the law cannot sue Yale himself. But Witt ought to complaint to the federal Education Department. Once the names of those who leaked information are disclosed to federal regulators, he can bring a private tort claim for disclosure of private facts.
Of course, the simplest way to get the names of these sources would be to bring an action against Perez-Pena himself and the Times, perhaps for false lights invasion of privacy, the deliberate decision to place a person in a false and unflattering light. The Times cries rape without ever speaking to the woman who made the claim?
Why not force Perez-Pena to claim that his sources require protection, that he must shield them from disclosure in the name of the First Amendment? This case hardly involves national security or some assertion of the public good yielding a conflict between the public’s right to know and the requirements of lawful process. This was a college kid, most likely himself victimized by a former girlfriend who decided to rain all over his parade and then hide from the consequences.
Apparently, the Yale Daily News was aware of this story for months, but chose not to run it. I’ll bet good money than an ambitious editor or two from that paper wagged their tongues to the Times hoping to show their journalistic metal. Send these parasites to London to work for Rupert Murdoch. This is tabloid trash.
Patrick Witt got lynched this week. Yale appears to have held the rope. So apparently did the good folks doling out Rhodes Scholarships. He has reportedly already lost one job prospect as a result of this scandal. His prospects in the forthcoming National Football League draft are also tarnished.
And why? Because a former girlfriend cried rape but refuses to come forward in any forum, public or private, so that her claim can be confronted and evaluated?
Yale has swallowed the toxic pill of political correctness and is rapidly creating a culture worthy of Salem or the McCarthy hearings. Cry rape, refuse to confront the man you accuse, and then whisper to the world that your former lover is a monster. That the Times, the Rhodes committee and Yale fell for this garbage is a distressing sign of how fairness and basic decency can be sacrificed on the altar of identity politics.