The air is so thick with irony and hypocrisy these days, it's hard to find oxygen to breathe.
On the same day that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the three white Duke University lacrosse team players innocent of the alleged rape of an African-American stripper, MSNBC canceled its simulcast of the Don Imus radio show for a racial slur against the mostly black Rutgers University women's basketball team. Two athletic teams - one mostly white male, one mostly black female. Two examples of race and gender colliding. One rogue prosecutor; one rude shock jock.
Obviously, there's no comparison between the two cases in terms of consequences. While the Rutgers gals suffered hurt feelings and Mr. Imus lost his television gig and his radio show, the three Duke men potentially faced 30 years in prison and District Attorney Michael B. Nifong faces ethics charges. But they do share the complicating and distorting factors of race, sex and politics.
And of course, they both share the opportunistic involvement of those two rogue race-baiting reverends, Al Sharpton and Jesse L. Jackson. Both not only came to the aid of the Rutgers basketball team but also grabbed the microphones before the accused Duke players had their day in court.
In the Imus case, neither was willing to accept the radio host's apology for his unfunny racist remark aimed at the basketball players, and both worked, successfully, to get him off television airwaves.
In the Duke case, we will succumb to suffocation, I suspect, if we hold our breath waiting for them to apologize for feeding the racist frenzy that condemned those three young men whose lives were nearly ruined by innuendo, lies, an out-of-control prosecutor and a complicit media.
We will also collapse onto the fainting couch waiting for an apology from Duke's "Group of 88" - the coalition of arts and science faculty who took out a full-page ad in the Duke newspaper commending students who demonstrated and distributed a "wanted" poster of the lacrosse team. Duke President Richard H. Brodhead, meanwhile, suspended the accused and canceled the rest of the lacrosse season. It was not a pretty day for due process.
But the man behind the curtain orchestrating this travesty of justice was Mr. Nifong. In the rap vernacular that brought down Mr. Imus, he pimped the accuser, using an apparently troubled young woman for his political gain instead of sending her home where she belonged.
Despite the obvious double standard among those who purport to work for racial harmony, the convergence of these two events may be the tipping point in our national debate about race, sex and speech. Let's do cut close to the bone, but, lest we become enamored of our virtue, we should acknowledge a couple of facts:
First, despite protestations to the contrary, it's hard to believe NBC and CBS dropped Mr. Imus only because of his remarks. The two networks fired him, at least in part, because the show's advertisers pulled out. Does anyone really doubt he would be on air today if the cash were still flowing?
Second, Duke administrators and trustees, who are now demanding a complete investigation into Mr. Nifong's behavior, are a year late and a conscience short. With notable exceptions, administrators and faculty behaved abominably. What a contrast to the support Rutgers gave its students.
Those who have performed most honorably throughout this disgraceful season of sexual spin and racial one-upmanship are the athletes from both teams. Mature and dignified during their news conferences, they've put the grown-ups to shame and offer reason to hope that the rising generation of Americans will put this corrupt house in order.
Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.