But we do know the way narratives are created and manipulated to make political points. The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a tragedy by any reckoning, was perverted into a "hate crime" by a media keen to create a gay victimization story and by a defense attorney looking for an argument about why his client "snapped." (He claimed that Shepard made a pass and his client became violent in response.) The fictional version of the tale -- that Shepard was singled out, tortured and murdered because he was gay -- lives on in books, television dramas, and one of the most frequently performed plays in the repertoire, "The Laramie Project." It was also the partial inspiration for the federal hate crimes act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
The truth is more complicated. As the ABC show "20/20" reported, the two men who killed Shepard were coming off a weeklong methamphetamine binge. One was raised by an unmarried teenaged alcoholic. The other was the product of divorce and then lost his mother at a young age. Both were heavy drug and alcohol abusers. There is evidence that Shepard himself may have accepted a ride with them because he was into drugs as well. After leaving Shepard bludgeoned and tied to a fence, the killers intended to rob his apartment but got into another brawl with two other criminals that night, one of whom suffered a fractured skull.
It was all ugly -- but not quite in the way the we've been told.
So it was with the Duke lacrosse case. Before anyone really knew what the facts were, the left, including a large segment of the Duke faculty to their eternal shame, peddled a version about spoiled, racist, white college kids abusing and raping a black dancer. We now know how that turned out.
Where preferred victim narratives are concerned, truth is the first casualty of American journalism.