"We don't know all the facts about the alleged Duke lacrosse rape, but ..."
That's more or less how most commentators have introduced their remarks on the case that has reduced the Durham, N.C., community to prayers, tears and recriminations.
Let me interpret the code for you: Men are bad.
Even though we don't know what happened, we're not going to let the absence of facts interfere with our indictment of a team, a coach, a school, but more to the point - of boys.
About the only thing to emerge with any clarity since a black exotic dancer claimed that three white lacrosse players raped her last month is our willingness to believe the worst about males.
That belief is all the more rewarding if the males happen to be white, as well as athletes, and especially if they're perceived to be privileged. If there's one thing we can't bear in this country, it's spoiled white boys who think the world owes them a good time.
I'm not about to impugn the reputation of the woman in question or to disbelieve entirely her story. She left four red-painted fingernails in the party house where the alleged rape took place, corroborating at least part of her story.
And, despite negative DNA tests indicating that none of the team's players had sexual intercourse with the woman, the Durham County district attorney is expected to produce at least one indictment, possibly as soon as Monday when the grand jury is scheduled to convene.
Probably no one gets a citizenship award in this case, based on the facts we do know. Something happened in that house on the night in question about which, apparently, no one is proud. The team's silence and the coach's sudden resignation all contribute to the sense that something untoward took place, if perhaps something less than the alleged gang rape.
That said, it is unsurprising in these bilious times that an athletic team, some of whose members could face very serious charges, would opt for silence, most likely on the advice of attorneys. A mob formed almost instantaneously to condemn the lacrosse players, and, as history has taught us, once a mob gets a whiff of blood, nothing but blood will do.
Whatever transpires in the days and months ahead, what's most stunning isn't the revelation that a group of young men, lubricated by testosterone and brew, might become sexually aroused by a woman displaying her wares, but that we assume without evidence that they acted on their basest instincts.
The idea that males can't control themselves and that females can't be blamed - ever for anything - has been taking shape in the culture for the past several decades and now is firmly embedded in the zeitgeist. Reaction to Duke's sad chapter is but the inevitable full flowering of the anti-male seeds planted a generation ago.
Thus, we need little prompting to assume that where there's a guy, there's a potential rapist; where there's an athlete, there's seething brute force; where there's an SUV, there's a privileged, gluttonous, imperialistic brat who deserves to be found guilty, even if he isn't.
These biases have been on display the past couple of weeks, vividly so in an op-ed by North Carolina author Alan Gurganus, writing for Sunday's New York Times.
Joining the chorus of commentators who clearly found the rape charge believable if unproven, Gurganus set the stage for class resentment with key phrases like "glamorous boarding-school sports" and "wealthy young people," and highlighted other details to suggest that these are probably bad boys.
"Of the 40 or so players required to give DNA samples, nearly one-third showed previous arrests for underage drinking and public urination," he wrote.
That pounding you hear is the sound of nails being driven into the hangman's gallows. Everybody knows, after all, that there's just a wink and a six-pack's difference between drinking and tinkling outdoors and gang-raping a stripper.
While we wait to hear what the grand jury decides, we might turn our harsh judgment inward and recognize that the anti-male groupthink that permitted a presumption of guilt in Durham is little different than the lynch-mob mentality that once channeled rage against blacks.
Obviously, no woman deserves to be raped for any reason, under any circumstances. But nor do men deserve to be presumed guilty just because they're men.