A lot of smart people have spent the last 24 hours explaining the significance of the Dharun Ravi verdict. (If you don't know about the Dharun Ravi verdict, please click here.) One of those smart people is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, the current "Carville Dickinson Benson Research professor of law" at George Washington University, and the author of Let's Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice. Today, CNN.com published his ruminations in the form of an essay titled "Rutgers Spying Verdict Won't End Bullying." And while the claim made in the title is self-evidently true, it's clear that Butler knows nothing about the Dharun Ravi case.
In fact, Butler is so ignorant of the case that he manages to cram four falsehoods into a single three-sentence paragraph. That graf:
As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having sex with another man. He let some other people watch the video, and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge to his death.
As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi …
There was no tape. It was a live webcam, turned on for just a moment.
… having sex with another man.
Nope. They were just making out.
He let some other people watch the video …
Nope. Only one person besides Dharun saw the webcam feed, and only briefly.
… and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge …
Technically true, but cruelly misleading. Dharun first tweeted that Clementi was gay long before the webcam-snooping and the suicide. In fact, he did it before the school year had begun — before he'd even met Clementi in person. Butler's imputation is that Dharun somehow "outed" Clementi, which is nonsense. The only reason Dharun was able to tweet the words "Found out my roommate's gay" so early on was that Clementi was already out'n'proud on the internet. It is the case that Dharun made another reference to Clementi's sexuality on the night he spied Clementi and his lover on the webcam, but it's insane to think such a reference might drive an out person to suicide.
Butler should read Ian Parker's excellent New Yorker article, "The Story of a Suicide," before writing anything else on the subject.