It has now become more and more obvious, even to some people who initially believed the "rape" charges against Duke University students, that there was never a speck of evidence to support the charges and a growing amount of evidence to the contrary.
However reprehensible District Attorney Michael Nifong's words and actions have been throughout this case, it would be a serious mistake to see in this tawdry episode just the vileness of one man.
The larger tragedy is what this case revealed about the degeneration of our times and the hollowness of so many people in "responsible" positions in the media, in academia and among those blacks so consumed by racial resentments and thirst for revenge that they are prepared to lash out at individuals who have done nothing to them and are guilty of no crime against anybody.
The haste and vehemence with which scores of Duke University professors publicly took sides against the students in this case is just one sign of how deep the moral dry rot goes, in even our most prestigious institutions.
The Jan. 29 issue of The Weekly Standard has a devastating article about the lynch mob atmosphere created, not only by the Duke University faculty and administration but also by writers for such "respectable" publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post, not to mention a professor of law at the University of Southern California and a former president of Princeton.
We have become a society easily stampeded, even by the unsubstantiated, inconsistent and mutually contradictory statements of a woman with a criminal record.
All it takes is something that invokes the new holy trinity of the intelligentsia — "race, class and gender." The story of a black woman gang-raped by white men fit the theme so compellingly that much of the media had no time to waste trying to find out if it was true before going ballistic.
The biggest losers from the current Duke rape case include not only the three students accused but also the black community, which has once more followed a demagogue who knew how to exploit its emotions for his own benefit.
Some of these demagogues are white like Nifong, but there are also homegrown black demagogues like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who have prospered greatly and basked in the limelight by leading other blacks into a blind alley of futile resentments and counterproductive self-dramatization.
The unraveling Duke rape case should be a wake-up call, both for blacks and for liberals, on how easy it is for their emotions to be manipulated by even a third-rate demagogue with a flimsy fraud. The time is long overdue for some of those who consider themselves "thinking people" to start doing some thinking.
Many liberals can at least afford their mindless crusades. They may end up looking silly, but that has never stopped them before.
The biggest losers from getting sucked into these frauds are blacks, especially young blacks who go off on an emotional tangent that leads nowhere, at a time when there are so many opportunities in other directions, if they will direct their time and efforts in those directions through education and other serious interests.
The current self-destructive misdirection of energies in black ghettoes cannot be explained by a "legacy of slavery" or "racism." For one thing, this level of self-destruction in black communities did not exist half a century ago, when racism was worse and the black population was generations closer to the era of slavery.
Moreover, a virtually identical pattern of self-destructive attitudes and behavior has been found among British lower-class whites, where none of this can be blamed on racism or a legacy of slavery. (See "Life at the Bottom" by Theodore Dalrymple.)
What the two self-destructive communities on opposite sides of the Atlantic have in common is hearing a steady diet of propaganda blaming all their problems on others and depicting "society" as determined to keep them down, regardless of anything they might do to try to lift themselves up.
That same deadly message has produced the same tragic results among very different people. The Duke rape fraud is yet another sign that the time is long overdue for all of us to start thinking.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.