The three Duke University lacrosse players falsely indicted on rape charges last year deserve an apology–from the district attorney and members of the media.

The students were guilty of throwing a rowdy and idiotic party. But they are not racists nor rapists. They did not deserve the wildly unfair treatment they endured over the last year. Finally they found justice when charges against them were dropped yesterday.

District Attorney Mike Nifong should be immediately disbarred for recklessly pursuing this case to boost his own re-election prospects. And members of the media, especially TV news, should be ashamed for rushing to paint a distorted picture that bore no relation to the eventual facts.

“I really think this was a classic case of not being able to resist these themes of race and crime and sports in an elite university,” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz told CNN last night. “And I really think we fell down on the job.”

Kurtz is right. It’s not a question of whether to cover the story. It’s how the media chose to cover it, in a typically hysterical and sensationalist way. “It should have been covered with a lot more restraint,” Kurtz said.

The Duke scandal should become a textbook case for how NOT to report the news. No wonder the public holds such a low opinion of our profession.