TO PARAPHRASE the great philosopher Spike Lee, someone finally "did the right thing."

After 13 months of agony during which they became cable-news fixtures, saw their reputations destroyed and were accused of criminal conduct that never happened, the three Duke lacrosse players have finally been vindicated.

But justice arrived on a slow-moving train.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all the remaining charges against the Duke 3. After having taken the case out of the tainted hands of DA Mike Nifong, the state's top prosecutor effectively declared the young men innocent of all charges. He also delivered the understatement of the century: "I think a lot of people owe a lot of apologies."

Let's go down the list, starting with the reptilian Nifong.

Betraying his oath of office, his professional obligations as an officer of the court and the most basic measures of common decency, the DA played the race card to win an election. In the process, he trampled on the civil rights of three young men whose primary offenses were bad manners and questionable hygiene.

Nifong should apologize beyond the lame one he offered to the players yesterday, and, if by some miracle he manages to avoid disbarment, should then take up ambulance chasing. It would be a step up professionally.

Then we have the so-called "victim," who went through several different versions of her story, changing the details each time an inconsistency was pointed out. Women's groups rallied reflexively to her side, conveniently ignoring the fact that she'd made a false rape claim in the past and that her injuries - or lack thereof - contradicted her testimony. Her apology should be given on the Duke campus, and carried on national TV.

It would also be nice if criminal charges could be brought against this latter-day Tawana Brawley, but that's unlikely. She's "delusional," they claim. She really believes she was raped, they explain.

Speaking of Tawana, maybe we can get Al Sharpton away from his Imus crusade long enough to sing a nice duet of Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" with Jesse "I'm giving that poor girl a scholarship" Jackson.

Then we have the networks, which feasted like vultures on the scandal. The defendants, paraded like Christians before some media-savvy lions every night of the week for months, were convicted before they even set foot in a courtroom.

Talking heads who prostitute themselves for juicy stories feigned objectivity but used the case like Viagra for ratings.

With the notable exception of Fox, the broadcast media railroaded the students. Apologies should appear at the bottom of the screen, scrolling in perpetuity.

Of course, we can't forget the despicable antics of the the New York Times, which splashed the boys on the front page for weeks on end, while editorials maligned them. Worse, supposedly objective news stories read like op-ed pieces, blaming the students for being the racist, sexist products of a disgraceful culture.

"Unnamed sources" accused the students of being "frat boys" who lorded their class and race over the poor townfolk, as if this had any relevance to the criminal case. And more to the point, as if wealthy white boys are more disposed to rape than other groups. The Times omsbudsman should demand that an apology be printed, above the fold, under the title "INNOCENT."

Duke bears a great deal of the blame, too, since way too many professors and administrators almost immediately had the boys convicted and sentenced on the flimsiest of evidence.

The "progressive" faculty jumped at the chance to crucify the lacrosse team and a culture that it despised. Apologies should be printed on the athletes' diplomas and the women's studies department should be forced to hold its meetings in the lacrosse locker room.

By now you may be angry at my questionable sense of humor. Guess what? I'm angry, too. I'm outraged that three innocent young men were railroaded by a system that looked at their skin color and their bank accounts and said "Guilty even if the DNA proves you innocent."

Sure, it's happened the other way around. Poor black men have been denied due process since time immemorial. But does it make it any less evil when the roles are reversed?

I'm also outraged that a woman could cry rape and launch a nuclear bomb into three lives with such impunity. She's guaranteed that other women will be suspected of lying, even when they're not. That's evil, too.

So I'm waiting for the apologies to start rolling in.

Love may mean never having to say you're sorry. But justice demands an act of contrition. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.