A detailed but still deficient reconstruction of the divisive Tawana Brawley affair from a team of five reporters and one rewrite man at The New York Times. The black teen-ager went missing from her home in Duchess County, N.Y., around Thanksgiving of 1987. Surfacing after a four-day absence, Tawana and her family alleged that she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by white cops. Seven months later, though, a grand jury concluded that the young gift had faked the abduction and then lied about it. In the meantime, the so-called Brawley advisors (activist minister Al Sharpton, plus a pair of militant black lawyers) turned the investigation into a media circus, making charges about public officials, the putative impossibility of equal justice for members of minority groups, and an underground Ku Klux Klan network--which print as well as broadcast journalists largely passed on at face value. Among the few honorable exceptions to the rule of credulous sensation-mongering were The New York Times and CBS-TV correspondent Mike Taibbi, whose thoughtful 1989 reprise of the case, Unholy Alliances (written with producer Anna Sims-Philips), outshines the text at hand. At any rate, the authors make a fine job of unraveling the tangled web of events. They not only separate facts from fancy and arrant fictions but also reappraise the dubious roles played by police forces, prosecutors, Governor Mario Cuomo, Bill Cosby, Mike Tyson, and other superstars swept up in the cause cÃ‰lÃ‰bre. In addition, the authors employ an effective device--running commentary from regulars at a diner deep in the Brooklyn ghetto--that affords vivid, down-to-earth insights into why a cross-section of the black community was prepared to believe Tawana's vague accusations and place little faith in law-enforcement agencies. Missing, however, is any systematic effort to explain how and why the fourth estate became an accomplice, or at least accessory, to the hoax and its aftermath. Nor do the authors explore the issue of what responsibility the tabloid press bears for the resultant unhealthy climate in which old hatreds could survive and thrive. A start-to-finish account of an ugly, overblown chapter in America's turbulent racial history, which all but ignores the wider implications of the sorry tale.