Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Cohan Attacks Joe Neff

Author William D. Cohan has issued a strange response to Joe Neff’s recent exposé in the N&O. Neff’s article, which I wrote about below, corrected the Cohan book’s inaccurate framing of the innocence declaration. In the book, Neff noted, Cohan implies that the attorney general blindsided his investigators when he issued the innocence declaration. By actually speaking to the senior member of the AG’s office in charge of the investigation, Neff demonstrated that the version of events (which relied on the suppositions of a convicted liar, Mike Nifong) presented in Cohan’s book was untrue. Neff also observed that Cohan passes along Nifong’s words—courtesy of multiple interviews—“virtually unchallenged.”

Perhaps channeling the sentiments of his chief source, Nifong, Cohan charges that Neff’s article included “pathetic mistakes.” On the “virtually unchallenged” point, Cohan writes, “Had [Neff] read the book before writing his article, he would have known that much of the book is one challenge to Nifong after another from Duke, from the athletes, from their defense attorneys and from the media, including Neff.”

(The index to the book references Neff’s name once.)

This is a very strange interpretation of Neff’s article, in a couple of respects. First, the article makes clear that Neff has read the book. (So have I: Neff’s portrayal of the book’s treatment of Nifong is, if anything, overly generous to Cohan.) Second, given that none of the figures who wrote or spoke the previously published material from which Cohan’s book quotes had seen any of Nifong’s interviews with Cohan, I’m not sure how any of these people could have challenged Nifong. Since Cohan didn’t interview anyone on the other side of the case apart from Ryan McFadyen, the only person who could have challenged Nifong’s current version of events was Cohan, a task for which the author showed no interest.

Neff’s piece was newsworthy in another respect: he actually spoke to Jim Coman, who supervised the investigation. Author Cohan did not do so, for reasons that remain unclear. (Cohan says he did try to speak to Roy Cooper, who declined.)

In his Facebook posting, author Cohan produces an e-mail from his public interest lawyer, in which the lawyer reported that Jim Coman had called to say that the state—like virtually every other state in the country—would not give Cohan (or any other citizen) access to investigative files. It’s not clear how this e-mail is in any way relevant to the points raised by Neff’s article; the e-mail contains no indication that the author asked Coman for an interview to discuss the case. Indeed, the e-mail includes a sentence passing along Coman's phone number—presumably in case the author wanted to contact him—but also indicating that he was currently involved in a case.

Cohan also has a new piece out in Cosmopolitan—at least, unlike in his CNN column, he’s dropped the pretense of providing a news commentary, rather than simply promoting the forthcoming book—in which convicted murderer Crystal Mangum offers yet another version of what happened. (This time, wood splinters were driven into her, but former SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy evidently neglected to write this fact down.) Cohan also allows Mangum—without pointing out the error—to claim that Reade Seligmann carried her out to the car, despite photographic and video evidence that proves otherwise.

Cohan also darkly hints that we’ll never know for sure what happened because North Carolina, like virtually every state, does not publicly release police investigative files. But a significant portion of the discovery file—one never released, and to the best of my knowledge never seen by anyone who covered the case, including by me, because Judge Smith sealed it—was Mangum’s 800-1000pp. medical file. That file included psychological records—which perhaps might explain why she’s now offering an even more delusional story.

In his jailhouse interview, Cohan had an opportunity to ask Mangum to publicly release the hundreds of pages in the discovery file over which she possesses personal control. Given his commitment to complete openness of all police files, I’m sure that Cohan made the request. Alas, his piece in Cosmopolitan doesn’t reveal Mangum’s response, beyond a bizarre claim that Mangum no longer has access to her own records.


Chris Halkides said...

I am glad that Mr. Cohan interviewed Ryan McFayden, and based upon the Vanity Fair piece, I would say that Ryan comes across well (One wishes more people had read Bill Anderson's entry on him over the years). I exchanged a couple of emails with Ryan, and he struck me as intelligent and polite; he certainly never deserved the storm of negative publicity he has had to endure.

That positive aspect noted, I really do not understand what motivated Mr. Cohan to write his book. Does he actually believe that the DNA on the fingernails is anything but the slenderest reed of evidence against David Evans, and one that dwarfed by the absence of any players' DNA in the rape kit. The absence of evidence is not quite the same as the evidence of absence, but in this instance, it points very, very strongly in that direction. Ms. Mangum was taken into custody not long after the incident, and I don't see how it would have been possible for her to have a shower. In addition, DNA tests for other men were positive, indicating that the tests themselves were working. Mr. Cohan could have learned this and more from any number of people. IIRC there was a decent chapter on the DNA results in the book Race to Injustice.

RighteousThug said...

Where is Cohn's response to Neff available, KC?

RighteousThug said...


KC Johnson said...


It's on his facebook page:

To Chris:

I, too, am puzzled at the motivation. When all else fails, I suppose a mercenary explanation is the most likely. It is, as you point out, hard to imagine that anyone could seriously believe the "Nifong-was-right" thesis, and the book produces no new evidence other than what Nifong offered during the case.

Chris Halkides said...

In Cosmopolitan Heather Wood Rudolph interviewed Mr. Cohan. In response to a question about the players' telling their side of the story Cohan said, "The defense was very skillful in finding procedural errors in the prosecution’s case — and they were masters at manipulating the media." I don't think Cohan interviewed the three accused, but there is still no excuse for his not knowing how an unremarkable altercation in Georgetown somehow becoming proof that Collin Finnerty was the worst of the worst (an absurd idea that Until Proven Innocent debunked). But he did interview Ryan McFayden. Does Mr. Cohan believe that Ryan manipulated the media? I am dumbfounded.

Collin Finnerty had cell phone triangulation records. Reade Seligmann had a photo of himself a mile away at the time (Cohan is aware of the latter, but it is unclear what his position on its strength is, based on his interview with Mangum). That is not a matter of a "procedural error."

KC Johnson said...

To Chris:

It's also worth noting that Cohan did not interview the *defense*. He made, for instance, no interview request of Brad Bannon or Joe Cheshire.

Perhaps he worried about being manipulated...

Scot Foley said...


This thought may have already occurred to you but I propose that you challenge Cohan to a debate on the case and let's see what he says.

Chris Halkides said...

I would be hard pressed to find even one thing with which to agree in Heather Rudolph's interview with William Cohan in Cosmopolitan. For example, Mr. Cohan said, "When the media stopped referring to her as the victim and started referring to her as the accuser, the whole narrative changed." Calling someone the victim before there is a conviction is the problem ("accuser" or "alleged victim" are more neutral terms).

Mr. Cohan also said, "The justice system is supposed to sort these things out...The irony is that the justice system was never allowed to sort this out because there was never a trial." The cost in time, money and emotional distress to the targets of a wrongful prosecution are enormous; the justice system failed when it indicted the three.

Anonymous said...

They did it because Duke told them to. Indictments of someone was needed in order to achieve their political agendas and make Duke not seem the callous hyprocritical killers, rapists, liars, users and abusers that they now claim as reputation for their own through their own crimes and actions committed in spite of this discredited attempt to save their ethical and moral standings in the minds of the community of patients they serve and in the many numerous wallets and accounts that they ply.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 8:38: would you please repeat your comment in English.

RighteousThug said...

Chris Halkides said...

"For example, Mr. Cohan said, "When the media stopped referring to her as the victim and started referring to her as the accuser, the whole narrative changed."

Cohan has problem with cause and effect there.

I would venture to say that the media 'stopped referring to her as the victim and started referring to her as the accuser' because the narrative had (finally) changed. As you pointed out, Chris, the media should already have been describing her as accuser/alleged victim.

It'd be tough to find all the original articles now, but it's my sense that we had at least 4 months (through mid-July) of non-stop 'pro-victim' reporting (with the Herald-Sun leading the way) before Nifong's fongery became so obvious that the media started finally started questioning the PC narrative (with Neff leading the way).

And it wasn't the defense that were 'masters at manipulating the media'. All defendants are entitled to a zealous defense, and the best 'trick', if you will, that the defense played was attaching important discovery and defense-generated evidence to Court filigs to get them to the public.

RighteousThug said...

Chris, I forgot to add - while I agree that Ryan came off fairly well in the excerpt we've seen, I disagree with you on his granting an interview with Cohan.

My first thought was 'what was he thinking, no good can come from this'.