Monday, April 14, 2014

Cohan's Duke

Although his book’s subtitle is focused entirely on Duke, author William D. Cohan has relatively little to say about the university. He doesn’t much like the role of athletics (at least lacrosse) on the Duke campus, seems sympathetic to the Group of 88 without really saying why, and suggests that Duke bought silence of the falsely accused players, through large financial payments for reasons that remain clear—as if, somehow, the interests of the university and the students that Nifong targeted were aligned, despite the record of virtually all of 2006.

Settlement

To the extent that the book’s specific claims have attracted any notice at all, it’s not the “something happened” thesis (which even Salon didn’t accept), but instead Cohan’s ever-inflating dollar figure for Duke’s settlement costs. He asserted that Duke settled with the three falsely accused players (p. 568) for a total of $60 million, based on “the consensus around Duke and Durham.” (As far as I can determine, the first public reference to this figure came from anti-lacrosse extremist Tim Tyson.) That’s pretty light sourcing, especially since—as I’ve noted before—the well-connected Bernie Reeves reported that the settlement was around $18 million. (I have no reason to believe that Reeves’ general framework is wrong, and I suspect that we’ll be seeing more reporting on this issue soon.) Oddly, and for reasons he fails to explain, Cohan doesn’t even cite Reeves’ figure.

In an interview with the Daily News, Cohan bumped the total settlement-related figure up to $100 million, an amount for which he provides no corroboration at all—and which does not appear in the book. Even assuming that Cohan is correct about the $60 million figure (which it appears he is not), the $100 million claim would mean—factoring in settlements with the unindicted players and with Mike Pressler—that Duke has paid $37.2 million in legal fees on the case. If Reeves’ settlement figure is roughly correct, Duke’s legal fees would jump to somewhere in the neighborhood of $77 million to $79 million to reach the figure given by Cohan to the Daily News. I obviously don’t have access to Duke’s billable hours, though I doubt that the university paid between $37.2 million and $79 million to its lawyers (who aren’t exactly my biggest fans). But if, in fact, Duke did so, then I’d say that Cohan has buried the lede.

Regardless of the figure—and, to reiterate, I find Reeves far more credible than Cohan—Cohan treats the settlement issue in a very strange fashion. His inference (which he has made unequivocally clear in his TV appearances) is that Duke purchased the “silence” of the lacrosse players—even as the rest of the book suggested that some of the lacrosse players committed a crime. If the players were actually guilty, what incentive would Duke have had for settling? It’s not my experience that universities make eight-figure settlements out of the goodness of their hearts.

Here’s Cohan’s explanation (p. 570), from an anonymous Duke insider (though Cohan spoke to Bob Steel, he doesn’t quote Steel on this issue—or does he?): An independent counsel hired by the university quickly concluded that Duke couldn’t have handled things “a lot differently,” but the university did make some mistakes “during the first twenty-four or forty-eight hours,” chiefly regarding Dean Sue’s suggesting that the captains should cooperate with the investigation without telling their parents or hiring lawyers. Other than that, according to Cohan’s “confidential” source, Duke had scant legal liability.

Translation: Dean Sue gave bad advice, so the university had to pay out (according to Cohan, who’s almost certainly incorrect here) $60 million. And, by the way, the woman who allegedly cost the university (according to Cohan, who’s almost certainly incorrect here) $60 million is still employed by Duke. This storyline conveniently overlaps with Cohan’s biases on the case, and he’s remarkably non-curious about the alleged description.

Notice a key name absent from Cohan’s recapitulation: former Duke employee and former SANE-nurse-in-training Tara Levicy. The university was legally liable for Levicy’s actions, of course, since they played a direct role in the indictments of the falsely accused, and sustaining those indictments over 2006. But Cohan can’t acknowledge this, since along with Nifong he’s painted Levicy as a credible witness for sexual assault elsewhere in the book; therefore, Levicy’s conduct cannot have left Duke with any legal vulnerabilities.

Cohan also notes the settlement’s unusual provision—a shielding of all Duke faculty members from individual liability—but dismisses it, quoting the public remarks of Paula McClain. He doesn’t mention the fact that at least one Group member—Cathy Davidson—privately admitted to havingconsulted an attorney and being told that the Group members, in fact, did have legal exposure. He provides no explanation as to why he omitted Davidson’s revelation, which would seem more relevant than McClain’s public boast. Doing so might contradict his untenable thesis that Duke basically had no legal liability for its actions.

For anyone who believes that Duke forked over an eight-figure settlement solely because of Dean Sue’s flawed advice: I have a bridge in the borough in which I teach to sell you.

Group of 88

When Cohan introduces the Group of 88 statement (p. 221), he doesn’t include that it contained an unequivocal statement that something “happened” to Mangum—at a time when the defense attorneys were unequivocal that nothing happened to her. He later (p. 480) says that the ad’s critics “argued that [the Group] had not been sufficiently supportive of the lacrosse players during their legal ordeal,” even though a primary thrust of criticism of the Group centered not on this issue at all but instead on the professors’ abandonment of the academy’s traditional fealty to due process and their disinclination to follow the rules of the Duke faculty handbook. Unless Cohan believes that defending due process amounted to defending the players—and since he portrays Nifong as respecting due process, such a belief would make no sense for him—it’s not clear why he allowed the Group’s self-description to pass without comment.

Cohan also passes along without analysis Wahneema Lubiano’s bizarre assertion (p. 481) that the ad was “taken out of context by overzealous bloggers eager to come to the defense of the three indicted players.” Yet—as Cohan’s own book notes, hundreds of pages earlier—the people who originally expressed concern about the ad were editorialists at the Chronicle, not at a blog. And my initial comments on the Group, which did appear on a blog, came at a time when I had no opinion of any type on the criminal case, which involved people I had never met. Indeed, none of my early posts about the Group defended the indicted players in any way.

Cohan declines to provide any breakdown of the pedagogical interests or department membership of the signatories—thereby leaving the impression that the statement came from a random cross-section of faculty members rather than a particular ideological and pedagogical cohort.

Finally, Cohan reproduces Houston Baker’s entire racist screed (in which he demanded the summary expulsion from Duke of the 46 white lacrosse players). Peter Lange’s eloquent response, on the other hand, is merely excerpted and summarized. As is his general approach when dealing with faculty matters outside of Peter Wood, who gets praised, Cohan offers no critique or analysis of Baker’s remarks.

Excusing

Cohan has a pattern of not mentioning the worst of the extremists’ remarks. Done once, this might have been unremarkable. But seeing the pattern emerge is notable. Beyond the material on the Group of 88 statement, here are some examples:

In his discussion of the potbangers’ rally (p. 105), he doesn’t mention the protesters carrying the “castrate” or “measure for measure” signs. (He does mention comparatively milder protest signs.)

Cohan extensively summarizes (p. 175) William Chafe’s guilt-presuming March 2006 op-ed, but doesn’t mention how this historian of race in America got the date of a seminal event—the lynching of Emmett Till—wrong. Indeed, Cohan doesn’t even mention that Chafe made the inflammatory comparison.

Despite the Chauncey Nartey incident (which gets a mention) and the improper in-class behavior against lacrosse players by several professors, Cohan uses (p. 183) scare quotes—“reports of ‘harassment’ directed at Coach Pressler or the lacrosse players.” Nowhere in the book does Cohan in any way challenge the veracity of these reports.

Cohan discusses the Dowd-Curtis affair, but suggests that Duke changed Dowd’s grade voluntarily (p. 224) by recalculating it, rather than (as occurred) through a legal settlement with the Dowds. More problematically, he erroneously asserts that Duke changed Dowd’s grade to a D, rather than (as occurred) to a P (pass). And he chooses not to mention entirely that Curtis was caught—in a photo—attending rallies attacking the students in her own class.

Cohan references (p. 291) the infamous Brodhead Primal Fear e-mail (one of the few discovery items to seep through from the civil suit). Yet he gives an innocuous, misleading description of the movie (whose plot line, recall, revolved around a defendant who fools his attorney into believing that he’s innocent, when in fact he’s guilty as charged), thereby robbing the reader of the context necessary to understand that Brodhead was presuming guilt. Here, instead, is how Cohan describes the film: The movie “was about an altar boy accused of murdering a prominent Catholic priest in Chicago.”

Cohan mentions the December 2006 defense change-of-venue motion—in which, he sneers (p. 431), the lawyers presented “the so-called facts of the lacrosse case”—but doesn’t mention the most newsworthy item of the motion: that for what appears to be the first time in American history, students accused of a crime filed a motion accusing their own school’s professors of so poisoning the local jury pool that they couldn’t receive a fair trial.

McFadyen

The only member of the team interviewed by Cohan was Ryan McFadyen. By contrast, Stuart and I interviewed more than a dozen members of the team (including Ryan); I also interviewed several people for the blog (including Ryan). Cohan’s section on the party and the aftermath plays up Ryan’s role and recollections. Apart from the three falsely accused students, who declined to speak to Cohan, the author gives no indication of seeking to interview any members of the 2006 team other than McFadyen.

Unlike Cohan, I haven’t won “two statewide investigative awards.” But even I can see that using one person to recall events that occurred several years before is less likely to yield an accurate portrayal than interviewing more than a dozen people, much closer to the events in question.

Duke Committee Reports

Cohan is contemptuous of the Coleman Committee’s report, which he dismisses (p. 309) as “perfunctory.” If the report, he taunts, “were not read too closely, one could almost wonder what all the fuss were about.” That said: he challenges none of the report’s conclusions. It just seems he doesn’t like its findings—which, by finding that the players were in general good students who were well-behaved and treated staff and other students as well, even as most of them drank much too much—undermined the Group’s and Nifong’s preferred narrative of the players as morally flawed.

The findings of the now-discredited Bowen/Chambers report, on the other hand, get reproduced without criticism—with no mention of why, if the report’s analysis of the administration’s response was correct, why Duke eventually had to pay millions of dollars in settlements for the administration’s handling of the case.

Wood & Starn, Coach K

Peter Wood joins Nifong as a hero of the book. According to Cohan (p. 139), he had “foreseen” the “conflagration” in 2004 and had “serious chops” on the issue of athletics because he had been an excellent college athlete in the 1960s at Harvard. While Cohan repeatedly quotes Wood, the book makes no mention of the Coleman report, which discredited Wood’s unsubstantiated claims of poor behavior by lacrosse players in his classes. (Even Wood’s TA didn’t back him up.) Cohan also hails (p. 400) Orin Starn’s anti-athletics activism. Indeed, he recently tweeted that a Financial Times review hailing Starn’s efforts (while bizarrely claiming that the “attorney general” had been disbarred) “really gets it.”

While the book treats Wood and Starn favorably, it’s very negative toward Coach K. Cohan criticizes Coach K for not publicly speaking when the lacrosse team was restored; at another point in the book, Cohan dismisses the coach (p. 373) for speaking “corporate pablum [sic]” about the case. The book also contains a passage in which Cohan, citing unnamed sources, says that Duke pressured Coach K (in 2006) to make a statement defending the university, but he declined to do so.

It’s unclear, however, what such a statement would have entailed—in the real world, any such statement would have been interpreted (correctly) as an attack on the lacrosse players. Since Cohan doesn’t reveal what this alleged statement would have said, the information (if it’s even true) confuses rather than clarifies.

A Duke blue devil adorns the cover of Cohan’s book. And while I can understand the financial rationale for such a move (a book about “Duke” probably sells better than a book about “Nifong”), Cohan’s passion is defending Nifong. Most of the university-related material seems to be padding rather than substantive.

43 comments:

Jim In San Diego said...

By now, Scribner's knows very well it has a major turkey on its hands.

Whatever your world view, you cannot get to be an editor at a house like Scribner's without knowing what good research looks like, how good, logical arguments are constructed, and how supportable conclusions flow from verifiable facts.

Similarly, how facts can alternately be ignored, poor arguments made from defective or no facts, and what poor research looks like.

So, somewhere in the bowels of the building those with just a tiny sense of editorial integrity are looking at each other across the water cooler with knowing eyes.

It is too bad there was so little editorial input before Mr. Cohan hatched this turkey. A little too much coddling of a star author? A little too much counting of the loot?

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

At Amazon, Cohan's book has racked up 22 one star reviews since its release about a week ago. Crystal Mangum's memoir got only 11 one star reviews in about 5 1/2 years. A manifestation of the quality of Cohan's authorship.

KC Johnson said...

A quick reminder of rule 4 on the commenting page: "Commenters who ... engage in obvious troll behavior will not have their comments cleared. Troll-like behavior includes ... repeatedly asking questions that already have been answered; offering unsubstantiated remarks whose sole purpose appears to be inflaming other commenters."

I've removed a couple of such comments from this thread & will continue to do so as necessary.

Anonymous said...

As for inflated numbers (to "buy silence", if the players got $18 million, and if their attorneys took 1/3 of that for fees (as would be usual), then they actually received 12 million.

From that, they had to pay $5 million for their own case legal fees; leaving seven million to be split among three players (or 2 1/3 million each).

From that, some taxes would have been due; plus the players and their families had other expenses from the case besides legal ones.

Ergo, if the above is correct (and note that it is ALL supposition and GUESSWORK), then the players might have netted somewhere between one and two million apiece from the settlements.

Again, note, that is entirely guesswork; but it is a far cry from sixty million, which figures seems imho to be tossed about to cast some kind of negative inferences on the players.

skwilli said...

"Most of the university-related material seems to be padding rather than substantive."

I would change that to read, "Most of the university-related material seems to be pudding rather than substantive."

William L. Anderson said...

Cohan's practice of quoting people and making statements without sourcing anything really smacks of amateur hour (with no intended disrespect to amateurs). He even quotes one of my own blog posts, but does not say where he got it. While he does get the quote correct (copy-and-paste can work wonders, I guess), the entire exercise is pointless, since he does not know if I had good sources or not (I did).

Cohan clearly did not like the outcome of the case, so he is trying to reinvent reality. That the New York literary set does not call his hand tells us something about the character of our supposed "elite" writers.

RighteousThug said...

KC Johnson said...

I've removed a couple of such comments from this thread & will continue to do so as necessary.

Thank you, KC.

It appears that the J4N fans are taking their latest meme 'Crystal's conviction is on appeal' on the road.

Weak, very lame.

KC Johnson said...

Btw: commentary review is now online:
https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-hazards-of-duke/

Anonymous said...

Update:

Mr. Cohan's book now has 29 0ne star reviews on Amazon

Jim In San Diego said...

Further observations about the absence of editorial oversight at Scribner's:

I certainly concur with Bill Anderson's comment concerning the amateurish tactic of quoting without attribution.

We should also add to the amateur hour the strategy of writing a magisterial account of a piece of complex history without a bibliography.

Mr. Cohan's rationale, that he constructed no bibliography because everything is readily available on the internet, is absurd.

Once upon a time, this would not have been considered satisfactory as a sophomore's first effort.

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

I just heard Cohan on Diane Rehm show. It was infuriating. Cohan called Nifong "an honorable man." Stuart Taylor came on for a few seconds, pointed out Cohan gave no new information.

Trial Junkie

P said...

To the extent that the book’s specific claims have attracted any notice at all, it’s not the “something happened” thesis (which even Salon didn’t accept),

See, this is what puzzles me. We do not seem to have read the same Cohan book or even the same Salon article. Unlike you, KC, Salon does not attribute to Cohan a "something happened" thesis, nor does it seem to reject any aspect of his POV. Salon describes Cohan's book as a "gripping and nuanced investigation" that has "earn[ed] its heft" by presenting "the definitive account" of the Duke lacrosse scandal.

Salon also says:

"As the book's subtitle would have it, this is a story of how lucrative and well-connected sports programs 'corrupt' universities like Duke. Perhaps ultimately Durham's festering atmosphere of resented, abusive privilege is to blame. But the impression left by 'The Price of Silence' is that the true drivers of the scandal were an overzealous Durham police officer, Mark Gottlieb, and, above all, the misconduct of Durham's district attorney, Mike Nifong."

I would agree that you can fairly attribute to Cohan a high degree of skepticism about the impact of athletics on universities. But to read the book as a defense of Nifong, the police, et al is nuts.

KC Johnson said...

To P:

I had responded to you in the previous thread; it appears you didn't see it, since you reference none of the points that I made. I've pasted it in below.

Regarding Salon, I agree completely, and that was my point: even Salon doesn't accept the "something happened" thesis (which Cohan reiterated again today on the Diane Rehm Show). It's not surprising that a politically correct publication such as Salon praises Cohan; I wold have expected nothing less.

--

To the 9.31:

If you take a look at my CV (http://kc-johnson.com/cv/) and do a little googling, you’ll notice that every book or extended research paper I’ve ever published has subsequently been challenged. It’s the nature of the profession—new material emerges, new perspectives develop with the passage of time. Before the appearance of the Cohan book, I’ve only been critical of one of these publications, and my criticism there reflected a longstanding debate as to whether Ernest Gruening should be viewed primarily as a national or an Alaska figure. Such challenges are in no way threatening to me (or anyone else); they're a routine aspect of academic life.

That said, I’ve never encountered a situation in which an author, on a topic about which I had written, used evidence in a misleading and sometimes malicious way, as Cohan does.

Since you don’t point out any specific area in either DIW or UPI where you consider Cohan’s portrayal of Nifong more persuasive than that of the book or blog, it’s difficult, in turn, to respond you specifically. It appears, therefore, that our disagreement is over what constitutes a “full-throated defense.”

In the context of this case and Nifong, it seems to me that such a defense constitutes an author describing Nifong (a convicted liar) as “quite credible.” It constitutes an author agreeing with Nifong and a convicted murder that “something happened” (both of them argue something criminal happened), when the AG’s report and mounds of exculpatory evidence suggest otherwise. It constitutes an author withholding the provenance of the Gottlieb report, and instead misleadingly using it to describe a critical element of Mangum’s recollections; and an author not explaining that Tara Levicy modified the key condom story months after the fact when Nifong’s DNA theory had been challenged. It constitutes an author minimizing Nifong’s ethics violations even as (to the best of my knowledge) not a single law review article or legal publication since 2007 has suggested that the Bar operated improperly or that the withheld DNA evidence “didn’t matter.”

From an editorial standpoint, a “full-throated defense” constitutes an author allowing the book’s protagonist to make unrebutted claims about the defense attorneys, the State Bar figures, and Judge Smith without the author even attempting to contact any of them for comment. A “full-throated defense” constitutes an author allowing the protagonist to float a defense for one element of his unethical conduct (his pre-primary publicity barrage was actually him trying to scare up witnesses) by not including in the book his unethical statements that occurred after indictments, and the need for witnesses, had passed. And a “full-throated defense” constitutes the author (as occurred here, regarding the improperly withheld DNA evidence) offering a more aggressive defense for his protagonist’s misconduct than even the protagonist and his defense lawyers(!!) offered before the Bar.

To me, that’s a “full-throated defense.” You, obviously, disagree. All I can say is that I hope if I ever get in trouble, you’ll come to my aid, since I’d love to see what you consider to be a “full-throated defense.”

P said...

Just sort of picking things at random now, but here's something else that strikes me as odd:


Cohan mentions the December 2006 defense change-of-venue motion—in which, he sneers (p. 431), the lawyers presented “the so-called facts of the lacrosse case”—but doesn’t mention the most newsworthy item of the motion: that for what appears to be the first time in American history, students accused of a crime filed a motion accusing their own school’s professors of so poisoning the local jury pool that they couldn’t receive a fair trial.


As soon as I read this, I knew it was inaccurate, because having just finished Cohan's book I remember being struck by that detail. You'll find it on page 462, in Cohan's summary of the letter by the econ faculty. He says the econ professors "noted" -- not "claimed" or "argued" -- that the ad seemed to stand as the sole collective faculty view and had arguably poisoned the jury pool.

And while he quotes professors' defenses and rationalizations of the Group of 88 ad, Cohan also quotes critics of the ad at length. Nor did I find the book to be pro-Houston Baker (granted, such a book would be difficult to write). Cohan puts scarequotes around "anguish" (re: Baker's expression of same) and characterizes the letter as "a torrent of invective" (p. 167). And if Cohan wanted Baker to come off respectably, he presumably would have done something to downplay the "farm animal" email rather than excerpt it in full. Along with Gottlieb, Baker comes off as one of the most detestable figures in the book.

Lange's response to Baker is excerpted nearly in full -- only the opening sentence ("time to cool off") and closing sentence ("broadly...likewise") are summarized.

I haven't read Cohan's other work and have no particular attachment to him. It just seems strange that you would be so bent on attributing, to this book, an agenda that neither I as a reader, nor any editorial reviewers, seem to have found.

Chris Halkides said...

Mr. Cohan answered a question at Cosmpopolitan in the following way: "She still believes something happened. She describes it as somebody shoving a broomstick up her. All I know is that the police believed her, district attorney Mike Nifong believed her, and the rape nurse Tara Levicy believed her. I am convinced something happened."

BTW I have just skimmed the book (mostly for DNA-related material). However, I did see that Cohan describes the Georgetown incident as if it were somehow a hate crime(specifically, a gay-bashing). I am willing to acknowledge that one or more individuals may well have used a word such as "faggot," but doesn't make something a hate-crime IMO. Your mileage may vary.

P said...

KC, I both read and replied to your post in the other thread. For my own edification, though: where does Cohan assert the "something happened" thesis? If it happened on a talk show, is there a site where I can view the video?

P said...

@ Chris,

Thanks for that. It's interesting that he's convinced -- I got none of that from the book.

The book does mention the gay-bashing incident, but also airs rebuttals by Finnerty's family (alleged victim wasn't gay, it wasn't a big deal, etc.) and notes that the judge expunged the incident from Finnerty's record.

KC Johnson said...

To the 1.16:

Please see above, at 1.14, also see Cohan's appearances on Morning Joe and Bloomberg TV.

Regarding the other material, thank you for confirming that Cohan doesn't quote the Lange response en toto, as he did with Baker; and thank you for confirming that he doesn't mention the critical component of the change-of-venue motion when he describes it, on p. 431. That he mentions someone else noted it means that the reader has to (a) guess on whether they're quoting it accurately; and (b) recall the original introduction of the item 30 pp. before. A most curious editorial style. Given your previous remarks, I'm sure that you were even more outraged about the prof who flunked Kyle Dowd when you learned that Cohan erroneously asserted that Duke changed his grade to a D (rather than a P), and that the outcome resulted not from a grade recalculation by Duke but from a legal settlement with the Dowds. I'm sure the Dowds would have been willing to provide Cohan with the facts of their experience, but Cohan did not attempt to contact them.

It appears that you don't see as a "full-throated defense" an author excusing myriad ethical improprieties by his protagonist and choosing to cover a criminal case by not interviewing anyone who tangled with his protagonist in court. But obviously everyone defines the concept, differently, and you have the right to define the phrase any way that you want.

Anonymous said...

". However, I did see that Cohan describes the Georgetown incident as if it were somehow a hate crime..."

Cohan also neglects to connect the dots to other examples of witness intimidation during the case, which imho the conviction of a player in DC on contested evidence conveniently falls into.

P said...

KC,

Regarding the other material, thank you for confirming that Cohan doesn't quote the Lange response en toto, as he did with Baker;

I guess I just don't see why summarizing an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence changes the power, eloquence or credibility of Lange's email. The "meat" of the email (as it were) is presented in full. I also would argue that if one were defending Baker, it would be better not to excerpt Baker's letter in full. Cohan introduces the letter by referring to its "torrent of invective" and then prints said torrent. Since googling some names and landing on this blog, I've browsed a few of the anti-KC-Johnson, pro-"social justice" blogs that take a view opposite to yours, and they quite predictably gloss over most of Baker's actual language.


thank you for confirming that he doesn't mention the critical component of the change-of-venue motion when he describes it, on p. 431.

This is consistent with how he treats both sides' legal filings generally -- he doesn't summarize individual arguments contained. Instead of presenting this element when he discusses the procedural posture of the case, he presents it when he describes the 88 ad, its effect on campus and the responses it aroused. Makes sense to me. Also, the term "noted" generally implies the author's agreement with the fact "noted." (Imagine if Cohan had written: "In its indictment, the DA's office noted that the players had raped Mangum.").

Given your previous remarks, I'm sure that you were even more outraged about the prof who flunked Kyle Dowd when you learned that Cohan erroneously asserted that Duke changed his grade to a D (rather than a P),

I'll defer to you and assume this is actually an error. It still does not suggest to me the type of bias you're alleging. If anything, a "P" would look better on Dowd's transcript than a "D," so Cohan's account shows Dowd receiving even worse treatment.

a legal settlement with the Dowds. I'm sure the Dowds would have been willing to provide Cohan with the facts of their experience, but Cohan did not attempt to contact them.

If the grade-change resulted from a legal settlement by the Dowds, then in all likelihood the Dowds would be barred from discussing it publicly. If you know for a fact that Cohan could have elicited the Dowds' perspective but made no attempt to do so, then I agree this counts against him.

t appears that you don't see as a "full-throated defense" an author excusing myriad ethical improprieties by his protagonist and choosing to cover a criminal case by not interviewing anyone who tangled with his protagonist in court.

If I agreed with you that Nifong is a "protagonist" of the book or that his actions were excused by the author, then I would agree with your characterization of Cohan's book as a defense. But I simply didn't get that from my reading. As for contacting the players -- my impression after reading was that at minimum Cohan tried to contact Reade Seligmann, but Seligmann wanted to put this behind him, etc. (I also assume the players' legal settlements bar them and bar their counsel from speaking on certain topics). The defense perspective appears at length via secondary sources, though.

I was genuinely surprised to read the Cosmo interview linked by Chris, because the book to me came off as essentially a neutral presentation of all allegations/details that could be dredged, with the author withholding his own perspective. But maybe your detailed factual background equips you to see bias in Cohan's account that others, myself included, missed.

Chris Halkides said...

P., on p. 267 Cohan wrote, "ignoring as many people had that afternoon that Finnerty had been involved in the gay-baiting case in Georgetown." Therefore, it would seem that Cohan's interpretation was that it was gay-baiting. Cohan does quote from Sharon Swanson's article on the Finnerty family, but he does not entirely conceal his derision for both Swanson and the family (see the last paragraph of p. 457 and the top of p. 458). It seems as if Cohan cannot let go of a vision of DL case that was at least understandable in May of 2006, but which has long since been shown to be greatly in error, to put it charitably.

Anonymous said...

Correction:

Update:

Mr. Cohan's book now has 29 0ne star reviews on Amazon

4/14/14, 11:46 AM:

Cohan's book has only 23 one star reviews, out of 29 reviews.

KC Johnson said...

To the 2.01:

The Dowds would not have been able to discuss the terms of the case, but the settlement itself *was* public, and the Dowds would have been able to have provided its terms to him. Cohan's presentation inaccurately creates the impression that Duke handled this on its own (not true) and that Kyle Dowd was given a grade of D (also not true). In the lawsuit, as I noted in my coverage of the suit at the time, the Dowds fought very hard to ensure the better grade (the P) would be the one to appear on the transcript.

It's a minor factual error in the grand scheme of things--but it's an error nonetheless, and one that presents "facts" in a light less favorable to the lacrosse players.

It's quite true that Cohan discusses the filings of the defense attorneys. But Nifong's filings are also discussed. The fact remains that Cohan (for reasons he's never explained) interviewed Nifong at length, and didn't even try to interview the defense attorneys. Since they were not parties to the Duke settlement, they were (and are) free to talk about the case. Nor, of course, did Cohan contact the judge or the State Bar, even as he allowed Nifong to make scurrilous allegations about the integrity of both Judge Smith and Lane Williamson.

P said...

KC,

Out of curiosity, the settlement with the Dowds is public, is there a link to it somewhere?

And generally, when parties to a settlement are barred from discussing the underlying dispute, so too are their counsel.

I can see why you construe the substitution of "D" for "P" as unfavorable to Dowd -- I would argue it can be construed the other way, but that's a minor difference of opinion. And while the book does not give the impression that Duke acted sua sponte as a act of conscience, it does indeed omit the lawsuit aspect.

P said...

@ Chris, when and how was the "gay-baiting" case shown not have been an instance of gay-baiting?

Also, I've returned the book for a refund, so I no longer have access to the text -- what does he say about Swanson/Finnerty that is derisive?

My recollection is that Cohan emphasized the Finnerty family's status/privilege/etc., but at minimum the scene where Collin's mother learns of his indictment is pretty sympathetic. The Finnertys are rich and powerful people, but not necessarily bad people, and their son was atrociously mistreated in this case.

Lance The Intern said...

P - At Duke, a "P" grade will not be figured in the grade point average. As such, it would be more favorable to Dowd than the "D" grade,

Anonymous said...

"My recollection is that Cohan emphasized the Finnerty family's status/privilege/etc"

Does he ever consider that this is why Finnerty was chosen by Mangum?

P said...

@ 5:52:

Are you insinuating that Mangum researched the players' family backgrounds, committed their photographs to memory, and planned her "identifications" before the photo line-up?

I think (and the general stupidity and inconsistency of her claims indicates) that you're giving her way too much credit.

Anonymous said...

"Are you insinuating that Mangum researched the players' family backgrounds, committed their photographs to memory, and planned her "identifications" before the photo line-up?"

I think there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest just that. (Or, that she was provided with whom to choose.)She couldn't remember any details about the party through six or seven ID sessions; and then suddenly -- after DNA tests failed to turn up a suspect--was given another ID session in which she now could remember everybody, give bullet answers, and knew who was sitting on the sofa and what they were wearing, etc.--exactly as shown in the photographs.

Moreover, she chose from among the wealthiest players on the team; statistically, that's unusual.
(And note that they bore no physical resemblance at all to her first descriptions of her attackers.)

And finally, her father said the night before the ID session that she had identified her three suspects.

"I think (and the general stupidity and inconsistency of her claims indicates) that you're giving her way too much credit."

I might be giving the DPD that much credit. They needed to make arrests. (That much was made clear at the March 29 meeting.)

Finally, detailed articles published immediately after her ID session (and written on the same day as that ID session) seem to strongly suggest that the picks had been researched earlier and that the background info was then given to the press.

It was, imho, no surprise to anyone at the DPD whom she picked.

P said...

The premise that Mangum herself concocted this scheme is too ridiculous to entertain, but ok -- maybe investigators deliberately identified the wealthiest players and prompted Mangum to ID them. I'm still skeptical...

She couldn't remember any details about the party through six or seven ID sessions; and then suddenly -- after DNA tests failed to turn up a suspect--was given another ID session in which she now could remember everybody, give bullet answers, and knew who was sitting on the sofa and what they were wearing, etc.--exactly as shown in the photographs.

I thought that the reason she successfully identified players in the final session was because they gave her a line-up containing only player photos. She still had no idea who was who, and kept mixing up who had done what to her and when. I thought the only person she came close to identifying was the guy who paid her.

Moreover, she chose from among the wealthiest players on the team; statistically, that's unusual.

What do you mean, "she chose from among"? Did they only show her photos of the wealthiest players? Or do you mean that the people she picked happened to be among the wealthiest? If so, how do you know this? Finnerty seems like a "lucky" pick, but Reade Selgimann far less so. I forget what Dave Evans' parents did (I also can't remember whether she ID'd him or they chose him based on the trash can DNA).

Also, if I'm Nifong trying to create a case where none exists, the risk associated with this strategy would far outweigh the reward. Almost anyone on that team is going to be sufficiently "rich" to serve my political purposes -- hell, the fact that they're white Duke lax players is enough. By giving Mangum a photo line-up consisting only of players, I guarantee she picks players. I don't need to prod her to pick specific guys, and by doing so I commit an ethical and procedural violation way more blatant and obvious than any of my lapses to date. If I am going to prod her to pick specific guys, surely I would focus on guys who were still at the house when the alleged rape occurred.

My gut intuition is that this seems like one conspiracy theory too far. But: do you happen to have a link(s) to the detailed articles published immediately after her Mangum's ID session?

Chris Halkides said...

P, IIRC Mr. Finnerty was charged with assault but not charged with a hate crime, and no one who was part of this altercation was gay, to the best of my knowledge. "Gay baiting" is a somewhat ambiguous term. If (for instance) a man calls another man a "homo" in the midst of an altercation, is that gay-baiting? Perhaps that is why Mr. Cohan used this term. With respect to the Sharon Swanson article he repeats that Mrs. Finnerty described herself as a very private person, then says words to the effect, "notwithstanding all of the interviews she gave." Sorry but I don't see any contradiction.

I am concerned that the average reviewer (who is not a case junkie) is going to get the impression that this book is balanced, when I am not sure that it is. For example, The Economist wrote, "But Mr Cohan deserves praise for his very thorough research and for being laudably even-handed." And David Shribman of the Wall Street Journal praised Mr. Cohan's evenhanded tone but also said that this case was an "episode that tarnished all it touched." How does that apply to Mr. Seligmann, who won an award for leadership after he left Duke? One lesson that journalists should take away from the West Memphis Three case and this one is that a story that seems to be "What is wrong with the youth of today?" sometimes ends up being "What is wrong with the adults of today?" I am not sure that Mr. Cohan gets this.

Anonymous said...

"I thought that the reason she successfully identified players in the final session was because they gave her a line-up containing only player photos."

ALL the photo ID sessions she saw contained only players.

" Or do you mean that the people she picked happened to be among the wealthiest? If so, how do you know this?"

Check the zip codes they lived in. And the value of their houses. That could easily be researched. Police seized HER computer (but why? she was the "victim").

"Finnerty seems like a "lucky" pick "

How, "lucky", when he was the exact opposite (tall and thin) of her description of her attackers (short, chubby, and 250-280 lbs.)Choosing someone to exactly opposite had to be deliberate, for a reason.

Evans' parents were also wealthy.

" Almost anyone on that team is going to be sufficiently "rich" to serve my political purposes"

Except there were sons of firefighters and police on the team; by no means were even the majority of them "rich".

" By giving Mangum a photo line-up consisting only of players, I guarantee she picks players."

But you have to make sure the ones she picks were present at the party and not in another city (as one was) and don't have an alibi (fortunately, two of them did). That's the reason for the last minute police "raid" on the dorm, to question the players without their attorneys present. Police had to be sure, as Himan said, that they didn't pick someone to prosecute who was on a plane somewhere at the time.

" But: do you happen to have a link(s) to the detailed articles published immediately after her Mangum's ID session?"

Try the New York Times hit piece on Finnerty (written on the 4th, the day of the ID, so it could be published in the morning 5th edition). There was no way to get all the background info in that in the space of an afternoon; but it could have been assembled beforehand.

P said...

Chris, I consider myself a more-or-less average reader, and my impression of the book echoes that expressed in the Economist and WSJ: book seemed neutral, even-handed, an exhaustive regurgitation of facts with almost a frustrating absence of authorial perspective. When I saw KC characterize the book as a full-throated defense of Nifong and attribute to Cohan a "something happened" thesis, I thought he was being blatantly misrepresentative. But after reading other posts, I agree that this has been Cohan's obvious position in his public appearances if not the text of the book.

Still, I don't know that I would call the above excerpt "derisive" -- maybe "skeptical." I'm pretty sure the book contains similar subtle asides directed at other figures on both "sides" of the scandal.

P said...

7:02,

Check the zip codes they lived in. And the value of their houses. That could easily be researched. Police seized HER computer (but why? she was the "victim").

I grew up a zipcode adjacent to the Seligmanns', and one of my family members attended Seligmann's school (Delbarton). These areas and schools are generally upper middle class, but far from uniformly wealthy -- research revealing that a player lived here would not necessarily tell you the player was rich. Conducting this research as to every player on the lacrosse team would not have been especially quick or easy, and nor do we have reason to believe Mangum could have interpreted the data she found. If she had any analytic or scheming capability, surely her false allegations would have been better thought out. I have no idea why the police would seize her computer -- but if their goal was to conceal her intelligent and nuanced research re: potential defendants, seizing the computer wouldn't do much good. Defense could still seek discovery of the computer's contents, and forensic procedures would require cops to image the hard drive the minute the computer was seized. Any last-minute alterations or deletions before, or at the time of, seizure would be recorded and discoverable. My best guess would be that they collected her computer to preserve any potential evidence it might contain, hoping there'd be something that would help the investigation.

How, "lucky", when he was the exact opposite (tall and thin) of her description of her attackers (short, chubby, and 250-280 lbs.)

Yeah, but her descriptions and IDs were all over the place. Didn't she "remember" Evans as having a mustache? And btw: did she identify Evans in the line-up at all? I thought the reason they didn't indict him until later was because she hadn't identified him, and they identified him subsequently using DNA.

If indeed Mangum only identified Finnerty and Seligmann in the final line-up, then she got very lucky with Finnerty and also hit on one upper-middle-class guy (Seligmann). While you're right that there were a couple of blue collar kids on the lacrosse team, I suspect kids from Seligmann's demographic would be more numerous.

That's the reason for the last minute police "raid" on the dorm, to question the players without their attorneys present.

I thought they conducted this "raid" after her final set of photo IDs had already been made?

Try the New York Times hit piece on Finnerty (written on the 4th, the day of the ID, so it could be published in the morning 5th edition).

Are you talking about this article? What do you see in there that suggests the picks were researched earlier?

Anonymous said...

"Defense could still seek discovery of the computer's contents, and forensic procedures would require cops to image the hard drive the minute the computer was seized."

Remember, this is Durham. Defense attorneys asked for tapes of police radio calls, and after that, the tapes were not turned over, but erased. (This also happened in another case involving Nifong, btw.) The city likewise claims it may not have kept any emails from before August 2007--regardless of the requirement that it do so because of pending suits.

"Yeah, but her descriptions and IDs were all over the place."

She never ID'd anyone at all in her first six or seven session. She never changed her overall descriptions until later (and possibly, never, if Gottlieb's 33 typed pages of "remembered" notes, written up some months later, are inventions to close gaps in the story).

It was only in the last session--which was also the only one that was videotaped (odd), that she suddenly "remembered" things.

"Didn't she "remember" Evans as having a mustache? And btw: did she identify Evans in the line-up at all?"

She ID'd him also; but he wasn't arrested at first; perhaps because
they were still trying to make something of the DNA, but failed.

"Are you talking about this article? What do you see in there that suggests the picks were researched earlier?

Mangum finished her picks at around 11 AM. Let's suppose Macur receives a tip by noon. She then has five hours (business hours) to
first, contact the assistant prosecutor in DC, who is, of course, just sitting beside his phone waiting her call ("Finnerty case? Finnerty who?"); and get a response from him.

(Maybe he was tied up in court, maybe he had to refresh himself on the details of that case before he makes a statement to a NYT reporter; maybe he has to clear any statement with his boss, etc.)

Then she has to contact Finnerty's attorney and find out if he or the attorney will have a statement. (Same as above: what if he is tied up in court and not waiting beside his phone for her call? And do we assume he has agreed with the family as to what he will/will not say and has a statement ready? And he has already contacted them as to whether they will be willing to say something to the press?)

Then she has to get the court records of the case; and that's not easy (I know, having done so for various cases). Even the NYT might have trouble getting all that between noon and five.

Then she has to contact Duke to see if there is a statement or a response from the athletic department or from Pressler.

Even for the NYT, that is a lot
to do, with no call-backs, no one saying, "Let me get back to you tomorrow", no answering service,
all the records are ready and waiting to be faxed (?) to her office?

Moreover, Newsday, a Long Island paper, also ran a story about the Georgetown incident on April 6, the same day as the Raleigh News and Observer did. The reporter, John Moreno Gonzales, mentioned having seen DC court records on the previous day. (Why would he have been looking for these?)

Why was anyone so interested in Finnerty out of 46 possible suspects, to bother with researching his past? Did anyone write like this about any of the other players? Or was this a hit piece set up to prepare the public for the indictment of "that one", the one who was the violent, gay-bashing out-of-control player... so of course it was him...

I admit that's all supposition; but there's so much smoke there it's more than likely there's a fire beneath it all...

P said...


I guess you make a valid point re: the state of e-discovery in Durham. However:

I agree there's a chance the NYT started writing about Finnerty before Finnerty was ID'd by Mangum. But the NYT could have been researching the lacrosse players generally, or independently could have shown special interest in Finnerty -- his dad was a big deal. Perhaps the NYT dug up what it could on all the lacrosse players and was just waiting to receive word on who (if anyone) had been charged -- sort of like how they write advance obits for celebrities. If the DPD did improperly engineer the IDs, they would have been idiotic to create evidence of same by giving a too-prescient tipoff to the NYT.

Anyways, if you do happen to know whether the dorm "raid" happened before or after Mangum's IDs, I think that could be elucidating. There were clearly several fires here; I just don't know if I believe, on this evidence, that this was one of them.

Chris Halkides said...

P., Some time ago I wrote an essay speculating that the articles about Georgetown were written knowing that an indictment against Finnerty was forthcoming. Given that the News and Observer had already run one article about problems that the DL players had had with the law in late March (the link may be dead), this hypothesis still seems reasonable. Too bad Cohan did not ask Nifong about whether or not he leaked that information.

IIRC both Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson are centrists (I think one of them used that very word); therefore, if Cohan is lumping them with Ann Coulter, he is making an error. MOO.

P said...

Chris, I don't think it's uncommon (especially in academia) to use the term "conservative" to refer to people who are involved with the Federalist Society, who are openly skeptical of ethnic studies and gender studies, etc. I also understand (admittedly understand secondhand via the internet) that KC had trouble getting tenure because his political views were too conservative for his peers' taste.

I put "conservative" in scarequotes the first time I used it because it's only valid in a relative sense. There's clearly a separate echelon of Coulter-style conservatism out there.

I'll check out your essay.

P said...

Also, to be clear I find it eminently plausible (even likely) that the DPD tipped off the media after the line-up but before the indictments were sought/announced. What I have trouble believing is that the DPD tipped off the media before Mangum had even "chosen" Finnerty/Seligmann/Evans -- i.e., the DPD coached her to choose them because they were rich, but gave away its scheme by contacting the NYT before the choice had been made.

Anonymous said...

'but gave away its scheme by contacting the NYT before the choice had been made."

The DPD would have tipped off the media on April 4, the same day she made her picks. However, those picks weren't made public until after the grand jury indictments on April 17.

But Brodhead was informed that same day also (April 4 --he was at an away game for Duke basketball); and likely some others were also.

P said...

The DPD would have tipped off the media on April 4, the same day she made her picks. However, those picks weren't made public until after the grand jury indictments on April 17.

Right. I'm just saying that, to me, this is not circumstantial evidence that the DPD selected Finnerty et al in advance and prompted Mangum to pick them.

A Duke Dad said...

Extraneous Factoid :

An amazon.com search for "The Price of Silence" (with quotes) yields 96 results, one of which is the book we are discussing here.

Amazing that phrase is so widely used.

Anonymous said...

Ref lax and money.
I played lax at Michigan State in the early Sixties. We were the first team in the state since the Indians took Ft. Michilamackinac.
Half of us were midwestern jocks learning from the other half who were from out east.
Lax is expensive. You can play catch with a basketball with a...basketball. No limit to the number of participants. Just playing catch laxwise requires a ball and two sticks--now in this decadent and effeminate age made of some composite-- and if you want to scrimmage you need the same and helmets.
Hardly any sport you can think of not including motors of some sort costs more just to get started and build some skills by playing catch, shooting at a basket/goal/ for years. Possibly hockey, requirinc ice time expenditures as well.
That's why, when you watch the rare times the NCAA deigns to televise the, say quarter finals instead of Dyson vacuum ads, many, even most, of the guys come from schools sounding more like "St Johns Academy" than "Skaneatles Consolidated".
IOW, if you wanted to pound the rich entitled drum, you couldn't do better than lax.