Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cohan's False Portrayal of Williamson

Well beyond his odd arguments, William D. Cohan has distinguished himself through a highly unusual editorial strategy. In many cases relying solely on the word of a convicted liar (often presented second- or even third-hand), Cohan allowed Mike Nifong to launch unsubstantiated attacks against virtually anyone who challenged the rogue district attorney at any point during the lacrosse case.

It’s difficult to infer a benevolent motive to Cohan’s strategy. It’s also hard to determine how Scribner’s editorial and legal staff allowed Cohan to get away with this approach. The first article to appear on the book—by Joe Neff—exposed the problem: relying solely on Nifong’s word, Cohan claimed that Attorney General Roy Cooper “blindsided” his senior prosecutors when he declared the falsely accused students innocent. Unlike Cohan, Neff actually spoke to Jim Coman, who dismissed the presentation of events as a “figments of [Nifong’s] imagination.”

Another key figure in the case targeted by Nifong and Cohan has now refuted the Cohan presentation. Lane Williamson, who presided over the Disciplinary Hearing Commission in Nifong’s case, was a powerhouse, handling the case with unchallenged intellectual and moral authority. (UPI ends with a majestic quote from Williamson.) Williamson also produced the most dramatic moment of the entire proceeding, when he asked Nifong about his then-current view of the case.

(In the clip above, Nifong made no mention of his bizarre Japanese-rape-club example that Cohan floats as his current theory of the case in the book. Cohan did not seem to ask him when, after his testimony above, he embraced this novel interpretation of the facts of the case.)

It would seem as if the outcome of the Bar hearing placed Williamson on Nifong’s enemies list. And given Cohan’s uncritical acceptance of virtually anything Nifong told him, Williamson became a target of Cohan as well. On p. 559, Nifong-through-Cohan challenged Williamson’s integrity and impartiality, claiming that “at least part of Lane Williamson’s sentencing memo was done the night before I testified. At least part of that had been written. I could’ve said anything. I could’ve called Jesus Christ as a witness, and [h]e could have testified and ascended into heaven, and they would’ve said, ‘Well, obviously you can’t make anything of that testimony. That doesn’t mean anything. You’re obviously guilty.’”

For reasons that he has never explained regarding multiple figures in the book, Cohan produced this passage without attempting to contact Williamson. Unsurprisingly, given its reliance on the word of a convicted liar, the book’s portrayal of Williamson is untrue. In a comment (verified by me), Williamson noted,
I have never commented on this or any other blog about the Nifong case, but feel compelled to do so now. I did not prejudge Mike Nifong: rather, I evaluated the evidence presented at the hearing to reach my conclusions. I wrote no part of my concluding remarks prior to the end of the hearing: those were extemporaneous except for a few notes that I made during the panel’s deliberation following closing arguments on the punishment phase of the hearing.
Mr. Cohan has never contacted me. [emphasis added]
As with Jim Coman, then, so too with Lane Williamson: (1) Cohan uncritically accepted a less-than-plausible assertion from Nifong; and (2) despite Nifong’s credibility problems, didn’t even try to check his protagonist’s veracity with the person that Nifong had targeted.

That said, the wild Cohan/Nifong claim should give everyone an opportunity to return to one of the high points of the case. I have embedded Williamson’s remarks below, or, you can watch the entire Williamson closing in a single file, in higher quality, at the WRAL site.


No Justice, No Peace said...

Thank you K.C. for embedding the videos, I'd forgotten just how powerful and clear these statements were and remain.

After again watching Lane Williamson it becomes increasingly clear that William Cohan has been cheated out of an education. Where did Cohan attend college?

skwilli said...

A devastating rebuttal to the apologist screed written by Cohan. (And the criminal actions of his hero, Mike Nifong.) Thanks KC. Cohan should have to give all his proceeds from the book to the innocent "boys" to distribute however they wish.

Chris Halkides said...

In "The prosecution's case against DNA" the New York Times' Andrew Martin wrote, "The issues raised by DNA exonerations have led to an overhaul of the criminal-justice system. Some states now require that evidence be preserved; others require mandatory videotaping of interrogations. Several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and New York, abolished the death penalty largely because of concerns about executing an innocent person. North Carolina, meanwhile, has created an independent commission to review innocence claims. And some prosecutors’ offices, including those in New York and Dallas, have created conviction-integrity units."

Yes, we should all understand that there are limitations and caveats to DNA evidence, but I don't want to go back to the pre-DNA era. Even credible witnesses such as Jennifer Thompson-Cannino make mistakes, as told in the book, "Picking Cotton." I am glad that Mr. Martin noted the innocence inquiry commission in North Carolina.

MTM said...

I went to Amazon to see what the comments look like. I now get it. The people giving 5 stars are people who never paid attention to the case. Now, enough time has passed to make Cohan's book a winner. Of course, the book only plays to the uninformed if it promotes Nifong as a martyr. Oh, well.

M.T. Maloney

Anonymous said...

The last I checked, Wiliam Cohan's book has racked up seven 5 star reviews, two 4 star reviews and THIRTY one star reviews,

Not even Crystal's (for want of a better word)book racked up so much negative publicity.

William L. Anderson said...

Should we be surprised that Cohan thanks Eliot "Client Number Nine" Spitzer in the Acknowledgements section? This man has no integrity whatsoever, and I believe that if one does some hard checking of his other works, the result will be the discovery of lies and innuendos.

RighteousThug said...

Bill, he also thanks Houston Baker for his "generosity in granting permission to reprint" his 'farm animal' email to Patricia Dowd.

Jim In San Diego said...

William Cohan during his media tour speaks and sounds just like you would expect a 17 year stockbroker from Wall Street would sound when asked to expound on complex medical or legal issues.

That is to say, he speaks with the same authority as would a doctor recommending stocks for investment, or an attorney recommending you buy the most recent internet stock.

This is very consistent with someone who would write the definitive, magisterial history of a complex but well-reported and well-documented subject of any kind without a bibliography, or footnotes, or attributions to many of his quotes.

This production could not possibly be acknowledged as scholarship at any level.

Shame on William Cohan. Shame on Scribners.

Jim Peterson

Nicolas Martin said...

Can one “infer' a motive to a strategy?

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how disgusted and depressed I am over the last 10 or so posts on DiW. When is this issue going to pass away? It's like Cohan and Company are part of parallel universe where night is day, dark is light, etc. How many times do you have to refute plainly stated facts? Then, people like Mr. Cohan proceed on their merry way, totally ignoring the voluminous body of evidence, testimony, proof, disproof, you name it. Are editors employed at publishing companies anymore. Sick!

Scot Foley said...

Chairman Williamson deserves great credit to this day for the professional manner with which he conducted that hearing. Nifong clearly resents it, as he resents everyone who holds him to account for his unethical, criminal acts, but that doesn't change the facts. And as Chairman Williamson himself said, it's the facts that count.

If Nifong had any integrity, he might consider that Chairman Williamson showed him some compassion when he commented that the Duke case appeared to be an aberration in Nifong's life and career. But that would force him to come to grips with himself and apparently that just can't happen.

As someone who's followed the case closely, I greatly appreciated hearing from Mr. Williamson.