Sunday, April 20, 2014

Neff Reviews Cohan

Today’s N&O contains a devastating review of the Cohan book penned by Joe Neff, who did more reporting (and broke more stories) on the criminal side of the case than anyone.

The review isn’t long, and I’d urge people to read it in its entirety. Three items particularly stand out.

“Author William D. Cohan opts for an apology for Nifong and, by extension, prosecutors who hide evidence and lie to judges.

Nifong makes remarkable claims that the author – clearly sympathetic, if not besotted – fails to challenge or test.”

[Cohan’s relying solely on Nifong and not trying to interview those Nifong made claims about] would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it’s a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim.”

I’m obviously not a journalist by training. (I’m a history professor.) But it seems to me that a basic element of journalism is that the reporter at least makes the effort to obtain information from both sides. That obligation strikes me as even more important when the reporter’s chief source (in this case Nifong) has serious problems with credibility.

Yet several journalist reviewers (of what my colleague Stuart Taylor has termed the “puff-piece” variety) have praised Cohan for his “evenhanded” approach and tone. One of this number, David Shribman, serves as executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If his paper’s reporters produced pieces in which they relied on a convicted liar and didn’t even try to speak to the other side, would he praise them for their “evenhanded” work?

Similarly, a few weeks ago, I would have guessed that many journalists (not usually a pro-prosecutorial misconduct constituency) would have been outraged by a publication that, by extension, apologizes for, to quote Neff’s summary, “prosecutors who hide evidence and lie to judges.” But it now appears as if many journalists (at least those selected to review the book for the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post) were not particularly troubled by a book that takes such a line.


Sandfred said...
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William L. Anderson said...

I emailed Shribman directly about that horrid review and, of course, never got a reply. (Many "top" journalists believe that they are above having to account for falsehoods they promote.)

Interestingly, the Post-Gazette once was the home of Bill Moushey, who in 1998 wrote an outstanding series about massive misconduct by federal prosecutors and so-called law enforcement. Unlike Shribman, Moushey was no apologist for liars and law-breakers in official ranks.

Anonymous said...

Shribman was once the Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe. He had a great reputation for honesty and probity in the late 70s and 80s, when I knew him. I simply do not understand his approach here, and I don't understand why the WSJ would adopt that approach, either. As I former journalist, I find it discouraging when a history professor has a better sense of journalistic responsibilities than do veteran journalists themselves.

A Duke Dad said...

@ the 9:51

A good number of us are discouraged, as well, with the lack of objectivity.

Would you consider contacting your former colleague and discussing the distorted reviews we've seen in leading publications.

Whatever insight this could engender would be greatly appreciated.

William L. Anderson said...

The main problem is that mainstream journalists are Progressives first, and they insist on interpreting everything through a Progressive narrative. We all know the "mean jocks harass woman of color" narrative in the Duke case, but there are so many more that I cannot list them here.

The late Michael Kelly once wrote that journalists pretty much write according to a Progressive template, and that is what is done here. If they New York Times for more than a year refused to question Nifong's integrity, then don't expect other journalists to buck the NYT, and especially those journalists either based in New York or who have been based in New York.

Anonymous said...

As I commented on a previous thread, it all boils down to the longing for The Great White Defendant(s). It is impossible to overstate how much media types wanted the story to be true.

Cohan has begun to trot out a fall-back position. He now says the "right boys" may not have been charged.

Well, where is the DNA evidence against the other "boys?"

Trial Junkie

Chris Halkides said...

The review of Cohan's book in The Economist was not significantly different from the other ones mentioned here, praising Cohan for his thorough research and describing him as being "audably even-handed." This is a magazine that leans toward the libertarian end of conservative thought.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the reviewers don't know the details of the case. I seriously wonder how much time they could devote to reading 600 pages and analyzing a case they knew about only through news reports.]

Ergo, they accept what Cohan (who has a major reputation) writes.

And they equate 600 pages with thoroughness.

It's only the people who actually know the details of the case who will spot the distortions in Cohan's book. Getting those distortions before the public will take a little time, but they will be demonstrated, eventually.

Anonymous said...

This latest round of activity, this spate of laudatory reviews for the Cohan have, to me, a more "Wonderland" vibe than a lot of the activity in the original case which gave rise to this web site. I don't suppose these reviewers even read "Until Proven Innocent". What worries me is maybe they did, and they are totally ignoring any information which contradicts their preconceived notions. Neff's review is fine, but this is depressing. Will these other media organs read Neff's review?

RighteousThug said...

Trial Junkie said...

Well, where is the DNA evidence against the other "boys?"

In the J4N legendarium, the extra DNA found in Mangum's nether orifi.

And who, might you ask? Again according to J4N and ilk, the actual rapists were part of the 'score' of non-LAX player attendees. They claim that a definitive list of party goers was never established, tho I suspect that the AG's investigators came damned close since they were able to talk to ~20 of the players.

Anonymous said...

Have you read the Newsday review of this book which claims "David Evans, whose DNA under the false fingernail of the accuser was never explained"?

I can't believe that the "reviewer" doesn't know that it was not a positive DNA match but simply that Evans could not be excluded...along with thousands of other people.

Stuff like this really shakes my belief in the veracity and objectivity of "journalists."

Greg said...

Despite being a pretty rabid new junkie, I didn't follow the Duke case at all. I think I was in the middle of moving when a lot of the more dramatic stuff occurred, but I have been aware of it only as a case where false accusations were blown up by the trash press. Not exactly the first time this has happened. I was aware that "60 Minutes" had helped set the record straight.
So I came to "The Price of Silence" without much baggage. So, I have to say, I finished the book pretty much as appalled by Nifong as you could ask. I know that when a writer gets cooperation from an individual said individual is going to get a more sympathetic treatment; and a did grown at the "red harding" reference that Neff mentions here.
But one can read between the lines, and see through strained objectivity. I noticed (along with some of her readers) that the usually excellent Laura Miller at Salon had predictably sparred the magazine any mention of it's own predictably awful performance on the case. Yet anyone who reads the book will pretty much get the picture of what happened. The Media never really owns up to the worst of it's behavior, if they did, most of these people wouldn't have jobs.

Greg said...

Sorry for the bad spelling above, hope you can reason it out. In reading some of the other stuff on this blog, one has to wonder if the value of the Cohan book is simply to make the reader ask "how widespread is the crazed thinking of Nifong among prosecutors? How many also feel that no one can ever be "declared innocent?"

Anonymous said...

Until Cohan's book can refute major portions of "Until Proven Innocent" by Johnson and Taylor, it does not deserve anything approaching praise. The fact that some are considering this new book THE comprehensive treatment of the Duke LAX Case is worse than laughable; it's pathetic.

A Duke Dad said...

@ 12:05 am
shakes my belief in the veracity and objectivity of "journalists."

What Objectivity
What Veracity