Monday, April 28, 2014

Cohan: “I Certainly Feel Sorry for Mike Nifong"

Late last week, author Wlliam D. Cohan took his “something happened”/Nifong is “honorable” tour to the airwaves of upstate New York and the Berkshires, appearing on the WAMC Roundtable. The program bills itself as an effort “to explore the many facets of the human condition with civility, respect and responsibility.” This responsibility apparently does not include an interest in addressing abuses of government power.

Before beginning the fisk, these are the topics that the author of the “definitive, magisterial” account of the lacrosse case failed to mention, at all, in a 26-minute interview:
  • that the State Bar found Mike Nifong made myriad, ethically improper public statements, over a period of several months;
  • that the State Bar found Mike Nifong improperly withheld exculpatory DNA evidence, in violation of two provisions of North Carolina law;
  • that a judge found that Mike Nifong lied to him in open court;
  • that any Duke professor (much less 88 of them) publicly affirmed that something “happened” to Crystal Mangum based solely on information supplied by Nifong and the media;
  • that Duke had any legal exposure (any at all) in a possible lawsuit filed by the falsely accused players.
Instead, according to Cohan, Nifong made unspecified “mistakes” and Duke (seemingly to prevent the falsely accused players from speaking to somebody like William D. Cohan) paid “$100 million” [sic] for a “frat party.”

I haven’t bothered to re-fisk routine Cohan statements that he made again at WAMC—such as his assertion that Nifong was subjected to a rush to judgment or his claim to have approached the case in a “dispassionate” way or his repeated description of individuals in their late 20s or early 30s as “boys” or his incorrect claim that each of the falsely accused students received $20 million from Duke. While book tours normally feature authors speaking about their books, Cohan appears instead to be making more and more extreme statements that go beyond even the one-sided presentation in his book.

The Levicy Report

Cohan’s penchant for misleading about the Levicy report reached its apex in the WAMC interview, to the point in which it’s hard to describe him as doing anything other than making deliberate misrepresentations.

The host set the stage at 11.10 of the interview, noting that the book had revealed the Levicy report. The host asked what Mangum told former SANE-nurse-in-training Tara Levicy, “and why that conversation had not been revealed prior to what you write in the book”?

Cohan’s answer should have been that the conversation had been revealed, repeatedly. Instead, he said the following:

COHAN (at 11.47): So, of course, this is a family-oriented show. So it’s going to be hard to get into graphic details of what—but she basically claimed that night that she was brutally raped and sexually assaulted by a number of these players in the bathroom at the same time.

And the nurse who examined her [the medical exam was actually done by Dr. Julie Manly, not Levicy] found evidence that she had been brutalized and that she had been hurt very badly. That is the evidence, I have to say, one of the pieces of evidence that of course Mike Nifong had that others did not have. And he, of course, rightly or wrongly, believed that this nurse was a professional and had done a good job and the right job of examining Crystal Mangum on that night. The medical records, I guess—I’m not a lawyer, that’s something that gets sealed up as part of this—and nobody made that public until now. I got my hands on it and reported it faithfully in the book.

Comment: This is an extraordinary statement, in two respects.

First: In the most extreme public remark he’s made at any point about the case, Cohan has now claimed that the Levicy report “found evidence that [Mangum] had been brutalized and that she had been hurt very badly.” His book made no such “brutalization” assertion about the Levicy report: did Scribner’s attorneys veto the effort? If the attorneys so acted, they did so for good reason, since the report found that Mangum had a couple of scratches on her leg (which she had from before the party) and “diffuse edema of the vaginal walls,” a symptom easily traceable to Mangum’s vigorous sexual activity, which she had initially concealed from authorities but which the DNA test results Nifong helped to conceal confirmed. That’s some of the evidence that Cohan has said “didn’t matter.”

What about bruises? Levicy took no pictures, but two days later, a police photographer did. Here’s the photo. Not exactly the look of someone who was “brutalized,” much less kicked in the neck, as she told the special prosecutors.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Perhaps all of this is why the AG’s report noted that Levicy based her claims solely on subjective criteria.

Second: Cohan has revived his outright false statement that “nobody made that [report] public until now.” In fact, it was reported on by the N&O, by 60 Minutes, by the Times, by me. Stuart and I quoted from it in UPI. To get a sense of the early, widespread nature of the dissemination of the Levicy report’s contents: here’s a TalkLeft discussion thread—from early August 2006.

In the event that Cohan—amidst researching the “definitive, magisterial” account of the case—didn’t come across any of this material (quite a commentary on his research skills), Stuart made it clear to him in a phone call to the Diane Rehm show.

What does it say about Cohan’s integrity that he has been willing to repeat such an obviously false statement?

COHAN (at 13.00): Obviously the defense did not want to make that public even though they had access to it as well. Their preferred strategy was to—very effective—was to completely discredit this woman, the nurse. That she was not qualified, she was not certified [she wasn’t!!], that she was an ardent feminist from Maine, [voice filled with emotion] who had temerity to, you know, stand up for women’s rights! And therefore she was predisposed to believe that Crystal Mangum had been raped.

I mean, it’s just absurd on its face, and yet that was the theme that eventually prevailed—that this nurse was completely unqualified and biased in favor of Crystal Mangum. I mean, I just find that to be absurd.

I wanted to have that report in the book for the first time [sic], and, you know—the haters [the “dispassionate” Cohan is back to calling his critics “haters] will say, “There’s another version of what happened!” Because it does not jive completely with some of the things that Crystal Mangum said later. But this was an objective person who was there that night, who examined her, and found evidence of rape.

Comment: Where, in any filing in the case, did “the defense” describe Levicy as a “feminist from Maine”?  We know they made no such description of Levicy in a conversation with Cohan, since the author (for reasons he’s never explained) didn’t seek to interview Brad Bannon or Joe Cheshire or Jim Cooney or Wade Smith.

The “defense” didn’t have to say “she was predisposed to believe that Crystal Mangum had been raped”—Levicy conceded as much to defense attorney Doug Kingsbery, who she told that she had never encountered a woman who lied about rape. (Kingsbery was another of the attorneys that author Cohan didn’t seek to interview.)

Cohan has offered no criteria as to why he considers Levicy to be “objective.” As the attorney general’s report concluded, Levicy lacked “objective evidence” to substantiate her beliefs.

Attorney General’s Investigation

Prompted by a question from the host, Cohan began by setting up the role of Mangum.

COHAN (at 14.32): Crystal Mangum is not a perfect person. She’s had a very, very hard life. Beginning at an early stage with sexual abuse, and she was taken advantage of early on. And yet this was a woman who was a single mother who put herself through NCCU, the predominantly black university in Durham, that’s three miles and a world away from Duke.

When I visited with her in prison in Durham, she struck me as rational, thoughtful, articulate, and very clear about what she still believes happened. Now, she could be totally delusional, the defense would have us believe that she was completely delusional, that she was bipolar, and she had been taking drugs for her bipolar condition, and therefore was utterly delusional and was delusional that night and remains delusional and not to be believed and the whole thing is completely fictionalized and made up.

Comment: Cohan himself—to Diane Rehm, and in his book, as Susannah Meadows pointed out—described Mangum as bipolar.

The run-on sentence at the end of the excerpt above didn’t sound like the statement of a “dispassionate” observer to me.

As to Mangum being “very clear about what she still believes happened”—about which version was she “very clear”? And, lest it need pointing out, Cohan is describing a convicted murderer as “rational, thoughtful, articulate.”

COHAN, at 15.28: That’s a similar conclusion to what Roy Cooper, the AG of North Carolina, concluded in his report, more or less. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. But, you know, and when he declared these boys innocent in April 2007, he made public a 20-page report after a 4-month investigation. He refused to be interviewed by me, which I think is astounding. If a public official, AG of North Carolina, a guy who’s running for governor of the state in 2016, he wants to be taken seriously as a public official, he oversaw this investigation for four months. He declared these kids innocent and he would not even make himself available to be interviewed. Actually, of course, he would not allow me to look at any of his investigatory files. He first told me that they had been destroyed. Then they changed the story and said actually because it was a criminal case, they could hide behind shield law and not make the documents available.

Well, the truth is, it’s not a criminal case, because he declared them innocent! So he should make this material public. What I don’t understand is why he’s hiding behind this, and Crystal has asked for these records to be released, because she believes that there’s more to it than there’s being let on. You know, the bottom line is, we won’t know. This is just one of those unknowable things. We won’t know what happened in that bathroom, and no one who does know is talkin’ about it, except for Crystal, and she’s lost all credibility.

Comment: First of all, this is what Cooper’s report said, as Cohan well knows.

It’s not clear why Cohan was unable to accurately capture Cooper’s sentiments.

Cohan’s description of the legal status of the case is bizarre. Of course this was a criminal case—there was a criminal investigation. The fact that it ended in an innocence declaration in no way affects the legal status of the records under NCGS § 132-1.4. That Cohan would even make such a claim only further demonstrates his ignorance of the law—in this case, public records law, in which you’d think a “serious investigative journalist” would have expertise.

Cooper might win in 2016, and he might lose. But I doubt that there will be many North Carolinians who won’t take Cooper “seriously as a public official” because he declined to speak to “somebody like” William D. Cohan.

Finally, the last section of this comment exposes the danger when a passionate advocate like Cohan gets too wound up. As Cohan—correctly—pointed out, Mangum has “lost all credibility.” Yet the entire premise of both his book and his publicity tour has been that the special prosecutors (who believed the accused players to be innocent) needed nonetheless to bring the case to trial, based solely on the word of Crystal Mangum, who, in Cohan’s own words, had “lost all credibility.”

Structure of Book/”New” Material

COHAN (at 2.35): Even to this day, and now, seven years, eight years later, there’s a lot of new evidence, a lot of new documents, a lot of people talked to me who had never spoken before. Important people, who had been involved in the case. You know, I thought this was the time to do it and reflect on it.

Comment: The total number of “new documents” uncovered by Cohan would include seven largely innocuous e-mails between Duke administrators just after they found out about the case and a handful of other items, none of which play a role of any significance in his book.

And who were these “important people” who “had never spoken before”?

COHAN: (at 5.50) But I talked to a number of people for the first time, including Mike Nifong, the prosecutor, who had never spoken publicly about this case before. [That’s true, if you don’t count dozens of 2006 interviews, including a three-hour discussion in December with the New York Times; his deposition (under oath) to the State Bar; his testimony (under oath) to the State Bar panel; and his testimony (under oath) at his criminal contempt trial.]

I spoke to Crystal Mangum, the accuser, who then became known as the victim. [What? She was always the accuser, and she “then became known as” a convicted murderer.] I spoke to her in a prison in Durham. [Indeed he did, but Mangum had “spoken before” through her book.]

And I spoke to a number of players who had never spoken before. [Really?? Cohan spoke to one lacrosse player, Ryan McFadyen, and he had “spoken before,” to me, in an interview for the book and the blog. I don’t believe that speaking to one player who had spoken before supports a claim that Cohan “spoke to a number of players who had never spoken before.”]

And I spoke to Bob Steel, who Duke asked not to speak with me. They asked him not to speak with me. But he did anyway, and I will be forever grateful to him for doing that. [And to show his gratitude, Cohan went on national TV and misrepresented what Steel had told him. And, by the way, Steel had spoken before about the case.]


The Nifong section was set up with yet another fawning question from the host, the time about Nifong’s “pristine record as a prosecutor.”

COHAN, at 7.40: That’s absolutely right. This guy had been in the Durham DA’s office for 28 years. As you say, he had prosecuted many cases. He had won some, he’d won most. He had lost some. He had won some rape cases, he had lost some rape cases. This is a guy who was a very well-respected prosecutor, who was not ambitious for political office like his haters are making him out to be.

I wanted to know how a guy, and part of the story is that explanation: how does a guy who had such a good record, and is a guy of high integrity—you know, he obviously made mistakes in this case, and he’s the first to admit them, but he becomes crucified. He becomes the target of everybody’s hatred and ire, even to this day.

I mean, we all know, Joe, that the haters will hate. You don’t have to go far to see that the haters are already hating on me for even allowing Mike Nifong to have his say about what happened. Because that never happened in this case. He was shut down completely. And there are people out there who will not be happy until Mike Nifong is not on the face of this earth. And that just doesn’t seem right to me, his job as a prosecutor was to either believe the evidence or not. Believe the victim or not, and if he did believe it, his job is to get this case in front of a jury, to have a jury decide. That’s the role of justice in our society, and that was never allowed to happen here.

And one of the reasons it was never allowed to happen is because the boys [again, Cohan is describing individuals in their late 20s or early 30s here] had, you know, a bottomless amount of money to spend on their defense [how did Cohan reach this conclusion, given that he interviewed neither the defendants nor their attorneys nor their families?], and the defense did an astounding job for them, including getting them $20 million each. But to me, it sounds like the justice system was badly warped by those deep pockets, and it was never really allowed to take its shape, and that’s why, again, I wanted to write this book, and have the trial that never occurred.

Comment: Cohan somehow can speak definitively about Nifong’s lack of “ambition for political office” even as he elected not to seek an interview with the person who could most clearly comment on this issue: Nifong’s 2006 primary campaign manager, Jackie Brown. Cohan has never explained why he didn’t try to interview Brown. But then again, Cohan doesn’t seem to have wanted to speak to virtually anyone who might have contradicted the version of events presented by the book’s protagonist.

Yet again, Cohan has whitewashed Nifong’s pre-lacrosse record, refusing to mention the Darryl Howard case.

Was Mike Nifong “shut down completely”? Well, yes—if you don’t count his ethics proceeding (when he had full opportunity to present his case and call witnesses to corroborate his claims) and his contempt trial (when he had full opportunity to present his case and call witnesses to corroborate his claims). For someone so insistent on the need for trials, Cohan seems unwilling (or unable) to explain how Nifong could have been shut down completely if he had a full chance to defend himself before the Bar or in court.

Along these lines, why has Cohan, who has spoken so passionately about trials being the only way legal matters can be resolved, proved so unwilling to accept the results of the Nifong proceedings? A state bar ethics hearing found Nifong culpable of 27 of 32 ethics charges—yet Cohan has continued to label Nifong “honorable.” And Nifong, after a trial, was found guilty of lying to a judge—yet Cohan has continued to label Nifong “quite credible.”

It seems as if, in the end, outcome, and not process, is what most matters to author Cohan.

Miscellaneous Items

COHAN, at 5.08: Well, you’re absolutely right, I mean, that’s why this book is called The Price of Silence because my alma mater, for starters, did not want me to write this book.

Comment: Cohan has made statements like this on several occasions. It’s an odd claim—the only way “Duke” as an institution could express what it wanted or didn’t want was through a resolution of the Board of Trustees. No such resolution was passed. It’s entirely possible President Brodhead didn’t want Cohan to write a book. But Brodhead isn’t Duke. And Cohan has conceded he secretly spoke to several members of the Group of 88.

In what might be the least surprising development of the case, Cohan’s book—which, in its “something happened” thesis effectively says the Group of 88 was correct—is being recommended as “summer reading” for some Duke students.

COHAN, at 5.35: Obviously the three boys [he’s describing people in their late 20s or early 30s here] got their settlement. A part of that settlement required that they not talk to me.

Comment: It’s hard for me to imagine that several years ago, Duke’s attorneys included a clause in their settlement stating that the “boys” could not speak many years in the future to William D. Cohan. Presumably the settlement (as most such settlements do) contained mutual non-disparagement clauses. But Reade Seligmann has given several talks about the case, as a “serious investigative journalist” such as Cohan surely knows. Seligmann, as Cohan himself has conceded, offered to speak to Cohan on an off-the-record basis, but Cohan showed no interest.

COHAN, at 10.48: And other people have serious questions about what happened. Now, nobody likes to talk about that. And Duke wants it all to go away. Of course, the kids don’t want this to be discussed anymore. But, you know, there are a number of people who believe something happened in that bathroom that we would not be proud of.

I have to say, I’ve become one of those people, and we’ll never know the truth. But something happened in that bathroom that none of us would be proud of.

Comment: The “number of people” with this position interviewed by Cohan are Mike Nifong and Crystal Mangum. I suppose the addition of William D. Cohan to this cohort makes it a “number,” but I suspect there are probably more people who think Cliven Bundy will be the next governor of Nevada.


And then, a wholly new item, prompted by a question asking Cohan for whom he felt sorry. Pausing, sighing, Cohan said that he felt “sorry for anybody, of course, who’s falsely accused.” But does that sentiment apply to the lacrosse players? “We won’t know for sure.” Indeed, “what we won’t know is whether actually something did happen in that bathroom, that they’ve been very successful at covering it up.” And if they were really innocent, they’ve been compensated for their “inconvenience.”

Who does Cohan certainly feel sorry for?

Here is a link to the audio, of the line below:

“I certainly feel sorry for Mike Nifong, the prosecutor, whose life was ruined because of this.”

The statement of a “dispassionate” investigative journalist, describing a man who lied to a judge, withheld exculpatory evidence, and inflamed a community with ethically improper statements, so as to (as the State Bar panel found) advance his personal interests.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Cohan is not only "dispassionate," he is, as he reminds us throughout the New York Magazine interview, also "unbiased" and "nonjudgmental."

Anonymous said...

"I Certainly Feel Sorry for Mike Nifong"

I do too. I mean, he has to live with himself, after all, knowing what a scumbag he is.

Blacksburger said...

Cohan says that the AG issued a 20-page report, but that was only the summary. The original report was over 160 pages.

Did Cohan not even know that this longer report existed?

skwilli said...

There must be something behind Cohan's payment for this book that "none of us would be proud of".

William L. Anderson said...

More head-shaking commentary from Cohan the Barbarian. Thanks for setting things straight, K.C.

Unfortunately, what is happening is what I feared in 2007 when things were against Nifong. Sooner or later, the so-called Progressive media people, those who were bitterly disappointed with the truth, would decide to create their own "truth" via revisionism.

And it has happened. The Usual Suspects (NY Times, New York, NPR) have decided not only to give Cohan a free pass, but also to hint that maybe, just maybe "something happened." And that Susannah Meadows has given her stamp of approval to this wretched volume is more proof to me that even the journalists who supposedly knew the truth have decided that the truth just was not good enough.

Anonymous said...

According to the latest book review post at Amazon the system is "racist" because of all the one star reviews. You have to read this to believe this non-sense

Anonymous said...

The Amazon post recently referenced was just removed ....and now replaced with one with a similar intent of using "race" and calling names. Only this time it seems the post author changed his name too (see edit history). ...probably embarrassed. Time for popcorn while watching the Amazon book reviews :-)

Anonymous said...

FYI, The price just dropped again on Cohan's work of fiction at Amazon. Now $14.44 (from $35). What are they trying to do ..."pollute" the public with this non-sense book?

Anonymous said...

The $14.44 price is only for the Kindle edition; the hardcover is still $25.37.

Also, I'm sure some people noticed the 5-star review that was up yesterday, by a reviewer named "dukeno1" who self-identified as a friend of Cohan and a Duke alum. The review attracted some critical comments almost at once and has since been taken down. For revision, or out of embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

It's still depressing that this Cohan charade proceeds pretty much unabated. I knew there would be diehards that would never deviate from the original narrative (gang of 88, Harr, and other sympathizers), but I thought that something like this current activity would be literally mocked. I'm encouraged a bit by your fisking (please don't stop), Taylor's interview, and the Amazon slew of 1-star reviews, but not as much as I should be. Like one of the Amazon reviewers, "I wish there was a zero-star option". These people inhabit another world, and they seem to lack an embarrassment gene.

Greg said...

While I do find some of Cohen's comments here pretty amazing, I must say once more, coming to the book almost completely green as far as knowledge of the case goes; I finished it completely appalled with Mike Nifong. Only once ("Red Harring") did I feel Cohen had his finger unduly on the scale for Nifong. It is possible to have sympathy for someone while at the same time knowing their self destruction was all their own doing.
I am wondering, since Cohen knows this blog(it is treated respectfully in the book) if you could get a series of questions to him and see if he answers.