Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cohan, Steel, and Argument by Insinuation

A central characteristic of William D. Cohan’s Price of Silence is argument by insinuation. A central characteristic of Cohan’s press tour has been the replacement of insinuation with bald, often unsubstantiated assertion.

Freed from whatever editorial and legal oversight existed at Scribner’s, press-tour Cohan has asserted that “something did happen in that bathroom.” (N&O) He has claimed defense attorneys manipulated the media. (Cosmopolitan) He’s taunted the falsely accused players as “Duke lax bros.” (Twitter) And he’s inflated his wild (and almost certainly incorrect) claim of a $60 million settlement into $100 million in settlement costs. (Daily News)

In the past two days, author Cohan has repeatedly applied this pattern of more aggressive statements to the opinions of former BOT chairman Bob Steel. In an e-mail to Stuart Taylor and me, Steel has now responded to the author’s description of his beliefs on the case.

The takeaway: in two separate TV appearances, Cohan has misrepresented what Steel told him.

The book’s treatment of Steel is a classic example of Cohan's argument-by-insinuation. On p. 534, Cohan frames his discussion of Steel to leave the impression that while Steel suggests the three accused students were appropriately exonerated, he also believes that someone on the team committed some sort of crime. (I note this presentation of Steel’s role in my forthcoming Commentary review.) But Cohan never directly quotes Steel asserting that “something happened.” He just tees up the question for readers.

In two television appearances over the past two days, however, Cohan has been unequivocal about Steel’s beliefs on the case.

In a Tuesday appearance on Bloomberg TV, Cohan linked Steel’s perspective on the case with that of Mike Nifong and Crystal Mangum. The author stated, at 4.03 of the linked video, “Between Nifong, Crystal, and Bob Steel, the consensus seems to be something happened in that bathroom that no one would be proud of.” [emphases added]

Cohan seems to have carefully chosen this particular phrase. Yesterday, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Cohan again discussed the common perspectives between Nifong, Mangum, and Steel. At 2.46 of the linked video, Cohan informed the MSNBC panel that he spoke to the “quite credible(!!)” Nifong, who “believes something happened.” He spoke to the “victim” [sic], who “believes something still happened.” And “Bob Steel, of course, the [former] chairman of the Board of Trustees, he believes something happened in that bathroom that none of us would be proud of.” [emphases added]

So Cohan twice—once on a national cable network, once on an internet TV network—asserted, not implied, that Steel believed “something happened,” and that he believed whatever occurred was something that “none of us would be proud of.”

What does Steel say? Yesterday, in response to a request from us for comment on Cohan’s televised assertions, Steel e-mailed Stuart and me. He stated, “I have no view now, nor have ever had a view of what if anything happened in the bathroom. Period.”

Steel added, “’Something happened in that bathroom that no one would be proud of’ is not a phrase that I have used. Or am aware of.”

Finally, and quite contrary to the implication left on page 534 of Cohan’s book, Steel now asserts, “I have never stated or implied that any member of the 2006 Duke men's lacrosse team engaged in criminal activity with Ms. Mangum.”

To reiterate:
  • William D. Cohan, yesterday morning, to a national cable audience: “Bob Steel . . . believes something happened in that bathroom.”
  • Bob Steel, yesterday evening, via e-mail: “I have no view now, nor have ever had a view of what if anything happened in the bathroom. Period.”

Cohan had a second curious remark about Steel in his “Morning Joe” appearance. He referenced the former board of trustees chairman (at the 1.08 mark) by falsely claiming that Steel spoke to him about the case “for the first time.” Of course, Steel had previously spoken to Stuart, who conducted an interview for UPI, and he spoke to the New Yorker’s Peter Boyer. It was Boyer, not Cohan, to whom Steel spoke about the case “for the first time.”

Answering a question from a “Morning Joe” panelist as to why Duke settled, Cohan cited Steel, who allegedly said, “Basically, we had to make this go away. We had to, basically, protect our brand. We had litigation exposure. And we had to stop it.”

According to Cohan, before a national cable audience, Steel listed four reasons why Duke settled with the falsely accused players:
  1. Duke had to make this go away.
  2. Duke had to basically protect its brand.
  3. Duke had litigation exposure.
  4. Duke had to stop it.
One of those reasons—#3—is quite unlike the others. And, indeed, the Duke trustees, in an e-mail sent over Steel’s signature after the announcement of the settlement, indicated that they and President Richard Brodhead “determined that it is in the best interests of the Duke community to eliminate the possibility of future litigation and move forward.” That e-mail is quoted on p. 568 of Cohan’s book, and I covered it at the time on the blog.

The trustees’ e-mail contains no mention of making the case go away or Duke protecting its brand—and, most tellingly, no wording to the effect of “we had to stop it.” Nor, anywhere else in author Cohan’s book, does Cohan quote Steel using these words or anything like them to describe Duke’s rationale for the settlement.

But some of those words might resonate to those who have closely followed the case. In August 2006, in what was (again, contrary to Cohan’s statement to “Morning Joe”) Steel’s first interview about the case, the board chairman explained to the New Yorker’s Peter Boyer why Duke had cancelled the lacrosse season—a move that created an impression of guilt, whether intended or not.

Here’s what Steel said to Boyer: “We had to stop those pictures [of the lacrosse team members practicing] . . . It doesn’t mean that it’s fair, but we had to stop it. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think it was right—it just had to be done.” [emphasis added]

There appear to be two alternatives regarding Cohan’s “Morning Joe” statements about Steel and Duke’s rationale for a settlement.
  1. Steel provided to Cohan important insights about Duke’s thinking in negotiating a settlement with the falsely accused students, but for reasons unknown, Cohan did not include these items in the 614 pages of his book, reserving them instead for the “Morning Joe” audience.
  2. Caught off guard by a question from a “Morning Joe” panelist, and desperate to portray the settlement with the accused students in a harshly negative, conspiratorial light, Cohan improperly attributed Steel’s stated reasons for Duke’s decision to cancel the lacrosse season (an act hostile to the lacrosse players) in 2006 to Duke’s decision to legally settle with the lacrosse players in 2007.

One last time:
  • William D. Cohan, to a national cable audience: “Bob Steel . . . believes something happened in that bathroom.”
  • Bob Steel: “I have no view now, nor have ever had a view of what if anything happened in the bathroom. Period.”
Will author Cohan request that “Morning Joe” and Bloomberg TV issue a retraction of his statement about Steel’s beliefs? Will he apologize to the two programs’ viewers for misleading them?

Even before the book formally appeared in print, Joe Neff—by speaking to Jim Coman, something Cohan appears not to have tried to do—exposed the inaccuracies of Cohan’s portrayal of the declaration of innocence. Now Bob Steel (no friend of the falsely accused students, to be sure) has flatly contradicted Cohan’s televised portrayal of Steel’s beliefs on the case.

How many other outright errors or deeply misleading impressions does the Cohan book feature? As the saying goes: more to come.


RighteousThug said...

KC, the $100 mil figure wasn't quoted in the Daily News review. I took it to be an error(?) by the author, Vinton.

(I note this presentation of Steel’s role in my forthcoming Commentary review.)

It's been "forthcoming" for a while now, KC. Are you going all Waheema on us? ;) Inconceivable!

RighteousThug said...


The missing 'n' in Wahneema will remain 'forthcoming'.

Anonymous said...

I'm just bummed out 'cause I've never had any "lax bros".

kcjohnson9 said...

To Rt:


Commentary only publishes once a month--it's in the May issue

kcjohnson9 said...

To RT:

Cohan in DN: That’s a lot of money for a party,” Cohan says. “They bought a lot of silence with that 100 million dollars.”

Chris Halkides said...

Men's Journal published an interview between Cohan and Steel. Steel said, "I felt there was zero chance that there was a group activity, that thirty guys saw something that was incredibly unattractive or whatever. These guys are like your and my kids. They're babies. Someone would've told their parents that 'I saw this' or whatever. I don't believe there’s any group thing that happened,something that they all saw. I just don't buy it, because I just think some kid would've broken to his mom, or some dad [would have] said, 'Tell me the truth or I'm taking away your car.' We have no idea what happened in a bathroom with one person or two persons. I have no clue, no idea."

skwilli said...

I can't wait for the skewering of the SANE!

Anonymous said...

This what happens when people conspire to tell untruths. One or more of the participants forget part of their scripts. Then their stories don't match up.

kcjohnson9 said...

To Chris:

Men's Journal piece an excerpt from the book--good example of the way Cohan is far bolder in assertions on TV than book.

Entire passage does create impression that *something* happened, acc to Steeel. But reader has to make the inference.

Anonymous said...

Is Cohan a Communist?

Anonymous said...

Is there a possibility that you are obsessed with the case and infer the inferences based on that fixation for purposes of your own self serving interest and commentary KC?

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 12.59:

Is there a possibility you're Mike Nifong, "Anonymous"?

Anonymous said...

What do you think KC?

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 2.44:

Have no idea: that's why I asked!

Of course, you could always choose to post absent the cloak of anonymity :)

Anonymous said...

Do you think Mr. Nifong would actually post on this blog KC?

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 3.32:

I haven't a clue. Maybe you can tell me?

Anonymous said...

If I knew the answer I probably wouldn't be blogging here either KC, but I don't know about that either, since I don't have the answer.

Too bad eh? Would you want to actually argue about all this with Mr. Nifong personally on this blog KC? That would give him the chance to respond to your inferred inferences of inferences, or whatever it is that you are doing.

Lance The Supreme Poster of Enlightenment said...

Anonymous @ 4:43:

Is that you, White Goodman?

kcjohnson9 said...

To the 4.43:

Thanks for the reply: I suppose it will have to remain a mystery.

Anytime you wish to post under your own name, rather than anonymously, I invite you to do so!

From my angle, I thought that the post was quite clear: Cohan prefers to assert by inference in the book; in his publicity appearances, he's dropped any pretense, and made straight-out assertions of numerous points that he had only left to inference in the book (which I presume you have read). That said, I profoundly apologize that you had difficulty understanding the post.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book yet KC. I did live through the hell this case created in NC, and see how it continues to wreck havoc to this day. Whether you realize it or not, what is done in this case affects a lot of people very negatively and causes harm. So, I am in no hurry to read that book, watch the news about it, nor read all the many 'facts' and opinions, and most probably will never do so. I can see what this case has done to harm a lot of people KC, I don't actually have to hear about it again and again or disect it to know what happened nor to see the harm it has caused. You do not understand that though do you?

Lance The Supreme Poster of Enlightenment said...

Interesting....You haven't read the book, nor are you in any hurry to do so. You also in no hurry to watch any news or read facts or opinions about the book.

Yet here you are, commenting about it. How very odd of you.

Anonymous said...

I am not commenting on the book actually. I am commenting on KC's comments about the book in reality. How even odder for you to think otherwise.

guiowen said...

To the 6:07,
You're wrong.

Lance The Supreme Poster of Enlightenment said...

Anonymous @ 6:07:

You stated "I haven't read the book yet KC...I am in no hurry to read that book, watch the news about it, nor read all the many 'facts' and opinions, and most probably will never do so."

Those are very much in reality comments about William Cohan's book. Apparently you can neither read or remember your own comments.

Greg Allan said...

Is Anonymous a communist?

Anonymous said...

Sure Lance, you can take it that way since you did, but it doesn't mean anything about the book specifically since i am in no hurry to do a lot of other things as well as i stated. It is more about my non interest in reading or watching about the subject matter since my knowledge of the event is first hand from a NC citizen spectator perspective as i also stated. Why do you need that explained to you Lance? Does it not fit your agenda? What is your agenda?

The worse part is if anyone disagrees or questions what some of ya'll insist to be that which only ya'll deem can be believed or thought or the 'truth' about that case you bash immediately or pretend the thought or belief or perspective is either stupid or the person stating it is a moron and your enemy (because they think differently from you). Why do you do that? It doesn't make your views any more believable or credible just because you attack like bullies and beat on people if they don't believe you. Now that IS stupid since there are plenty of people in this world with views differing than your own. Are you going to beat up on everyone until no one believes anything you profess out of natural instinct? KC can't even acknowledge his obsession with the case without getting trollee about it. How does he expect to be able to debate Nifong directly on this blog if he can't take one single question about his own obsession with the case and whether it affects his commentary or not? Get real. sheeessshhhh

guiowen said...

To the 10:14,
You're wrong.

sceptical said...

In parts of the book I have read, Cohan does not use critical thinking, whether its an interview with Nifong or new quotes from the SAER. He does not put new information into perspective or context.

Anonymous said...

So do you think this might indicate an aspect of people who have graduated from or work at Duke, that they can't put new information into perspective or context in general, or is it just something you noticed about Cohan's own personal critical thinking skills or lack thereof?

William L. Anderson said...

As I see it, Cohan is just another Progressive who didn't like how the criminal case ended. Most mainstream journalists, as I see it, wanted the story to be true and were sorely disappointed when it was only too good to be true. (Or, too BAD to be true)

What is telling to me, and something I am emphasizing in an upcoming article, is that Cohan's assertions are pretty easily taken apart. That anyone would believe anything Nifong says is, well, unbelievable, given that the man is a psychopath and pathological liar. Anyone who watched Nifong at the bar trial or in the contempt hearing can see that he is missing a few screws, along with a conscience.

That other journalists are fawning all over this piece of garbage is more evidence that Progressive Mainstream journalists are not people interested in the truth. They are interested in pursuing and promoting a political agenda, and everything else is secondary.

A Duke Dad said...

Important Guidance

. . . D o . . N O T . . F e e d . . the . . T r o l l s

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone paid you NOT to read Cohan's book.