Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cohan's Approach to Op-Eds, New Items in the Book

For those who want to read it, my general review of the Cohan book, published by Commentary, is here. Stuart has reviewed the book in the New Republic, and Peter Berkowitz has an intriguing review in Real Clear Politics.

A few notes on the structure of the book. Much of the publication—perhaps as much as half of the 600-plus pages—consists of little more than repackaged summaries of material published by other journalists, columnists, speakers, or bloggers. Cohan offers all (or virtually all) these summaries without any analysis on his part. The effect is to present some of the most dubious pieces of writing on the case as credible. Whether this effect is intended or not is hard to say: but occasionally Cohan allows the mask to slip, and praises some of the most questionable commentators on the case.


Presumably modifying summaries prepared by a research assistant, Cohan plows through scores of op-eds and news articles, but almost never provides analysis. So unless the reader is unusually attentive, or is willing to go on the web and track down the articles herself, there’s no way of detecting how the stories of figures like Selena Roberts changed as it became increasingly clear (except in the minds of Nifong and, apparently, Cohan) that a rape never occurred. Indeed, Cohan seems to praise one of Roberts’ op-eds (p. 247), calling it “devastating.”

Similarly, the work of Hal Crowther—which has poorly stood the test of the time—gets hailed (p. 386) as the writing of “the conscience of progressive thinkers in North Carolina,” the ruminations of a man who “tried to put the still-unfolding drama into perspective.” As a center-left Democrat, the idea that anyone could consider someone like Hal Crowther the “conscience” of any state’s progressive thought is repulsive.

Along these lines, Cohan sympathetically quotes John Feinstein—after the exoneration—complaining that (p. 545) “it is almost pointless to argue with the Duke loyalists who have bought into the notion that the lacrosse players were guilty of nothing more than ‘boys being boys.’” Unmentioned at any point in Cohan’s book is the commentator’s own indefensible statements from early in the case, including this gem (30 March 2006): “You know, I don’t want to hear any ifs, and, or buts. These kids have acted disgracefully, just by the fact that not one of them—I don’t want to hear about the code, among buddies and among teams. A crime was committed. There were witnesses to the crime. They need to come forward and say what they saw . . . They won’t, and that’s why I’m saying the hell with them—strip their scholarships.”

Feinstein never apologized for this statement, or the others he made in March 2006. Quite the reverse, in fact: after the exoneration, he asserted that Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans were “probably guilty of everything but rape.” It’s little surprise that Feinstein (described by Cohan, p. 616, as the “world-famous journalist” who was “extremely generous” with his time) is Cohan’s kind of commentator.

While Cohan summarizes (p. 394) in two paragraphs Stuart Taylor’s critique of the Times August 2006 whitewash, in his own words he terms the Times article “comprehensive.” The Herald-Sun never gets analyzed; it receives the hilariously understated description as (p. 437) “generally supportive of Nifong”—just as, I suppose, Russia Today is generally supportive of Putin.

Finally along these lines, the Janet Reitman Rolling Stone article (which many of the Group of 88 seemed to welcome) received a five-page summary—by far the longest summary in the book for any article. The general pattern—articles or columns that presumed guilt, stressed racism/sexism, or attacked the lacrosse players’ character received lengthier coverage than those that did not. By contrast, Cohan harrumphs (p. 411) about the “constant haranguing of the bloggers.” He doesn’t identify which bloggers he’s talking about (I invite readers to take a guess…); and the critical Liestoppers blog doesn’t merit an entry in the book’s index.


As someone who wrote about the case while it was occurring, I receive several mentions in the book. Those who slog their way through the entire manuscript (where several blog posts are quoted fairly, presumably based on summaries by Cohan’s research assistant; and where many items from UPI resurface without attribution) doubtless will be surprised to see that the final reference to me (p. 619) claims that I suffered from “obvious bias.” Since Cohan doesn’t say what my alleged bias is—and since even Cohan criticizes Duke’s unsuccessful effort to go to court to force me to reveal confidential exchanges with sources for the book and blog—some readers might even guess that I shared Cohan’s pro-Nifong bias.

Oddly, on p. 409, Cohan notes that I said the blog “received about one hundred thousand visitors.” Actually, as of the date of publication of Cohan’s book, the blog has received 5.575 million visitors and 9.022 million page views. Roughly 90 percent of that total occurred by the end of 2007, when I ceased blogging on a daily or near-daily basis. (As regular readers know, since 2009 I have blogged far more frequently at Minding the Campus.) Rather than checking with me about the blog’s visitor rate, Cohan published an inaccurate figure that’s less than 2 percent of the blog’s total visitors, and Scribner’s fact-checkers let the item appear in print. I’m not difficult to reach: my e-mail address and cell phone number are right on my webpage. If either Cohan or the fact-checkers in the “definitive, magisterial” account had gone to the webpage, or just looked at the blog, they also would have discovered that my name is KC Johnson. It’s not clear why Cohan elected to randomly insert periods into my name, as he does throughout his book; perhaps I should follow his standards and hereafter refer to the book written by Cohan.

New Items

For such a long book (more than 600 pages), Cohan has surprisingly few new items—apart from trivia of the type that Susannah Meadows mentioned in her review. Meadows also lists three substantive new items, but two of these weren’t new, and the third (the settlement claim amount) is almost certainly wrong. Likewise, other ostensibly “new” items—Kirk Osborn’s payment record; the Bar’s internal strategy about Dave Evans testifying; a Nifong-Osborn meeting—are false (the first item) or wholly non-credible (the other two) in that they rely on the uncorroborated, self-serving recollections of a convicted liar.

Of the new items, by far the most interesting is Cohan’s report that by January 2007, Nifong “had given up on reading the newspapers—except for the New York Times.” Somehow I don’t think “Mike Nifong’s Favorite Newspaper” would be a good slogan for the Times. Likewise, as noted before, the book reveals that Nifong felt that he had been mistreated by Duke in not receiving enough financial aid from the school.

Bob Steel was the only current or former member of the Duke administration who spoke to Cohan on the record. Steel’s basic interpretation of the case, as told to Cohan, resembles his earlier recollections to Jason Trumpbour (something “terrible, terrible” happened in the lacrosse captains’ house) and to Stuart, in Stuart’s interview with Steel for UPI. Like Nifong and Cohan, Steel believed that something happened, and like Nifong and Cohan, Steel won’t say (“I don’t need to be graphic,” p. 534) what he believes actually occurred. That said: since publication of the book, and Cohan’s insinuation that Steel joined Nifong and Mangum in a consensus that a rape occurred, the former BOT chairman has substantially backtracked.

Regarding Duke, Steel comes across as petulant, angry that outsiders failed to appreciate all he did to keep the school together during 2006 and 2007. (p. 534): “I busted my ass to keep the board on the same page.”) But he also now admits (p. 532) that “our support of the students was deficient,” though he doesn’t say what Duke should have done differently. Cohan produces no evidence that he pressed Steel on the issue. Nor did the Cohan-Steel interview shine any light on whether Steel or Brodhead had the predominance of power regarding the university’s response to the case.

That said, Steel now offers (pp. 532-3) two criticisms of Brodhead. First, Steel, joining virtually everyone else who commented on it, delicately notes that he would have liked a “do-over” on Brodhead’s infamous Durham Chamber of Commerce address. (Even if Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty were innocent, the president publicly proclaimed, whatever they did was “bad enough.”) Second, Steel condemns Brodhead’s performance in the civil suit depositions (which, alas, the public almost certainly will never see): “Dick’s vocabulary, on occasion, strayed . . . Dick is a talker . . . [Duke’s lawyer said], ‘Dick, you’re the worst person I ever tried to teach about depositions. You talk too much.’ . . . [In depositions,] Dick wants to pontificate. He’s an English professor.”

These two paragraphs are well beyond anything that Steel said either to Stuart or to Peter Boyer, and represent genuinely new material.

Cohan also uses “one highly placed Duke official” (it’s not clear if this is the same anonymous official he has explaining why Duke settled the case, or if it’s Steel speaking on background, or if it’s a third figure) stating, as was widely believed, that former athletic director Joe Alleva, who decamped to LSU, was not wanted back. Referring to a one-year extension of his original contract, the unnamed source said (p. 540), “He’s lucky to get what he got.”

Cohan quotes (pp. 67-8) from seven internal Duke e-mails, dating from 16 March 2006. An e-mail chain between Dean Sue, John Burness, Larry Moneta, and two lower-level Duke administrators provides the first notice that Duke had of the event. The e-mails contain nothing out of the ordinary—people sensing a potential problem and desperately trying to find out information—but do confirm that the Duke administration knew from the start that the lacrosse players were wholly cooperative with police. Dean Sue: “Here’s the latest update on the situation . . . Most important is that the students who reside in this house have been fully cooperative.” According to Cohan, this e-mail went to a “wider group” of administrators than just those on the e-mail change.

Finally, in what appears to be an e-mail provided by anti-lacrosse extremist Peter Wood, Cohan extensively quotes from an e-mail sent to Wood, from sometime in late March 2006, by Group of 88 member Susan Thorne. Thorne’s name should resonate with followers of the case: she privately apologized to one of the lacrosse players for signing the statement and promised a public repudiation of the statement—only to turn around and sign the “clarifying” statement, in which she announced that she’d never apologize for affiliating with the Group. Cohan doesn’t mention this episode in his book—perhaps because it reflects poorly on the Group of 88, rather than on the lacrosse players.

According to Cohan (p. 180 in the text, p. 182 in the index—there are lots of minor indexing errors in this book), Thorne praised Wood’s “wonderfully eloquent, if chilling” 2004 letter attacking the lacrosse players. Describing the lacrosse players in her own class as “academically underprepared,” Thorne announced, “I am clearly no judge of character. I was totally blind to any warning signs . . . I vainly gave them moral credit for taking my classes, which are intensely antiracist.” Did Thorne believe that there were “pro-racist” classes at Duke? What exactly makes an “antiracist” class?

Thorne concluded: “As a redneck [does Thorne normally employ such disparaging racial descriptions of her associates?] friend of mine remarked about all this, these kids have no idea what all the fuss is about. A street kid [does Thorne normally employ such disparaging classist descriptions of students?] would know. But these kids think it was all just a case of bad judgment, a party out of hand. But of course that’s how their obnoxious behavior has been treated in the past—and how this was treated by Duke for about a week after the party was reported.”

Given that he considers her viewpoint of such importance that he quotes from it at length, it’s puzzling indeed that Cohan doesn’t describe Thorne’s later role in the case. By the way, here’s the two-faced Thorne privately on the case in January 2007, featuring a very different, almost apologetic tone about the very lacrosse players she condemned to Wood, as she explained why she wouldn’t make her promised public statement repudiating her membership in the Group of 88:
Now that Nifong’s gone, I don’t think there is anything left for ME to say that isn’t already being said in newspapers all over the country.  Joining the chorus in print now appears and feels self serving. 
This is also the sense of the friend to whom I sent what I’d written (he was out of town; by the time he returned and read it, the news had made it obsolete).  It would seem I’ve missed my chance to be of some use to the families.
Indeed she had.


A Duke Dad said...

Indeed, it would be fascinating to see a debate between Mr. Cohan and KC Johnson. . . . . It would be on my "Definitely Must Watch" list. . . . . . Wonder how it would affect sales of each of their DLH (Duke Lacrosse Hoax) books.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing to learn from a debate with a low life like Cohen. I'll pass.
I'd rather hear KC explain why such disgusting behavior exists and low lifes (the 88) continue to act like cowardly liars.

Anonymous said...

The “Duke lax bros” who are "arrogant, callous, dismissive," and who are “academically underprepared”

Such pejorative comments do describe the Gang of 88 and their minions in the administration. But they are grossly unjust descriptions of the lacrosse players. And I speak here from experience and authority.

For years before the hoax, during it, and after, I had countless lacrosse players (including female players, and their friends) as students in my classes. As a group, they are among the most intelligent, hard working, respectful, and appreciative undergraduates at Duke -- far more, I might add, than (as a group) are the affirmative admits so championed by the Gang of 88. (Since I spoke with and consoled many of them during the hoax, I should also add that they handled themselves with courageous dignity.)

Lost in Cohan's travesty of justice is the savagery heaped on coach Pressler and his family.

Cohan's motivation is identical to Duke's: send the innocent to slaughter to protect the Nifong-Duke brand.

Duke Prof

Chris Halkides said...

According to this site "Victims [of sexual assault] should make every effort to save anything that might contain the perpetrator’s DNA, therefore a victim should not:1

Bathe or shower
Use the restroom
Change clothes
Comb hair
Clean up the crime scene
Move anything the offender may have touched"

The fewer of these things that an alleged victim does the less likely it is that he or she could have been the victim of a sexual assault and there be no DNA evidence of it. In other words, sometimes the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, if not quite conclusive evidence of absence.

Jim In San Diego said...

I note that Mr. Cohan changed publishers for "Price of Silence". He moved from Random House, which published his two well-received books "House of Cards", and "Money and Power", to Scribner's.

In the spirit of the day, let us create some innuendos and conjectures ("I.C.")

Factoid: a successful (i.e., sells books) non-fiction author is a valuable property for a publishing house. So:

I.C. #1: Scribners outbid Random House for C's fourth book. Now it must, come hell or high water, recapture a very large financial investment, relying on Mr. Cohan's (previous) reputation, coupled with new marketing hype ("the definitive, magisterial...; "so you think you know what happened"; etc).

I.C. #2: Some senior executive at Scribner's, in particular, is on the line for the financial investment, and the decision to publish this turkey, whose average reviewer rating on Amazon is "bottom of the bird cage trash", to quote one reviewer. That executive is sweating bullets about now, but is pulling out all the plugs to sell books.

I.C. #3: Because of his as yet undisclosed motivation, C wanted to write a book about an 8 year old rape hoax. Random House resisted, pointing to C's 17 years on Wall Street and three successful business books as reasons to write another book on business, and his utter lack of expertise outside that narrow arena. Random House, reasonably, wanted C to stick to what he knew. C rebelled and, probably for more loot, (see I.C. #1) ran to Scribner's, who had the same reservations, but swallowed hard and made the deal.

(I can create I.C.'s with the best of them, such as William D. Cohan.)

Jim Peterson

RighteousThug said...

I.C. #4: There is no proof that Cohan didn't convince Scribner's to pony up the money that Crystal demanded for speaking to Cohan. He's on the hook for the payoff unless the book's Amazon reviews run 2:1 +3 star or more.

Anonymous said...

For those of you that may have missed Lane Williamson's 4/16/2014 comment at KC's 'Cohan's Nifong Blindness' post, please go back and read Mr. Williamson's comment.

RighteousThug said...

To wit:

KC might be able to tell us if he's verified this comment.

Lane Williamson said...

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.
4/16/14, 9:06 AM