Friday, April 11, 2014

Cohan's Nifong Blindness

Perhaps the most startling of the many such assertions made by author William D. Cohan to “Morning Joe” was his statement that he found Mike Nifong “quite credible.” This is the same Mike Nifong who a State Bar panel determined violated ethics rules on 27 of 32 counts. And it’s the same Mike Nifong found guilty of contempt for lying to a judge in open court. If this is the sort of figure that Cohan deems credible, how could anyone be non-credible in Cohan’s eyes?

(Well, anyone except the defense attorneys, I suppose.)

In the event, Cohan’s deep admiration for Nifong colors the entire book. The author gives his hero every benefit of the doubt, and then some, in a desperate effort to rehabilitate the disgraced ex-prosecutor’s reputation.

Nifong Background

While the players that he persecuted get basically no personal introduction (a survey of frat culture seems to suffice, in Cohan’s mind), Nifong receives a glowing, 15-page introduction that portrays him as a wonderful family man and a champion of civil rights. Virtually the only new  item here (apart from the spin) came from a revelation of Nifong bitterness with Duke: he intended to go there, didn’t get as much financial aid as he expected, appealed the decision and thought he was right, but Duke still didn’t give him the money.

Later on, Nifong claimed (p. 97) that there was a “kernel of truth” that Duke students got unfair positive treatment from the justice system, and he was intent to ensure that didn’t happen. He provided no evidence for the assertion, and Cohan apparently didn’t ask for any.

Cohan also surveys Nifong’s pre-2006 career. This section contains no mention of the Darryl Howard case—which naturally wouldn’t fit into the book’s strongly positive portrayal of Nifong. Cohan likewise doesn’t mention the earlier sexual assault cases that Nifong had dismissed or pled down, contrary to the theory of justice Nifong employed in the lacrosse case.

On the personal front, his daughter from his first marriage—the woman that Nifong initially didn’t mention in his campaign literature—gets one sentence, all in parenthesis. It looks like even Cohan couldn’t spin Nifong’s treatment of her.

In the background section, Cohan lets Nifong go on and on and on about the proper way to try rape cases, and how sometimes prosecutors won’t have “forensic evidence” (p. 91), especially in acquaintance rape cases. The relevance of any of this to the lacrosse case is zero.

Nifong’s Blame Game

Given Cohan’s approach—allowing Nifong to present whatever he wants to say, virtually without challenge—much of the book includes Nifong playing the blame game at anyone who in any way crossed him during the lacrosse case. Even more remarkable, Cohan not only allows Nifong (the convicted liar) to lash out at his critics at will, but the author (who told Bloomberg TV, “I talked to anybody who would talk to me”) appears not to have even requested comment from virtually any of Nifong’s targets.

For instance:
  • On the wording of the NTO, and its (correct, given the facts of the case) promise that the DNA tests would reveal guilt or innocence, Nifong blames ADA David Saacks, saying that Saacks had “never dealt with a rape case,” and he shouldn’t have “allowed” such language “to remain in a nontestimonial.” Needless to say, Nifong never gave any hint of such sentiments before the DNA tests came back negative. (p. 78) Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Saacks for comment.
  • On his statement to then-campaign manager Jackie Brown, that he was receiving a “million dollars” worth of publicity from the case, Nifong implies that Brown (p. 135) lied: “I’m pretty sure that I never made any comment like that to her.” Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Brown for comment.
  • Nifong faults Linwood Wilson(!)—supposedly an “experienced investigator” (p. 446)—for mishandling the December 20, 2006 solo interview with Mangum. The widespread backlash to that interview, of course, accelerated the process by which Nifong was removed. Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Wilson for comment.
  • Nifong accuses Lane Williamson (p. 559) of having pre-judged his ethics case, and having written part of Nifong’s sentencing memo even before Nifong testified at the Bar hearing. Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Williamson for comment.
  • Nifong charges (p. 579) that the State Bar “exists for the purpose of protecting the rich lawyers from the people,” and that “it was a situation where they [it’s not clear who ‘they’ are] really sold out to the monied interest of the state bar.” Cohan gives no indication that he contacted anyone from the State Bar for comment.
  • Nifong claims that Osmond Smith pre-judged his criminal contempt trial, and told people at a cookout that he was planning to sentence Nifong to 30 days in jail. Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Smith for comment.
  • Nifong scoffs (p. 573) that Charles Davis, in prosecuting his criminal contempt trial, was incompetent and “the most inept that I had ever seen.” (Nifong was found guilty in this trial.) Cohan gives no indication that he contacted Davis for comment.
  • Nifong accuses the defense attorneys (p. 578) for having engaged in behavior that “was not really appropriate and it was not really permissible.” Nifong doesn’t say what this improper behavior was, nor does Cohan appear to have asked him. Cohan gives no indication that he contacted any of the defense attorneys for comment.
  • Nifong blames the lacrosse players(!) for all his problems, since they started the affair by refusing Gottlieb’s March 2006 demand (p. 576) to meet with him without attorneys present.
Nifong and Kirk Osborn

Anyone who followed the case understood how contemptuously Nifong treated the late Kirk Osborn. The bullying DA was afraid of Joe Cheshire, but didn’t seem to fear Osborn, and so went out of his way to put Osborn down. In the book, however, Cohan portrays Nifong as deeply concerned with Osborn’s well-being. Two examples:

First: Cohan relates (p. 439) an alleged conversation between Nifong and Osborn—which, of course, relies wholly upon the recollection of a convicted liar. A “very agitated” Osborn, looking “very unhealthy” and not “like himself” (Cohan’s Nifong even touchingly asked Osborn if he was on medication) privately met with Nifong and implied to him that the Bar complaint would go forward unless Nifong called a public press conference to say that Mangum was not telling the truth. The alleged episode proved Nifong’s claim that the Bar was “really acting as an agent for the defense lawyers.”

Second: Cohan passes on (as usual, uncorroborated) assertions from Nifong (third-hand, in this instance) that the Seligmanns “never” paid either Kirk Osborn or Buddy Conner. How did this story get past Scribner’s in-house counsel? Cohan asks us to believe that Buddy Conner never got paid, and never filed any sort of claim against the Seligmanns, and that Jim Cooney knew all this and did nothing. Naturally, Cohan gives no evidence of having asked Cooney if Nifong’s ruminations were true. The charge is non-credible, even for Cohan and Nifong.

(I should note, by the way, that I have every reason to believe that Cohan’s assertion that Osborn and Conner were “never” paid is untrue, quite apart from the claim’s logical inconsistencies.)

Minimizing Exposés of Nifong

Cohan’s extraordinary sympathy for Nifong infuses all aspects of the book; it provides the only plausible explanation for a host of the author’s editorial choices.

Along these lines: Jim Coleman’s extremely important June2006 denunciation of Nifong—in an interview with the N&O, and a long letter—gets rushed over in three sentences. Cohan doesn’t even bother to explain why Coleman wanted Nifong to step aside (p. 364), in what was a turning-point moment in the case. Of course, an author committed to propping Nifong up would find Coleman very difficult to challenge—far better to minimize him. Coleman gets more attention later in the book, but at that point his remarks were less distinctive.

Joe Neff—mentioned only once in the entire book by name(!)—suffers a similar fate. How otherwise could a Nifong apologist address Neff’s many biting exposés? Instead, Cohan settles for criticizing Neff’s work by implication: the author dismisses (p. 435) the Neff/Niolet/Blythe article on the day after the bombshell Meehan hearing as “nearly breathless,” without explaining why it was so, or even quoting from the article—and even as the article accurately predicted that the hearing could cause Nifong problem with the Bar. Via the wayback machine, here is a link to the article that Cohan deems “nearly breathless.” It describes what happened at the hearing better than the presentation in the Cohan manuscript.

In his discussion of the election results, Cohan quotes (p. 425) Beth Brewer (co-chair of the Recall Nifong effort): “I hope the North Carolina State Bar will do what the Durham citizens could not.” How does Cohan describe this rather straightforward statement, one fully in line with Brewer’s statements over a several-month period? That Brewer was “nearly apoplectic.” Cohan doesn’t seem to have tried to interview Brewer to get a sense of her mindset.

Nifong’s “Enemies”

As he goes out of his way to treat Nifong favorably, Cohan can barely conceal his contempt when referencing statements of actions by the defense attorneys. Three of many examples:

In a discussion of Dr. Julie Manly coming to doubt a rape had occurred once she realized it was likely yeast and not semen that she had detected on Mangum’s body (p. 33), Cohan writes, “There were other possible explanations for the swelling, as attorneys for the athletes were only too happy to point out later.” [emphasis added]

Here’s how Cohan describes the defense attorneys’ December 2006 change of venue motion (p. 431): it addressed, he sneered, “the so-called facts of the lacrosse case.” [emphasis added] He does not identify a single item in the motion, or in any defense motion, that was inaccurate.

Here’s Cohan on the criminal contempt finding (p. 573): “As usual, the defense attorneys crowed about Judge Smith’s findings.” [emphasis added] These are people, it’s worth noting, who exposed massive prosecutorial misconduct and ensured that innocent people didn’t go to jail.

In a promotional interview for the book, Cohan has charged that the defense attorneys were “masters at manipulating the media,” [emphasis added] without identifying any improper actions that they took, or any inaccurate statement that they made. Just as with his “something happened” assertion, he does not make this claim directly in the book, operating by inference instead. Perhaps such inflammatory and misleading language could not clear Scribner’s in-house counsel?

Nifong and the Bar

The book moves into a kind of alternate reality whenever it discusses the State Bar proceedings against Nifong. Perhaps the strangest section of the Bar material comes when Cohan uses Nifong—a reminder: the defendant—to provide a behind-the-scenes account of the Bar’s legal strategy. “In an interview,” Cohan writes (p. 554), “Nifong said he was told the original plan was to have David Evans testify at the state bar hearing, not Seligmann.”

Who told Nifong this? Who knows? The “definitive, magisterial” book on the case has little interest in how Nifong gained access to the Bar prosecutors’ internal strategy. Nor does Cohan explain why he simply didn’t ask the Bar’s own attorneys if he wanted a behind-the-scenes take on their strategy. As with Jim Coman in the AG’s office, Cohan’s preferred approach appears to have been refraining from asking questions of people who might discredit Nifong’s latest ruminations.

Cohan then allows Nifong to accuse Seligmann of perjury (p. 554) in his testimony. “Not everything he said was true . . . some of the things that he said about the party, we had other things to show otherwise.” Cohan produces this passage even as Nifong refuses to give him the specifics of the alleged perjury. Nor does Cohan ask the obvious question, of either Nifong or Nifong attorney Anne Petersen: if the Nifong team had evidence that Seligmann lied, why didn’t they address the matter in cross-examination?

In the event, given that Cohan has produced what his publisher deemed the “definitive, magisterial” study of the lacrosse case, surely he didn’t need Nifong to identify the portion of Seligmann’s testimony that constituted perjury. Why, then, didn’t the author simply identify the statement himself? Could it be, perhaps, that Seligmann actually didn’t lie in any way, shape, or form before the Bar?

The discussions about the Bar hearing aren’t the only sections of the book in which Cohan’s heavy partiality toward Nifong causes him to uncritically pass along absurd claims. Another is Nifong’s assertion (p. 571) that a desire to ensure that [former governor] Mike Easley won’t look bad” explained his criminal contempt trial. (Easley was, at the time, under investigation for a campaign finance violation for which he would eventually be convicted.)

Cohan, of course, produces no evidence to corroborate this . . . remarkable . . . claim.

Personal Relationships

Cohan writes (p. 615) that the “book would likely not have been possible” without the “inspiration” of a Nifong friend, who compiled “a lengthy oral history of the Duke lacrosse case from Mike Nifong’s perspective.” Much like Cohan, this Nifong associate does not appear to have interviewed anyone on the other side in the courtroom or at the State Bar.

At some point, either Cohan himself or an editor at Scribner’s must have decided that the manuscript was so transparently pro-Nifong that the author needed to toss in some token criticism.

Cohan’s strongest rebuke of Nifong in the book is a two-sentence, wholly parenthetical, remark on p. 413, about the October hearing. Cohan writes, “(During the hearing Nifong realized he appeared to be in the situation where he said he had spoken to Mangum about the case while at the same time saying his conversations had not yet been substantive. He seemed fine with the apparent contradiction.)”

That’s the most direct criticism of Nifong, in Cohan’s own voice, that the author can muster. No wonder that Nifong (p. 614) gushed to Cohan, “I’d like for [my son] to meet you someday.”

A final note, from page 83: “It was from being forced to stand his ground that Nifong developed a lifelong disdain for bullies.” Cohan passes along this observation—about Durham’s biggest bully, circa 2006—without comment. Indeed, it appears as if he didn’t even notice the irony.


Anonymous said...

A final note, from page 83: "It was from being forced to stand his ground that Nifong developed a lifelong disdain for bullies."

When Nifong's birthday (September 14) was drawn first in the 1969 Draft Lottery, he suddenly became a conscientious objector. Somehow, that doesn't square with standing one's ground against bullies.

Cohan, I can dig up obscure facts about people too.


William L. Anderson said...

Just unbelievable. This account that Cohan has written should make one wonder about the truthfulness of his other books.

Like Nifong, a person does not just start lying one day. No, the liar has been in him all along.

Anonymous said...

"It was from being forced to stand his ground that Nifong developed a lifelong disdain for bullies."

Amazing how many people who grab positions of institutional power claim a dislike of bullies for their motive.

In my observation, people who REALLY hate bullies develop a healthy respect (and capacity) for PERSONAL self-defense.

Anonymous said...

Cohan is an example of an intellectual snob who is incapable of admitting he is wrong. I thought Kenhyderal was the epitome of someone who chooses to be blind to the truth. Cohan has him beat.

Anonymous said...

To 7:28--

While I agree with your overall point, I depart from your assessment on one small point. Specifically, while Cohan may be a "snob," he is certainly not "intellectual" in any way, shape, or form. If anything, he's a mere, ass-clown, toadie, hack simply trying to peddle a book.

RighteousThug said...

Anonymous at 8:27 AM said...

If anything, he's a mere, ass-clown, toadie, hack simply trying to peddle a book.

Starting to see fewer book descriptions as 'magisterial' and 'definitive', and more references in re: Cohan as a fluffer and having kneepads.

RighteousThug said...


"Nifong blames ADA David Saacks, saying that Saacks had “never dealt with a rape case,” and he shouldn’t have “allowed” such language “to remain in a nontestimonial.

Sounds like Nifong came verrrry close here to admitting that he'd seen the NTO before 'accidentally finding it on the office copier' after it had been completed.

A Duke Dad said...

No need to spend money on Cohan's book.

You can read the same lies, fantasies, distortions at

Both illustrate : No truth, but lots of agenda and meme.

DesertBunny said...

'defense attorneys were “masters at manipulating the media,” '

People often accuse others of the very thing they do but which they are blind to, or would deny.

Anonymous said...

The only way they could have manipulated the media was with Duke's assistance.

Scot Foley said...

I would say one of the best working definitions of "bully" one could find would be someone who has prosecutorial power and uses it against transparently innocent people for his own self-aggrandizement. Apparently Nifong's lifelong disdain wasn't so powerful to be an issue when he was involved.

I confess that I bought Cohan's book the other day. I already regret doing so. The first chapter was actually a very comprehensive and readable account of the events of March 13-14, 2006. Then, at the very end, Cohan states that it seems clear that- wait for it- SOMETHING happened to Mangum in that bathroom that evening.

I was like, huh? In his narrative, Cohan actually gives plenty of information to support the fact that NOTHING could have happened to Mangum, i.e. she spent hardly any time outside of Kim Roberts's presence, she seemed more concerned about her missing purse than any kind of assualt she just endured, her multiple contradictory stories. But Cohan just blindly leaps to his conclusion.

I share Bill Anderson's concern that this HAS to call into question the credibility of Cohan's other books, two of which I have read and liked. It's remarkable that he's taken this very unfortuante turn. And that other mainstream media outlets are letting him get away wth it. I was infuriated at that softball interview on Morning Joe the othr day.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the book, have reached page 284. In a way the book is schizophrenic. Cohan shows Nifong doubling down on TV interviews after learning there is no DNA match with the "Duke Lax Bros."

In the book, Nifong receives black endorsements by promising to prosecute without any evidence. Cohan writes this, but draws no conclusion aside from inferring that Nifong is doing the right thing.

How could a serious writer portray Nifong favorably? IMO the search for the Great White Defendant(s) trumps everything to Cohan and media types of his persuasion.

Anonymous said...

The democratic party wants to take NC 'back' from the Duke Republican Governor since he turned out to not be as democratic as thought/promised? ...

Jim In San Diego said...

Of Note:

Cohan's book is being annihilated by knowledgeable reviewers on Amazon.

As of today, of 18 reviews, 15 are "one-star" (the lowest rating you can give).

Particularly noticeable is the amount of knowledge shown by these critical reviewers of the history, verifiable facts, and conclusions to be drawn therefrom regarding the Lacrosse Rape Hoax.

I would bet a cheeseburger (my largest bet) that KC Johnson, and this blog, must take immense credit for creating a cadre of attentive listeners with the willingness and the means to react to such a trashy performance.

It has all been worth it.

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

Just like to Duke to publish a book that claims or misleads that Ms. Mangum is a murderer during her ongoing murder trial where they are more likely the killers due to their own malpractice than she is. Seriously? What BS and how insulting to the intelligence of All Americans and the USA justice system.

guiowen said...

To the 10:02,
You're wrong.

Anonymous said...

Is guiowen a Communist?

guiowen said...

Wouldn't you like to know?

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.