Monday, April 21, 2014

New Evidence from Karen R. Long?

In his (excellent) review of William D. Cohan’s Nifong apologia, Stuart Taylor commented on an oddity of the book’s roll-out—the “amazing succession of puff-piece reviews” that have appeared in some reputable (and some not-so-reputable) publications. Until very recently, not a single one of these reviews have endorsed either of Cohan’s two principal theses (that “something happened” in the bathroom and that Mike Nifong was unfairly punished). Yet these “puff-piece reviews” of which Taylor spoke have featured glowing, largely content-free praise for Cohan’s work.

My personal favorite in this regard was the review in the Economist, penned by Reuters’ “correspondent in Sierra Leone and West Africa.” As part of an attempt to portray the book as even-handed, the review almost comically claimed that Cohan “criticises one long New York Times article in particular.” In fact, Cohan’s argument about the criminal case reflects and expands upon the thesis of that August 2006 Duff Wilson article (Wilson: enough evidence existed for trial; Cohan: enough evidence existed for trial, and “something happened that none of us would be proud of”). So if Cohan had actually criticized the Wilson piece “in particular,” he would have effectively undermined his own book’s argument.

Of course, Cohan had made no such criticism, much less “in particular.” As the book summarized, as if by rote, scores of other articles, op-eds, and blog posts, so too did it summarize Stuart Taylor’s opinion on the Times article, without saying whether or not Cohan agreed with Taylor. But Cohan himself (in his own voice, p. 394) deemed the Times article “comprehensive”—even though, since it omitted key details and contained several factual errors, the article was anything but comprehensive. Nor did Cohan spend much time on the piece: in a 600-plus page book, discussion about the Wilson article received three paragraphs. If this is criticizing something “in particular,” then perhaps the Economist needs to freshen its stable of reviewers.

Late last week, however, Newsday produced the first review that appears to embrace at least one of Cohan’s twin theses—that something happened in the bathroom. (There still have been no takers for Cohan’s characterizations of Nifong as “quite credible” and “honorable,” victimized by a previously “passive” State Bar acting at the behest of the “clever” defense attorneys). Reviewer Karen R. Long spent 728 words focusing on the former students’ alleged character flaws, and couldn’t even bring herself to mention the reasons for Nifong’s disbarment.

The most striking sentence in the Long review, however, was the following, which marked at least an implicit acceptance of the Cohan/Nifong “something happened” thesis: “It [a St. Raymond’s medal] was a gift from Duke co-captain David Evans, whose DNA under the false fingernail of the accuser was never explained.” [all three emphases added]

Note that the final clause of Long’s sentence contains three factual assertions:
  1. That Evans’ DNA was identified;
  2. That the DNA was found “under” the fake fingernail;
  3. That the DNA evidence was “never explained.”
The first and third of these factual assertions are simply false; the second is an unfounded insinuation. Evans’ DNA was not identified; the DNA sample could not exclude Evans, and thousands of other men, in a test so precise that it could positively identify a cell accidentally deposited by lab director Brian Meehan. While DNA was found in the false fingernail sample, skin was not found—so a suggestion about material being found “under” the fingernail would be, at best, misleading.

Finally, even Cohan, despite his bias, included a summary of the North Carolina Attorney General's report, which offered a thorough explanation (pp. 12-13) of the DNA evidence. It appears as if reviewer Long disagrees with the findings of the attorney general’s report, although it isn’t clear if she actually read the document. In the event, disagreeing with an official report’s detailed explanations of the DNA evidence fundamentally differs from asserting that the DNA evidence was “never explained.”

For good measure, Long began her paragraph by wildly describing Collin Finnerty as “one of the lacrosse party planners.” Even Cohan’s book, which goes out of its way to condemn every member of the lacrosse team that it mentions except Ryan McFadyen, contained no such claim—perhaps because the claim is demonstrably false. (The party was planned by the captains; Finnerty at the time was a sophomore.) Since the Cohan book contains no such claim about Finnerty, its inclusion in the Newsday review would suggest that Long has independent sourcing on the origins of the party that contradicts everything we have learned about the party since 2006. Will she explain the reporting she did to make this false claim? Does Newsday stand by a book reviewer performing independent, factually-challenged reporting?

In short, Long made three incorrect assertions (all reflecting negatively on the falsely accused students) that were not contained anywhere in the (already heavily one-sided) Cohan book:
  1. That Finnerty was “one of the lacrosse party planners”;
  2. That Evans’ DNA was identified;
  3. That the DNA evidence was “never explained.”
From where did she get these “facts”?

I e-mailed reviewer Long to ask if she had any factual bases for her allegations; she did not reply. I tweeted a copy of the Attorney General’s report to the book review editor at Newsday; he did not reply. As of now, Newsday has not run a correction on Long’s review, and apparently stands by her false assertions that DNA on the fake fingernail “was never explained,” that Evans’ DNA was identified at all; and that Finnerty was “one of the lacrosse party planners.”

Long’s review is noteworthy in another respect, in that hers is only the second review of Cohan (after mine in Commentary) to reference the Darryl Howard case. For Long, however, the Howard case is of interest only as grounds to launch another character assault against the three falsely accused former students (presented in a quote from Nifong’s attorney suggesting they received special treatment because of their wealth). Long managed to avoid the obvious question, which Cohan, as a Nifong apologist, has shown no interest in answering: How can the man who allegedly withheld vital evidence in the Howard case be reconciled with Cohan’s portrayal of Nifong as a credible, honorable prosecutor?


Anonymous said...

By now you should be beginning to realize that the Liberal media is not only 'drive-by' but also 'hit-and-run'.
Big Al

Anonymous said...

Latest update on reader reaction to Cohan's book on Amazon: Seven 5 star reviews; three 4 star reviews;THIRTY FOUR 1 star reviews. It is refreshing that the readers do not take the word of the so called "expert" reviewers seriously.

William L. Anderson said...

Notice that Long repeats the false $60 million figure as a "fact," and that when she brings up Radley's piece on Darryl Howard, she notes that Michael Byron Nifong was the prosecutor, but does not seem to enjoy the irony that Cohan PRAISES Nifong throughout the book.

I was afraid this was going to happen when the players were exonerated. People on the Left never were going to accept that result because it violated their precious little narratives.

RighteousThug said...


" Long managed to avoid the obvious question, which Cohan, as a Nifong apologist, has shown no interest in answering"

Cohan hasn't even asked the question, much less try to answer it. He dare not.

Anonymous said...

Professor Johnson,

Will you be commenting on Bill Anderson's superb posted reviews "Duke Lacrosse: The Lies Continue (and Get Bigger and Bigger)" (4/11/14) and "Cohan the Barbarian Assaults the Truth (Again and Again): (4/21/14)?

Or are you limiting your posts to just published reviews (which is perfectly fine, IMO)?

William L. Anderson said...

I don't mind if K.C. comments as long as he doesn't point out some bad grammar and sentence structure errors I have made. Lew's site has a new webmaster, and I have not yet made the connections that will enable me to clean up the grammatical messes I have made.

My senior English teacher, Mr. Ashley, demanded that we write compount-complex sentences, and I get myself in a lot of trouble when the sentences get too long!

I'm in need of a good editor, since I have not proved up to the task of editing my own work!

kcjohnson9 said...

I'm focusing on the non-reality-based reviews; Bill's doesn't fall into that category!

Anonymous said...

"quote from Nifong’s attorney suggesting they received special treatment because of their wealth"

As opposed to people like Nifong who can do any damn thing they please and cry "I got immunity!"


Anonymous said...

KC this has become some kind of religion on the left. They continue to believe in spite of the inconvenient facts. When you consider the religious right and the religious left they are not that much different. They all worship at their beliefs. Things that cant be proven to them must be true, "something happened" is an an example. I see the same in the global warming debate on both sides. Another example is Obama saying that global warming is "settled science" (non-sense from our president - the fact is that science is never settled. It is continuous investigation to learn). What is it about people that makes then latch on to extreme positions without any (or definitive) proof. Just accusations!

RighteousThug said...

Comment seen elsewhere this AM:

"This guy’s next book should be about how Richard Jewell is guilty."

GT said...

Hi KC,

Have you and Stuart Taylor had a chance to watch Brian Lamb's very recent interview with William Cohan.
It aired Sunday night on CSPAN, Q&A.

You can probably find the archive on YouTube or on the Video Library section of the CSPAN website.

Definitely worth viewing. Stuff just doesn't add up about Cohan's approach. He is way too deferential to the disgraced Nifong.

Anonymous said...

At least Stuart Taylor's review was in The New Republic, a generally liberal-oriented publication. So maybe a few people from that side of the street will see the glaring faults of the Cohan opus. It almost like if Nifong said it, it must be true. Still depressing after all these years.

Chris Halkides said...

"First, statistically, the chance of randomly selecting anindividual from the population that could be included in this sample would be approximately 1 in 1000." This statment can be found on p. 12 of the summary of conclusions. I am not certain how these numbers were obtained, but I suspect that the probability results from the autosomal testing were multiplied with the probability results from the Y-chromosomal testing. IIRC one textbook advocates this procedure when one has both kinds of information. Mr. Cohan does not know much about DNA statistics (and I do not claim to be an expert), or he might have seized upon this number.

However the Y-chromosomal tests also indicated* that there were two more contributors to the fake fingernails. IMO the prosecution must come up with a reasonable explanation for all of the DNA, not just some. I have previously suggested secondary transfer from saliva or mucous in the trashcan, and that remains plausible IMO. However, primary/secondary transfer from the players themselves should also be considered.

Suzanna Ryan wrote, "One study performed by Lowe, et al, was designed to highlight a "worst case" scenario and involved two individuals. The first was determined to be a poor shedder and the second a good shedder. These two shook hands for one minute. The poor shedder had washed their hands immediately prior to the experiment whereas the good shedder had not. After shaking hands the poor shedder held a sterile plastic tube for 10 seconds. The tube was then swabbed and tested for the presence of DNA. This experiment was performed on two sets of good shedder/poor shedder pairs. Surprisingly, in one of the pairs, only the good shedder's DNA was obtained from the plastic tube, with no evidence of a mixture including the poor shedder!"

Suppose that David Evans shook hands with Ms. Mangum when she arrived. That might explain the results. Any number of other events, such has handling money or shaking hands with another player, might also transfer DNA.

*analysis of DNA mixtures is prone to interpretational problems, including subjectivity. I am simply relying upon the information provided in the DNA chapter in "Race to Injustice."

Blacksburger said...

I saw the book at Barnes and Noble today and looked at a few passages.
One thing I noticed that no one else has seemed to mention is Cohan's apparent acceptance of Nifong's theory of why Cooper said the accused were innocent. At the press conference many people noticed that Cooper was pale and did not appear completely healthy. Cooper or a member of his staff said that the day before he had become so severely dehydrated that he requited medical care.
Nifong has decided that the problem was not dehydration but a heart attack or stroke. It isn't clear to me whether Nifong thought the doctors had made a mistake or he thought it was normal to release someone from the hospital the same day they suffered a heart attack or stroke. Nifong said that Cooper's physical condition affected his mental ability, and if he had been in full possession of his faculties, he would never have said the players were innocent.
I'm not surprised that Nifong would come up with a theory like that, but I'm flabbergasted that Cohan thought it was worth printing

William L. Anderson said...

The bottom line is that Mike Nifong is a pathological liar and, frankly, a psychopath. Remember people saying that even before the LAX case, he would just go off on someone with no cause?

Nifong will say anything and do anything that he thinks will benefit Mike Nifong at that time. He is narcissistic, a psychopath, and a pathological liar. But other than that, I guess Cohan is right: Nifong is an "honorable" man.

Anonymous said...

The only good thing to be said about the Economist review is that, so far, it has not appeared in the print edition, which means that perhaps someone there has good editorial judgment.

Chris Halkides said...

The review is indeed in the print edition of The Economist. I saw it about a week ago.

Greg said...

Again, after reading the book, I certainly felt no love for Nifong, and could render him no generous impulse except the inevitably contemptuous one of pity. I certainly understood that he believed "something happened in the bathroom that night", how else could he live with himself? I didn't get the impression Cohen shared that viewpoint. It is understandable that much of the press blurred the incident into the case being a reflection of all kinds of social ills, rather than a horrible travesty of injustice. You remember a time when the Press really strode up to the bar and took responsibility for their errors? If Cohen is going on talk shows and suggesting the Duke players were probably guilty of something in that room, I'd really be surprised. What's disheartening about this case and the O.J. Simposn fiasco is that people think this is somehow representative of business as usual, and larger fore headed right wingers will pretend the case is the be all and end all representation of time. A sounder take is: if the system was arrogant enough to abuse these rich kinds is this fashion, just think what they are apt to do to defendants with no means to fight back.

Chris Halkides said...

Greg, Check out Cohan's interview in Cosmopolitan. He is a little less oblique there.

Chris Halkides said...

p.s. I am in complete agreement with your last sentence.

Anonymous said...

To say "look what they did to rich kids" misses the point.

The Duke Lacrosse players were prosecuted BECAUSE they were perceived as "rich white kids." They were The Great White Defendant(s) Nifong needed to win an election and the media needed for their preferred narrative.

Had Mangum charged three black Duke basketball players with the same (lack of) evidence, the case would have been promptly dismissed. Nifong would have made a big show in public of proclaiming how fair he is to falsely accused black athletes.

Trial Junkie