Monday, June 16, 2014

Credibility & Commentary

I have a piece over at Minding the Campus on the issue of accountability, in this instance regarding the approach of the commentariat to the current war on campus due process.

One of the people I looked at was retired Penn anthropology professor (specialist in Women's Studies, Southeast Asia, Anthropology of Gender, Multiculturalism, Sexual Culture, Public Interest Ethnography/Anthropology) Peggy Reeves Sanday, whose final book, published in 2007, was an updated version of her earlier Fraternity Gang Rape.

NYU Press blurbed the book in the following manner: “Sanday updates the incidences of fraternity gang rape on college campuses today, highlighting such recent cases as that of Duke University and others in the headlines.” Of course, there was no “gang rape” in the lacrosse case, and the lacrosse players weren’t part of a fraternity. Otherwise, Sanday seemed right on target.

As part of a Cohan-esque book tour, Sanday defended her work with a March 2007 column placing the “Duke case in perspective”—in which she proclaimed that she would not address “whether a sexual assault took place at the party” or “whether the district attorney botched the investigation.” Nonetheless, she deemed it “noteworthy that the sexual offense and kidnapping counts have not yet been dropped.” Of course, one month later, the charges were not only dropped but the falsely accused were declared innocent.

In the book itself, Reeves Sanday offered the following . . . analysis . . . of the case: “one can only imagine” that the goal of the lacrosse players’ party was to create an event that “actively promotes if not abets non-consensual sexual behavior.” (p. 202) It’s not clear why Reeves Sanday based an item in what was an academic publication on her imagination.

Why bring these items up now? As many DIW readers know, we’re in the midst of a high-profile public debate about whether due process for students accused of sexual assault should be eroded. (To my dismay, the Obama administration and a coalition of “activists” have pushed strongly for weakening due process protections.) The move has also attracted support from politically correct journalists, such as NPR blogger Barbara King. In a post celebrating a California bill requiring students to obtain (and, presumably, find a way to record) “affirmative consent” any intercourse, King cited—of all people—Sanday. The Duke “expert” affirmed rejoiced that the California bill would help “to make campus sexual cultures more equitable and by so doing change the broader understanding of the meaning of sexual equality.”

The politically correct don’t need to worry about false predictions costing credibility.

On the issue of what it takes to lose credibility when the thesis is a politically correct one: consider the latest (perhaps the last?) review of the Cohan book, coming from Matt Storin, the (well-respected) former editor of the Boston Globe. Storin went on to work in the Notre Dame Communications Office, and his review was published in Notre Dame Magazine.

Continuing the pattern of praising a book that doesn’t exist (seen in the Economist and Newsday reviews, in particular), Storin gushes that Cohan “interviewed so many of the key people, and so well, that it is mostly captivating.” Among the “key people” that Cohan didn’t try to interview: the major defense attorneys; the State Bar prosecutors; Nifong’s primary campaign manager; the judge; the DHC chairman and panel; the special prosecutors in the criminal contempt trial; and the senior prosecutors in the AG’s office who oversaw the office’s investigation. Indeed, as I’ve noted previously, Cohan appears to have interviewed only five people (Mike Nifong, Nifong’s attorney, Crystal Mangum, Bob Steel, and Ryan McFadyen) for the book.

Why Storin considers this meager list to constitute interviewing “so many of the key people” in the case he doesn’t say. Nor does he reveal why he considers Cohan’s penchant for virtually never challenging Nifong’s assertions to exemplify a reporter interviewing “so well.”

I grew up reading the Globe; I don’t recall the paper regularly covering criminal justice issues through its reporters not even trying to interview the defense attorneys, as Cohan did in the sections of the book dealing with the criminal case in 2006, or the prosecutors, as occurred in the book’s coverage of Nifong’s ethics and criminal contempt proceedings. Storin doesn’t explain in his review why he held Cohan to a lower standard than that expected from first-year Globe reporters.

Storin also came away from the book concluding that “you probably have to give a nod to the defense attorneys.” Those would the same defense attorneys who Cohan didn’t try to interview and who he recently claimed (without presenting any substantiation) want to see Nifong “literally dead in the ground.”

Storin praises Cohan (who, again, didn’t try to speak to more than a dozen “key” players who tangled with book protagonist Nifong in the courtroom) for reporting “meticulously and fairly about the whole sorry episode.” That would be the same Cohan whose “something happened” thesis depends on police investigator Ben Himan lying about the AG’s evidence, coupled with a wide-ranging conspiracy of the defense attorneys, the Bar, the AG’s office, and unidentified Northeastern money to prevent the truth from coming out. And, of course, the same Cohan whose . . . meticulous . . . research uncovered no new evidence about the criminal case, other than Mangum’s false assertions about wooden shards and who carried her to the car.

In the end, Storin rejects the book’s basic thesis when he describes the lacrosse players as “falsely accused.” He doesn’t say if he agrees with Cohan that Nifong, a “quite credible” and “honorable” man, was “crucified.” Perhaps that’s the type of meticulous analysis that Storin found so appealing.


Jim In San Diego said...

Matt Storin now joins an extensive list of reviewers of "Price" who are able to say,

"Who's got time to read no stinkin' 650 page book"?

Jim Peterson

Anonymous said...

"Matt Storin, the (well-respected) former editor of the Boston Globe."

change that to:

Matt Storin, the (formerly well-respected) one-time editor of the Boston Globe.

Secondly, "Storin gushes that Cohan “interviewed so many of the key people, and so well, that it is mostly captivating.” WHAT? Words fail me, but you pretty much knocked down that assertion as you finished the paragraph.

Lastly, I did check the comment section of the Notre Dame Alumni article. There was one comment, and it was a decent "take-down" of the Cohan book. I'd like to see an evisceration on the order of what Mark Wylie did on the Amazon site. His critique would probably be turned down on the basis of clarity of thought and sound argumentation and maybe length.

Chris Halkides said...


It is my hope that you will write an article for a major magazine about what appears to be a profoundly wrongheaded solution to a real, but exaggerated problem of sexual assault on campus.

skwilli said...

"...a lower standard than that expected from first-year Globe reporters."

Should read "...a lower standard than that of a Junior High School Journalism Club."

Anonymous said...

Laura Dunn, another man-eater, feminist activist who is the founder of has recently suggested that women who come forwarded and report sexual assault should be rewarded with scholarships. First the BGI and now FRAI - False Rape Accusation Industry.

Anonymous said...

Seems that the link to KCJ's article at Minding the Campus is bad. But I did discover a short article "Presumed Guilty: Due Process Lessons of the Duke Lacrosse Case" with a 12-minute video featuring KCJ.

Anonymous said...

Is Peggy Reeves Sanday a Communist?

Anonymous said...

KCJ has posted another superb analysis at Minding the Campus: "If She Had Drinks, You May Be a Rapist" on 6/18/14.

Chris Halkides said...

I second the sentiments of the anonymous commenter at 8:24.

Anonymous said...

Is Storin a Communist?

William L. Anderson said...

One of the common accusations I have heard from the Left is that anyone who is pro-life "wants government in the bedroom."

Well, the Left (courtesy of the California legislature) now officially has decided that government MUST be in the bedroom, at least with the infamous "sign here if you want sex" bill. If this is not government in the bedroom, then nothing is.

Anonymous said...

David Burge ‏@iowahawkblog
If I understand college administrators correctly, colleges are hotbeds of racism and rape that everyone should be able to attend.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good. You mind if I quote that?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, what father would allow his daughter to attend an institution where she has a one in five chance of being raped? Kind of makes you wonder if the Democrats want women to attend college, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

One wonders how KC remains a Democrat.

Chris Halkides said...

Slightly off-topic: I am slogging my way through this book, and this conversation with an anonymous trustee (p. 215) discussing the cancellation of the season caught my eye: "Remember this wasn't long after the Virginia Tech shootings [in which a crazed gunman killed thirty-two people...]"

The Virginia Tech shooting happened in April of 2007. If I were in a forgiving mood, I might excuse a trustee for getting the date of the shooting wrong by a year, because the trustee might have been speaking as late as 2013. However, Cohan inserted the number of killed and wounded in to the book at this juncture. One might have expected a serious investigative journalist to remind his readers of the correct date of the shooting.

Probably someone else has already caught this particular problem, and I am just catching up. In any case, I suggest starting a Wiki to collect all of Cohan's errors and omissions. IMO the omissions are in some ways worse.

Anonymous said...

Excellent idea, Chris Halkides. We should start a Wiki blog with errors and omissions.

About the numerous mistakes and failures to fact-check: I concluded that no one cares. Society has changed in that way. We don't need the truth, editors surmise. What we need, in this era of round-the-clock entertainment news, is volume and emotional wallop...not veracity. The show matters more than the truth. This marks a corruption of purpose.

Watching videos of Brad Bannon at Nifong's trials, we see him working hard to report only what is true. In Nifong's protestations we see a different kind of lawyer: one who wanted fidelity to the shows he helped create. Which of the two is known for his deep integrity?

To counter distortions caused by bearing false witness, America needs stronger slander/libel laws. With stronger laws the truth will matter more to people with more marginal, or situational integrity. This will include editors who have strayed from principles adhered to by their predecessors. Opportunities will open up for fact-checkers.