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May 25, 2014

Duke Revisited

Just when you think you have a disgraced prosecutor safely disbarred, and innocent young men exonerated and getting their lives back, along comes a new book by William D. Cohan to suggest, in the absence of any new evidence, that those Duke lacrosse players may have been guilty after all, and to imply that their wealthy families bought them out of trouble. The academic left at Duke and elsewhere were shamed but unrepentant when the truth of the 2006 Duke rape hoax finally came out. The case had seemed to fit their preferred template so perfectly, what with the rich white frat boys and the poor black stripper and all. Cohan has received mostly glowing reviews for his supposedly balanced and rigorous book, and is out on a promotional tour, doing C-SPAN and such. Along the way, Cohan may soothe the consciences of people who jumped to early conclusions, and would like to be hinted to, if not persuaded, that they were something other than embarrassingly wrong. But mostly he wants to sell books to them.

Outside of the principals in the case, no one knows the Duke lacrosse team rape hoax better than KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr. Johnson is an instructor in history at Brooklyn College, and authors to this day the definitive blog on the case, Durham in Wonderland. Taylor is a distinguished journalist, whose name is nearly synonymous with National Journal, a scrupulously non-partisan publication. Their 2008 book Until Proven Innocent, is the definitive account of the mad rush toward injustice in Durham, NC in 2006, and now Johnson and Taylor have been moved to respond to the credulous media treatment of Cohan's book tour. The fawning reviews for Cohan have come...

..despite the fact that the 621-page book, "The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities," adds not a single scrap of new evidence that undermines the well-founded consensus that -- as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper found in April 2007 -- no Duke lacrosse player committed any crime against the mentally imbalanced accuser, Crystal Mangum.

Since the early hours of March 14, 2006, Mangum has provided more than a dozen dramatically varying versions of her story of being sexually assaulted in a bathroom by (variously) three, four, five, and 20 members of the Duke lacrosse team, who had paid her and another woman to strip at a spring-break team drinking party.

Cohan's main additions to the record are long, tiresome interview transcripts uncritically presenting the self-serving ruminations of disbarred District Attorney Mike Nifong, a convicted liar. Cohan added a jailhouse chat with Mangum, who is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for murdering her boyfriend. Cohan deemed her "rational, thoughtful, articulate" even though her newest story contradicted each of her prior accounts.

From these two discredited and highly compromised sources, Cohan advances two aggressively revisionist theses. First, he contends that "something happened in that bathroom that none of us would be proud of," citing the Nifong-Mangum claim that a sexual assault in fact occurred despite all the DNA, photographic, physical, medical, and other credible evidence and witness accounts to the contrary.

In our opinion, Cohan has veered into potential slander by speculating in one broadcast interview that the falsely accused former students might have been "very successful at covering it up," thanks to the "deep pockets" of their parents and attorneys.

Johnson and Taylor point to the list of people Cohan didn't see fit to interview in compiling his exhaustive 621-page treatment of the case:

Portraying Nifong as a courageous hero "crucified" for a few forgivable "mistakes," the "even-handed" Cohan did not even attempt to give most of the people he helps Nifong smear a chance to respond.

This list includes the judge who sentenced Nifong to a night in jail for lying in court; the wrongly indicted players' five principal defense lawyers; the two North Carolina State Bar prosecutors who presented the case against Nifong; and the three bar disciplinary panel members who did disbar him for egregious prosecutorial misconduct after a five-day public trial in which he had a full opportunity to defend himself. The panel concluded that Nifong hid highly exculpatory DNA evidence and made inflammatory, race-baiting attacks on the accused in the media to help win the black vote in a tight primary election.

Do read the whole thing here.

Taylor was granted time on C-SPAN (video approx 45 min.) to react to the Cohan interview, and to the treatment the Cohan book has received. I'm guessing this is about as agitated and animated as the veteran journalist Taylor gets.

Also well worth reading on the attempted revisionist history practiced by Cohan is last week's WSJ op-ed by Dorothy Rabinowitz. Ms Rabinowitz knows a thing or two about prosecutorial misconduct and the trauma of being falsely accused, having won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on the famous Amirault day care case. She leaves a few tattered pages of Cohan's book intact by the time she's finished. At the blog, KC Johnson remarks of the Rabinowitz piece:

Given how thoroughly Rabinowitz eviscerates Cohan's work, a reader might be tempted to show a smidgen of sympathy for the embattled author. Might be tempted, that is, until the reader recalls that Cohan wrote a book, and has spent the last month-plus on a publicity tour, seeking to cast aspersions on falsely accused people as he aggressively attempted to rehabilitate the reputation of a prosecutor whose ethical misconduct was notorious.

Browse Durham in Wonderland regularly for ongoing commentary.

Update 5/31/14:

As negative reviews for his book pile up, Cohan takes to HuffPo to ask, "How Much Freedom of Speech is Too Much?" Cohan's answer appears to be that freedom of speech is fine, as long as his book sales remain unaffected by it.

KC Johnson reviews the Cohan book for Commentary: The Hazards of Duke