Cohan the Barbarian Assaults the Truth (Again and Again)

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When I picked up my new copy of William D. Cohan’s new book on the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities, I discovered that the book was very light, despite its large size. Indeed, if there is anything symbolic about that moment, it is that Cohan has written a very large book that is empty of substance.

(I will point out that he quotes an LRC blog post that I wrote on pages 409-410, and he quotes it in the right context. Unfortunately, he then draws conclusions that conflict with everything that I and other bloggers had been pointing out.)

For all of the praise this book receives from The Usual Suspects in publishing, i.e., the New York Times, Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal, it is a book that defies logic, and takes known facts and either ignores them or tries to change them on the fly. While I already have reviewed this book, the fact that Cohan has about 700 pages of material means there is a lot of stuff I could not cover in one article, and as I go through material again and read articles countering Cohan’s claims, it becomes obvious that he has no intention of being reasonable or telling the truth, or at least a truth that might disagree with Michael Nifong’s version of “truth.”

Second, Cohan has been on a big publicity book tour, making the rounds on talk shows, and I had the “pleasure” of hearing him on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. (I say “pleasure” in the way that hemorrhoid surgery would be pleasant or having a dentist remove my wisdom teeth without using anesthesia.) Knowing this case as I do, I truly was stunned at what he said, not because he was sharing “new information,” but rather was taking established facts and twisting them in order to try to make the accused players seem to be guilty.

Before, I take on some of the most egregious errors that Cohan has made in both the book and on his recent book tour, let me urge readers to visit K.C. Johnson’s blog, Durham-in-Wonderland. K.C. and co-author Stuart Taylor wrote Until Proven Innocent, a detailed account of the case that is not filled with innuendo, half-truths, and interviews with disgraced and disbarred prosecutor Michael Nifong that try to make the man look to be credible. The popular blog daily skewers Cohan’s book and his talk-show comments, and K.C. pulls no punches, although his language always is restrained.

The fact that Cohan goes on talk show after talk show and makes unfounded declarations that Nifong is credible and “something happened in that bathroom” where the alleged rape supposedly took place invites a response from people who actually know a few things about the Duke Lacrosse Case. I’d like to think I am not beating a dead horse when I take on someone trying to resurrect every false notion about this case that supposedly was debunked when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans to be “innocent” on April 11, 2007.

However, the truth of the case has come into direct conflict with the American Left, which never can accept the truth about anything should the truth go against their dearest beliefs and narratives. As I see it, Cohan is trying to rewrite the case’s history, and because he already is a darling of the set of New York literary folk that believe The New York Review of (Each Other’s) Books is a stronghold of truth and reasonable thinking, he is getting a near-free ride.

From what I can see, Cohan seems to be motivated by both leftist principles and by his disgust at the kind of behavior he sees from students at his alma mater Duke University. Indeed, I do share his disdain for the decadence that rules the modern campus of our citadels of higher learning, although I must admit that I am not shocked, SHOCKED at the logical results when the modern university makes promoting and enforcing the tenets of the Sexual Revolution front-and-center in its educational “mission.” We should expect decadence at places like Duke University when university officials openly hand out condoms, celebrate the utterly-decadent event called “Sex Week,” openly welcome the Sex Workers Show onto campus, and encourage students to be sexually active.

Furthermore, why should anyone be surprised that high-prices “elite” private universities like Duke are going to be populated mostly by the children of wealthy whites, since middle-class students and most minorities cannot afford to go there unless they receive vast amounts of financial aid? In our increasingly bureaucratized and stratified society, going to “the right school” is more significant to a student’s future than ever before, and the people with the wealth and best connections are going to be standing at the head of the line.

(The supreme irony is that American Progressives claim they hate stratification, yet they are the most responsible for the current situation because they have used their political power and their places in the “commanding heights” of civil society to impose a state of affairs that brings about the very social structures they claim to despise. The one thing that would do more to change this current stratified status quo would be to liberalize the economy so that entrepreneurs can transform the economy, but Progressives despise entrepreneurship and they despise a free-market economy even more.)

As noted before, Cohan has written a long book and K.C. Johnson is devoting himself to chronicling the errors. I’ll just deal with a couple of the most egregious claims, the first being Cohan’s claim that the DNA results in the lacrosse case were irrelevant, and the second being his attempt to infer that David Evans and Reade Seligmann actually may have raped Crystal Mangum after all.

DNA DOESN’T MATTER – EXCEPT WHEN COHAN WANTS IT TO MATTER

Cohan in both his book and also in many of his radio and TV talks show interviews has stated that the DNA results – finding no DNA of any lacrosse player (not just the three accused) and the discovery of DNA of at least four other men on her body and in her “body cavities” – was a “red herring.” In other words, the DNA results were irrelevant.

Why? According to Cohan, since there were rape prosecutions (and acquittals of and convictions for) before DNA results became part of forensic science, DNA results then should have no bearing, at least in the rape accusations against Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans. To bolster his claim, Cohan quotes Nifong, who declares, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Forget that the “fishing expedition” non-testimonial order that came from Nifong’s office (he claims he had nothing to do with its creation) declared that the DNA results (which were then taken from each white lacrosse player) would both determine who was guilty and who was innocent. Only after Nifong had committed himself to prosecuting this case at all costs, and after he got the word from North Carolina’s crime lab that there were no DNA matches to be found in contact with Crystal Mangum, did Nifong then decide that DNA should not matter, anyway.

Thus, Cohan (and Nifong) have constructed a most interesting syllogism which goes as such:

  • No DNA from any lacrosse player, including the three accused, was found on or in the body of Crystal Mangum, despite her account to police and to the medical staff at Duke University Medical Center that the three players had beaten her, forced her into oral sex, and ejaculated on her body, in her body, and in her mouth;
  • Before DNA testing was developed for forensic purposes, rape cases were pursued, with the evidence being other factors, including physical trauma, personal testimony, and the like;
  • Therefore, DNA results should have no bearing on the outcome of the Duke lacrosse phony rape case.

Tell that to prosecutors who regularly get convictions because of DNA results; tell that to people associated with the Innocence Project that DNA can never be exculpatory because testimony from alleged victims always trumps DNA. Tell that to all of the people who have been released from prison and their convictions for rape, murder, and assault.

At the same time, Cohan tries to convince readers that while the absence of DNA means nothing – even though the three lacrosse players were indicted because police told grand jurors that the young men carried out a rape in a manner that certainly would have left a massive DNA print – he then insists that David Evans must have done something awful to Crystal Mangum because his DNA profile was found on one of Mangum’s fake nails that was put into the trash can in the bathroom in the house on Buchanan Street.

Numerous times throughout his book and also during the talk shows (I heard him make the claim on the Dianne Rehm Show), Cohan asks the question: “How did David Evans’s DNA get onto Mangum’s fake fingernail?” For example, on page 562, speaking of the testimony that David Evans, Sr., gave to the North Carolina State Bar during Nifong’s June 2007 trial (in which Nifong was disbarred), Cohan declares:

Not surprisingly, Evans’s father made no mention of the evidence regarding the possibility that his son’s DNA was on Mangum’s fake fingernail when he took the stand. In an interview, Nifong explained why he thought neither the defense nor the media made more of the fingernail evidence.

Nifong goes on to claim that this “evidence” almost was completely ignored. Not true. Nifong based much of his indictment of Evans on the so-called evidence, and journalists and talk show hosts like Nancy Grace declared at the time that it was something of a “magic bullet” for the prosecution. Once again, we see both Nifong and Cohan trying to rewrite history.

The prosecution’s story was that in the assault of Crystal Mangum, Evans ripped off her fake fingernail, hence his DNA on it. There is a huge problem with that account, however, one that apparently Cohan either does not understand or, more likely, does not want to understand.

There was no singular DNA profile of David Evans or anyone else on that fingernail. Instead, it was part of a DNA mixture that featured very slight (for DNA purposes) traces of approximately 15 people, all members of the lacrosse team. If the Cohan version were true – that Evans got his DNA onto the fingernail as a result of assaulting Mangum – then it would be necessary for there to have been 15 assailants.

The much more likely explanation is that Evans lived in the house, and a lot of other players also had thrown something into the can. Their DNA was on whatever they put into the can, and the DNA then transferred to the fingernail and other objects into which the material came into contact. Scientists call it DNA transfer, and because there were slight profiles of so many others, the only sensible explanation is that the transfer occurred in the trash can.

However, Cohan wants to the readers to believe Nifong’s account, which is that the profiles of all of the players except Evans came through DNA transfer, but Evans had his profile on the nail because he attacked Crystal. That might seem logical to Cohan, Nifong, and their supporters, but scientifically speaking (and we all know how Progressives worship “science”) it is an absurdity.

To put things into perspective, when Brian Meehan, the DNA specialist who did a private examination of the rape kit and the fingernails for Nifong, he was wearing near-space suit protective clothing, yet his DNA profile – a profile stronger than that of Evans or the other players – appeared in the DNA results of Mangum’s rape kit and fingernail. If we were to apply Cohan’s “logic,” at least the “logic” he uses when discussion David Evans, Brian Meehan would have to be a rape suspect.

So this is what Cohan wants us to believe: three young men can beat a woman for a half-hour, ejaculate in her mouth, ejaculate in her vagina and on her body, crawl naked over her, and not leave one speck of DNA. (She did have DNA of at least four unidentified men – none lacrosse players – in her vagina, her anus, and in her underwear.) The DNA testing was so sensitive that even Meehan while wearing protective clothing left a full DNA profile in her rape kit, but Cohan claims that not leaving DNA somehow is “proof” of a rape, while the fact that others left DNA on her is a “red herring.”

As one easily can see, Cohan is being utterly dishonest, but in that regard, he simply is channeling Nifong, a person Cohan claimed on the Dianne Rehm Show as being “an honorable man trying to get to the bottom of what happened.” (Emphasis mine) When those efforts to “get to the bottom” of the accusations veered into outright dishonesty, Cohan ignores that point. Like Nifong, Cohan presents a “head I win, tails you lose” version of the case.

WHEN IS AN AIRTIGHT ALIBI NOT AN ALIBI? WHEN COHAN SAYS IT IS NOT

Cohan does not slander only David Evans. Instead, he stoops even lower to try to implicate Reade Seligmann in the alleged rape, and he lies in the process of smearing this highly-regarded young man. (Seligmann recently was graduated from Emory Law School and now is clerking for a federal judge in Camden, New Jersey. He also is involved with the Innocence Project.)

Mangum “identified” Seligmann during a so-called photo lineup in which Mangum was shown only photos of the Duke lacrosse team and told to pick out three of them. (The process, which was run by Nifong and a rogue Durham cop named Mark Gottlieb, clearly violated all state and federal standards for photo lineups and almost certainly was illegal. Of course, Cohan defends that action, too.)

There was a major problem, however, and that was that the timeline that the police and Mangum constructed for the alleged rape was such that Reade Seligmann was more than a mile away when the alleged rape was supposed to have occurred. He had proof.

About midnight on March 14, Seligmann decided he did not like the tone of the party, and he had not suggested bringing strippers, anyway. (Two of the captains had made that decision on their own.) He called a cab company and asked for the cab to meet him at a house around the corner, thus avoiding the congestion of cars at the Buchanan Avenue house.

Moez Elmostafa, an African immigrant, picked up Seligmann, drove him to a bank teller, where Reade took out some money, and then took him to a restaurant where he got takeout food. Elmostafa then drove Seligmann to his Duke dormitory, and Reade gave him a $7 tip before going into his dorm, swiping his dorm key card.

This was significant because Seligmann was with Elmostafa when the supposed rape was occurring. After Elmostafa was interviewed on TV news as backing Seligmann’s story, Nifong had him picked up on a bogus shoplifting warrant. Before arresting Elmostafa, however, a Durham police officer asked him if he wanted to change his story; when Elmostafa refused to lie, the officer – and Nifong’s directive – slapped handcuffs on him.

(Elmostafa faced a trial later in the summer of 2006. With police officers literally leering and trying to intimidate him, Nifong’s office presented what amounted to non-evidence and Elmostafa was easily acquitted. This was after the Durham County DA’s office had promised it had “convincing” material that would become obvious when the public viewed the tape from a store camera. In other words, it was clear that the prosecution was nothing more than an attempt to intimidate a vulnerable immigrant into lying to support Nifong’s dishonest case.)

I bring up this account because Cohan in his interview on the Dianne Rehm show claimed that there was no intimidation at all, and that the action against Elmostafa was perfectly legitimate. (Cohan, unfortunately, cannot get the man’s name correct in the book, calling him “Mostafa.”)

Likewise, the Seligmann’s actions that I have described above are “evidence” to Cohan that Seligmann did “something” to Mangum. Why? He went to a bank teller, and Nifong told Cohan that he must have done it because he knew he would be recorded, and then he went to a restaurant because he knew there would be electronic evidence that would prove his whereabouts. But it gets better. Nifong also claims that Reade gave Elmostafa a $25 tip, ostensibly to bribe him to…tell the truth.

One has to understand the depths of the depravity in which Cohan and Nifong have descended here. Nifong had Reade Seligmann indicted for rape according to a timeline that directly contrasted with all of the cellphone records, a bank camera recording, and a visit to a restaurant, and that is supposed to mean that Seligmann raped Crystal Mangum. You see, Reade planned all of this as an alibi, according to Nifong, and Nifong and Cohan are having none of it.

Seligmann’s then-attorney, the late Kirk Osborne, tried to give Nifong the alibi evidence in April 2006, but Nifong refused to accept it, telling Osborne that “I don’t read fiction.” After Osborne put the information on the Internet for the world to see, Nifong then told his assistant DAs that none of Osborne’s criminal defendants would be permitted to plead out, which essentially ended Osborne’s business in Durham.

To counter Seligmann’s alibi, Nifong changed the timeline in December. This ran into problems, however, as a number of phone records, gas card records, and time-stamped photographs counter Nifong’s it-happened-an-hour-earlier-than-we-thought thesis.

But Cohan isn’t through digging up bogus “evidence” against Seligmann. During one of her conversations with police, Mangum said that one of the rapists said he could not go through with it because he was getting married the next day. During his testimony to the State Bar, Seligmann said that he was known to be a “nervous Nelly” of his team because he got flustered a lot.

Thus, reason Nifong and Cohan, that must be proof that Seligmann raped Mangum because Mangum described someone who was too embarrassed to actually complete a sex act with her. I am not kidding. (Cohan includes that one on page 554.

And there is one more thing; Cohan quotes Nifong, also on page 554, claiming that Seligmann committed perjury in his State Bar testimony: “Not everything he said was true, but he did come off well,” said Nifong.

QUESTIONABLE COMPANY

On his tour, Cohan claimed to have been the first person to make Tara Levicy’s SANE report “public.” That was untrue, as a number of sources, including Until Proven Innocent, had put the report into public view. Cohan then claims that “something happened” in the bathroom during the party, but he does not specify what the “something” might be.

The fact that Cohan does sloppy research and fails to interview people directly involved in the investigation after making false claims about what they did speaks much about his integrity and competence as a writer and researcher. By uncritically repeating Nifong’s claim that special prosecutors Mary Winstead and James Coman were “sandbagged” and “shocked” at Cooper’s declaration of “innocent,” Cohan conveniently fails to tell the readers that Coman and Winstead wrote the report that Cooper used to base his claims of “innocent,” and was following the directive of the two prosecutors.

This is dishonesty at its worst, and it happens in broad daylight. But there is another thing that points to the craven character of William Cohan, and that appears in the book’s acknowledgements. At the end, he thanks a number of people for giving him guidance. One is an HBO producer who was going to take Until Proven Innocent and change to plot to have Mangum actually raped. (That project fell through, although one cannot help but wonder if Cohan’s book will have its own HBO movie to follow.)

He also thanks Bethany McLean, the same Bethany McLean who wrote dispatches from the criminal trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling that were nothing more than pro-prosecution propaganda. The reason McLean’s articles and commentary were suspicious was that at the time she was writing the material, she was in a “relationship” with the federal government’s lead prosecutor. (They married after the trial, but denied having any pre-trial relationship, even though people in Houston did see them together as a couple beforehand.)

But there also is one other person of questionable integrity who served as a friend and advisor to Cohan: the infamous “Client Number Nine,” who also is known as the disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Given all of the lies, innuendos, and smears that make up this disgrace example of New York publishing, I don’t think anyone should be surprised to know that Cohan believes that Mike Nifong and Eliot Spitzer are men of integrity.

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