As KC Johnson has pointed out, "Much of the book (hundreds of the more than 600 pages) consists of summaries of previously published remarks, news articles, op-ed columns, or blog posts. How Cohan frames this material is telling, but the repackaged summaries themselves contain nothing new." And what is new is not authoritative, particularly the many pages in which Cohan lets three people plead their cases--the doped-up lying stripper, now a murderess of a human being as well as a would-be murderer of the reputations of young lacrosse players, and the discredited Nifong and his lawyer, Ann Peterson. Yes, Bill Anderson, this is like listening for hours as O. J. Simpson explains why he flew to Chicago that night. KC Johnson's collaborator on UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT, Stuart Taylor, Jr., says, "The most striking thing about William D. Cohan's revisionist, guilt-implying new book on the Duke lacrosse rape fraud is what's not in it. The best-selling, highly successful author's 621-page The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities adds not a single piece of significant new evidence to that which convinced North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper and virtually all other serious analysts by mid-2007 that the lacrosse players were innocent of any sexual assault on anyone. Unless, that is, one sees as new evidence Cohan's own stunningly credulous interviews with three far-from-credible participants in the drama who themselves add no significant new evidence beyond their counterfactual personal opinions."
Peter Berkowitz points out that Cohan usually purports to be neutral, allowing his witnesses to speak at length: "Mostly, he [Cohan] lets characters and commentators speak for themselves, rarely explicitly interjecting his opinion or offering original analysis. However, his book strongly intimates that the until-now-untold second rush to judgment was directed against Nifong (a convicted liar) and Mangum (now a convicted killer) who, Cohan reports, had a history of bipolar disorder. In particular, Cohan gives Nifong free rein in page after page to justify his indefensible conduct. Cohan is occasionally snarky toward the falsely accused athletes, but oddly respectful of the disgraced prosecutor. He never challenges Nifong, though there is much to contest. The definitive account of this case has been Until Proven Innocent, the rigorous and courageous book by Stuart Taylor Jr. and Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center Professor KC Johnson. That remains true, emphatically so, after the publication of The Price of Silence. Thankfully for the historical record, Johnson is still setting the record straight: In his indispensable blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, he details the numerous untrue statements and fanciful conjectures Nifong makes in his conversations with Cohan. Most egregiously, Cohan leaves unchallenged Nifong's sinister insistence that although evidence was lacking of the crimes for which the three players were charged, `something happened' of a criminal nature in the bathroom of the lacrosse house on the evening of March 13, 2006. Cohan thereby lends the vague and entirely unsubstantiated accusation credence."
The negative reviews in newspapers and magazines are piling up now. In the Charlotte OBSERVER Joe Neff vigorously attacks the book: "William D. Cohan opts for an apology for Nifong and, by extension, prosecutors who hide evidence and lie to judges. The 653-page book mostly rehashes previous reporting. What is new is Nifong speaking for the first time about the case. Nifong makes remarkable claims that the author - clearly sympathetic, if not besotted - fails to challenge or test. Nifong claims the prosecutor who took over the case was "sandbagged" when the attorney general later declared the players innocent; Cohan could have proven that claim false had he tried to interview the prosecutor, garrulous and blunt-speaking Jim Coman, who was adamant about declaring the players innocent. Nifong claims he's pretty sure he never told told his campaign manager that the national headlines were millions of dollars of free advertisement. Cohan never contacted the campaign manager, the very accessible Jackie Brown. Nifong claims the State Bar's disciplinary committee chairman concluded he was guilty before Nifong ever testified. Cohan never tried to talk with Lane Williamson, the chairman. Nifong claimed the judge who jailed him for a day had told friends beforehand that he planned on convicting Nifong of contempt of court. Cohan made no attempt to interview Judge W. Osmond Smith. These would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it's a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim."
The more thoughtful reviews of William Cohan's THE PRICE OF SILENCE on Amazon have been unusually negative because so many people have remained well informed about the 2006 case in which Crystal Mangum, a Durham, North Carolina, doped-up female black stripper with a long history of false accusations, attempts at murder-by-vehicle, prostitution, and other activities, accused a varying number of Duke lacrosse players of raping, sodomizing, beating, and otherwise mistreating her. The stripper's lies were seized on by the Durham District Attorney, Michael Nifong, as a way of winning him the black vote in the upcoming election. He won the election at the cost of endangering the lives of the lacrosse players, especially the three he accused as being Mangum's attackers. For his behavior he was subsequently disbarred and (for a night) imprisoned. All this is well known, though a reader of Cohan's book is repeatedly pushed to believe that "something happened" to the stripper at the hands of the lacrosse players.
I want to focus on two words in the title of Dixon Steele's early Amazon review: "Absurd Insinuation," perfect terminology for some of Cohan's interpolations which push the reader to judge long passages of text. I have struggled to find the right words for other strategies Cohan uses. "Cruel innuendo" might be one. My 2nd Websters is so old that it does not contain the word snarky, although it explains that snark is from two words, snake and shark. Cohan at times is snarky, smirky. Sometimes he strews fairy dust of doubt when no doubt existed. Let me look at some examples.
158: There was "apparently no DNA evidence linking" James Van de Velde to a murder: no--no "apparently" about it: there was no such DNA evidence.
158 Michael Rubin "wrote that he suspected Van de Velde was a victim of campus politics." No "suspected" about it, if you read what Rubin said.
223: Cohan quotes Houston Baker's almost unbelievably vicious letter to Patricia Dowd, calling her "mother of a `farm animal,'" without any judgment on Baker at all. Then in the next paragraph he says that Kim Curtis "seemed to hold a grudge against the Duke lacrosse team that spring." Duke's overruling Curtis's grade pretty much destroys the idea that she merely "seemed" to hold a grudge.
376-377: Cohan quotes at extreme length what "Mangum's cousin, Jakki" told a Durham newspaper--much of obviously false, fantastically false. Yet he says over and over "Jakki said," "she said," before mentioning that "Jakki's opinion" was in the minority. A writer is not being fair and balanced when he gives such "opinion" so much space, particularly if he does not challenge it in any way.
379: In describing Philip Seligmann's attempt to get bail reduced for his son Reade, Cohan says that the senior Seligmann "was not above seeking some sympathy." Well, his son (who offered irrefutable exculpatory evidence) was in danger of being railroaded (even as "Nifonged" became, as Joe Neff says, a synonym for "railroaded") for a crime he did not commit--in danger of being locked up in prison for three decades. What could Cohan possibly have been thinking when he snarked at Philip Seligmann for not being above seeking some sympathy?
For Cohan, the great sin of Roy Cooper, the attorney general, was in trying to restore some justice to the accused lacrosse players by emphasizing that they were "innocent." On 510-513 Cohan repeatedly lets Nifong, a master of foul-mouthed religiosity (too foul for me to quote here), accuse Cooper of selling his soul to the devil and lets Nifong make many false accusations ("It's been reported to me that his coffers were enriched by tens of thousands of dollars by law firms in the Northeast," for example). Cohan quotes at length from the 2008 LAST DANCE FOR GRACE, putatively co-written by Vincent Clark and Mangum. His wording goes from quoting Mangum to making his own assertion. According to the wording on 514, "Roberts came into the bathroom" and helped Mangum finish fixing her clothes. So all of what Mangum says is true.
Starting on 517 Cohan recounts his jailhouse interview with Mangum, a self-described "people pleaser," (518) who "apparently" pleased Cohan by inventing new wooden splinters up her rectum, "wooden shards," in Cohan's words. News!
517: Mangum's murder of her boyfriend is only "alleged"; well, OK, only alleged in early November 2013.
531: As Nifong's misdeeds came to light he was subjected to torture as if he were a victim of the Inquisition: "Nifong was being spit-roasted." Not a word of sympathy with the lacrosse players who had been threatened with castration before imprisonment! No sympathy from their parents. Some of us remember the public appearance the Seligmanns made after Reade was declared innocent. These people suffered, Mr. Cohan.
548: Cohan says the lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, who was pushed out of his job, settled with Duke but later sued for slander and libel because of John Burness's comments in violation of the the settlement; it would have been easy for Cohan to say there on 548 that Duke had to settle again because of Burness's loose talk (as Cohan mentions on 569 and 606).
562: Something almost unbelievably vile: "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."
563, Lane Williamson, who wanted Nifong disbarred, "was relentless." Nifong, of course, had not been relentless in his attacks on the innocent lacrosse players!
567: Nifong's sufferings went on and on, and he remembered: "Years later, Nifong reflected on what it was like for him to endure the state bar hearing."
567: When Richard Brodhead, the President of Duke University and Robert Steel, the chairman of the Duke board of trustees, announced Duke's settlement with Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans, they did not specify "the amount that Duke forked over to the three men." "Forked over"? After what the lacrosse players had suffered at the words of Brodhead and others at Duke? After the bad advice Duke had given them and the failure of support?
569: Here Cohan declares that one of the Seligmanns' lawyers "apparently did not get paid"--a slur that has been refuted.
574: In part of the long quotation from Ann Peterson, a lawyer for Nifong, Cohan lets her say, unchallenged, that it was the wealth of the lacrosse players' families that got them off (when they should have gone to jail?). He quotes her: "They just have more resources. They had more resources, in this case, to hire experts. They had more resources to use the media. . . . There was absolutely no question that wealth played a role in this case." But they were innocent. If the families had not had money, they might have gone to jail for three decades. And the media? Who played to the media more than the righteous DA Nifong, speaking prejudicially? Quoting Ann Peterson at such length without constantly correcting her is despicable.
575: The lacrosse players and their families had not suffered, but Nifong suffers. Peterson "said she believes Nifong still has not recovered from the case."
576: It was all so unfair, Nifong says: "I was the only person incarcerated for any length of time in the Duke Lacrosse case. Nobody else was incarcerated at all."
579. Poor Nifong: "He said the outcome of the Duke lacrosse scandal triggered in him his own post-traumatic stress reaction."
581: Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans could have been good sports and hired incompetent lawyers for a fairly moderate fee, if they had been able to find real bottom-crawling shysters. Ah, but they did not. All reprehensibly (what else could you expect of them?) they "hired high-priced attorneys to represent them in civil suits." Seligmann was worse than the others: he "hired the high-profile New York City attorney Barry Scheck"!
582: Cohan quotes Barry Saunders, columnist for the local NEWS & OBSERVER: "`Why, I think one of them [the accused] even spent an hour in custody---not in jail, but waiting for a magistrate to finish his lunch so daddykins could post bail.'"
589: Cohan quotes vileness from Saunders about "three chumps' lack of values"--these chumps being three nonindicted players who were suing Duke and Durham. Then, again almost unbelievably, Cohan starts a paragraph this way: "Not to be outdone, another group of thirty-eight nonindicted Duke lacrosse players filed their own lawsuit." They did it only "not to be outdone"!
590: Attorneys for the nonindicted players "commandeered the National Press Club" to announce their lawsuit. They stormed in with armed thugs and commandeered it! And one of the fathers, Steven Henkelman spoke "about the anguish his son faced." In fact, I recall Henkelman's making one of the most eloquent public addresses I ever heard. Cohan ends the paragraph by quoting Nifong on this lawsuit: "`That just shows you why you don't negotiate with terrorists.'"
On the blog LieStoppers LTC8K6 commented: He [Cohan] wrote the book the way it is because he is angry that he couldn't document the story he wanted to tell. He wanted the story in the title, but it just isn't there. Anyone who didn't cooperate with him is therefore made to look bad in the book. He couldn't find the story he promised to the publisher, so he just rehashed old stuff with a Mangum/Nifong slant to make it "juicy", and blamed the lack of a story on the defendants." The full title, I should say, is THE PRICE OF SILENCE: THE DUKE LACROSSE SCANDAL, THE POWER OF THE ELITE, AND THE CORRUPTION OF OUR GREAT UNIVERSITIES.
As someone who knows something about publishing I find this comment on LieStoppers very plausible. This would account for the vast amount of padding in the book as well as Cohan's frustration at not getting all the doors wide open to him, as he expected, so that he had to content himself with Nifong, Peterson, and Mangum , and therefore rewarded them with page after page of self-justifying lies, and gave great space to Steel, the former chairman of the board of Trustees, for his maunderings (on Brodhead: "Dick is a talker . . . Dick wants to pontificate. He's an English professor"). It is as if Cohan is saying, "Who are the lacrosse players not to agree to talk to ME?" Cohan got the contract expecting unimpeded access or even welcoming arms and found that people were suspicious of him and did not want to play. Even Brodhead would not play with him, and asked, "`Why do you have to write this book?'" . Yes, this sounds right. There might possibly have been an excuse for pitching the book to Scribners but there was no excuse for writing it after it turned out that there was nothing new (or nothing new and honorable) to be said.
The damage does not stop with the book. Cohan has embarked on a media blitz in which he repeatedly implies that "something happened" in the bathroom where Crystal Mangum declared that she was raped and otherwise brutalized. This insidious, or at time blatant, distortion of the established facts in the case is muddying the waters so foully that one almost despairs of truth ever prevailing. And Cohan is inflicting new pain on all the victims of the case, the accused and the non-indicted lacrosse players and their families and their admirable coach, Michael Pressler, and his family. It seems that the mainstream media learned nothing from its rush to judgment in 2006.