April 17, 2014

"The Many Ways in Which The New Book About the Duke Lacrosse Case is Wrong."

A Stuart Taylor Jr. article at The New Republic (about the book "The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities"). Excerpt:
Sensational smears based on false information aside, the absence of new evidence does not deter [William D.] Cohan from seeking to spin his own tendentious characterizations of old evidence—often contradicted by other evidence elsewhere in the book—into dark Nifongesque innuendos of sexual assault, or "something."


Along the way, Cohan repeatedly smears the falsely accused “Duke lax bros,” as he mockingly calls them on Twitter. Sometimes he disparages them in his own voice (as in, "the festering wound that was Duke lacrosse"). Sometimes he happily quotes Nifong, left-leaning professors (one of whom calls the players "arrogant, callous, dismissive"), and journalists. Cohan does not cite many specifics other than the lacrosse players' admittedly bad (but not very unusual) record of binge drinking and noisy parties at rented houses in a residential neighborhood near the campus....

The great mystery here is why a skillful, highly successful author and journalist would stoop so low....
Looking at Cohan's other titles — "The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.," "House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street," "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World" — I see that he has a fascination with money and power. If we can, for a moment, put aside Cohan's personal interest in acquiring money and power for himself by selling books on a topic he's found successful in the past, we might try to see why the Duke lacrosse topic follows on from these earlier books about high finance. The new book's title highlights "The Price" and the "Power of the Elite" and "Corruption."

But shouldn't the story have been that the tendency to analyze the world in terms of money and power is what led intelligent and well-meaning academics to misperceive evidence and lose track of principles of fairness and justice?

42 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I wonder that the students don't sue the author. It would be a long slog, I think, but would it not also help the truth come out?

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder that the students don't sue the author. It would be a long slog, I think, but would it not also help the truth come out?"

1. It's very expensive and laborious.

2. It makes the sued writer seem like a victim and wins him lots of support he wouldn't otherwise have (like from other writers who are afraid of getting sued).

3. Cohan has skills and editors and the book has surely been carefully examined for libel and framed in terms that exclude factual statement that are false and defamatory. There are many techniques available here: quoting others, framing statements in terms of what might be consistent with this or that evidence, expressing opinion, using hypotheticals… etc. etc.

SJ said...

Why didn't he write a book about the difference between rape and false charges of rape?

Andy Freeman said...

> here are many techniques available here: quoting others,

At what point do I become responsible when I quote others?

For example, can I go into a bank and say "Althouse said to give me all the money" or "Althous said, the money or your life".

Can I avoid a charge of conspiracy by quoting someone else saying what I should do?

It's one thing to quote someone for the purposes of deciding if what they say is true. It's another to quote someone so you can smear a third party without being held responsible.

Of course, it doesn't really matter at some level because journalists can't lose any more respect. You'd think that they'd care and thus would be interested in policing their own.

damikesc said...

Anybody trying to bolster claims by citing Nifong and Mangum is not somebody one can take seriously.

He seemed to have few qualms that Mangum changed her story with every re-telling; that they DID recover DNA from different men on her but none were on the lacrosse team; that the lab tech, under oath, admitted to withholding evidence.

cubanbob said...

3. Cohan has skills and editors and the book has surely been carefully examined for libel and framed in terms that exclude factual statement that are false and defamatory. There are many techniques available here: quoting others, framing statements in terms of what might be consistent with this or that evidence, expressing opinion, using hypotheticals… etc. etc."

As a practical matter you are probably right I wonder if a really good team of lawyers reviewing the book could find a strong case against the publisher.

David said...

"intelligent and well-meaning academics"

Sorry. There was nothing well meaning about that lynch mob. What they mean to do is punish those they dislike, which are rowdy, smug and boisterous lacrosse playing types at Duke. They mean to intimidate. They mean to create fear. They mean to advance their own power and self image.

If they had meant well, at least a few of them might have reconsidered or apologized when the actual facts came out. As far as I can tell, none had the grace to do that.

Michael said...

Cohan wrote the excellent "House of Cards" which was both well researched and written from the point of view of someone who worked on and understood Wall Street. The fact that he is a graduate of Duke does not give him the same status or perspective in writing on the Duke Lacrosse case, one of the most hideous episodes of academia and of the willingness of the press to jump to the wrong conclusions based on stereotypes.

I am not sure why he would want to tackle this subject at this moment.

Marshal said...

But shouldn't the story have been that the tendency to analyze the world in terms of money and power is what led intelligent and well-meaning academics to misperceive evidence and lose track of principles of fairness and justice?

This assumes at least two facts not in evidence. The academics were interested in advancing their ideology and careers. There's no evidence they were well intentioned, quite the opposite. When it became obvious the charges were a hoax they were offered the chance to walk back their comments, but instead chose to issue a second "signing statement" supporting the charges.

William said...

The particular review linked to here provides a good take down of the book. However, this same review recounts that this book has received favorable notice in other publications.......Compare and contrast. There were a group of kids who went to Central Park on a wilding spree. They assaulted random joggers.. At the same time and at about the same place, a young woman got raped. People jumped to the conclusion that the wilding kids were involved in the rape. The kids were convicted. Another man later confessed to the crime and claimed he acted alone. There's certainly reasonable cause to doubt the guilt of the convicted kids. They were released. Ken Burns made a documentary about the case. The moral of the story is not that it's unwise to randomly attack strangers in the park but that the white justice system is irredeemably flawed and unfair......There was no documentary about the Duke case. Perhaps Ken Burns can option this book.

DKWalser said...

In the linked article, Stuart Taylor says the author appears to have tried to make the book libel-proof. From his other comments in the article, Taylor seems to have some doubt whether the author was successful in making the book libel-proof. So, maybe a libel action would be successful.

Still, while it might be fun for the spectators, I doubt bringing a libel suit is in the best interests of any of the lacrosse players. While they were not guilty of any form of sexual assault, the players did engage in activities I doubt any of them would want to be rebroadcast. They hired strippers, engaged in binge drinking, and did and said other things that do not reflect an image that most of us (and presumably them) would want as our public face. "But, I didn't rape anyone!" is not much of a recommendation.

Michael K said...

What is really interesting is the tone of the comments on the Amazon site. I must say that only one has bought the book and gives it 5 stars but that reviewer has no other book reviews on Amazon.

It does make me wonder who paid for this book and why.

Paco Wové said...

"intelligent and well-meaning academics"

*snort*

Tim said...

To bad he didnt write about the racist 88 "professors" at Duke. THEY should all have been canned.

Tank said...

Alert Amanda Marcotte !!!

harrogate said...

"But shouldn't the story have been that the tendency to analyze the world in terms of money and power is what led intelligent and well-meaning academics to misperceive evidence and lose track of principles of fairness and justice?"

Interesting observation, since money and power also so very, very often leads "intelligent and well-meaning" people to "lose track of principles of fairness and justice."

Big Mike said...

Don't you just love the way Cohan writes that he's convinced "something did happen in that bathroom"?

What? That Mangam took a pee? That she made up her mind to get even because the Duke guys wanted a white stripper and were pretty loudly disappointed they got her instead?

We know what did not happen. Mangam was not raped. She was not assaulted with a broomstick or any other object in any orifice. That's been established beyond reasonable doubt, if not beyond unreasonable doubt.

As for the suggestion that this whole controversy cost Duke University $100M in legal and PR fees, IMHO they got off light. Duke's endowment is $6B; I suspect they treated $100M about like a round-off error. What really should have been part of the settlement is mandatory sensitivity training for the entire faculty and administration so that they do not in the future rush to judgement against their own students merely because they hate white male jocks about as much as Arabs hate Jews.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Professor, I'll skip over addressing whether or not the academics were "intelligent." After all, intelligent people can participate in witch hunts just as well as unintelligent ones.

But I am curious as to why you think the academics were "well intentioned."

Well intentioned people don't participate in witch hunts.

People who are not so well intentioned judge people using assumptions that are tailored to elevate the witch hunters status and disregard any evidence contrary to those assumptions.

Ann Althouse said...

@Ralph I selected that term carefully.

I believe that on a high level of generality, these are people who mean well and intend to conduct themselves as good people in this world. Then they apply the high-level concept in practice and make terrible mistakes. I don't believe these are people who are choosing to be evil or mischievous or who care nothing about other people and bull forward in pursuit of their own selfish ends.

"Well-intentioned" is a middling term of praise and should be understood to signal that bad was done by people who lacked judgment and insight. To me, it calls to mind the aphorism: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Drago said...

David: "What they mean to do is punish those they dislike, which are rowdy, smug and boisterous lacrosse playing types at Duke."

Should have been written: 'What they mean to do is punish those they dislike, which are -white, male- rowdy, smug and boisterous lacrosse playing types at Duke.'

Zeb Quinn said...

"Then they apply the high-level concept in practice and make terrible mistakes. I don't believe these are people who are choosing to be evil or mischievous or who care nothing about other people and bull forward in pursuit of their own selfish ends."

But don't "good people" admit to it and take ownership when they have have made a dreadful mistake that harms others, and then undertake some sort of effort to right those wrongs?

So, sorry, no sale.

Ralph Hyatt said...

@professor

I agree that they don't think of themselves as evil and that they consider themselves to be well intentioned.

However, I don't see why I should see them in the same light.

The people hanging women (and crushing to death one man) at Salem had good intentions also.

Did you know that in order to get convictions the judges in Salem allowed testimony that, as a matter of law, was not admissible? That is, because of their good intentions they disregarded procedures and safeguards meant to ensure that the accused received fair and equitable treatment.

Strangely enough, the Salem Witch Trials were swiftly ended once the children started accusing prominent people outside of Salem, such as the Governor's wife.

Marshal said...

I don't believe these are people who are choosing to be evil or mischievous or who care nothing about other people

It seems pretty clear they only care about people who belong to their affinity groups. Otherwise they would have recognized their mistake and worked to ameliorate it. Instead they pushed forward with even more ridiculous claims.

And the worst part: Academia rewarded many of them for it while literally none were sanctioned.

http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/2014/01/diversity-inclusiveness-and-karla.html

Andy Freeman said...

> I believe that on a high level of generality, these are people who mean well and intend to conduct themselves as good people in this world. Then they apply the high-level concept in practice and make terrible mistakes

What is this "high-level concept"? If it's "mean well and conduct themselves as good-people", it's meaningless, or rather, it depends on what they think that "good people" do. (Everyone means well. They just disagree as to what that means.)

Let me suggest that their definition of "what good people" do is prone to terrible mistakes. Which makes them bad people, no matter how good they feel about themselves.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"who care nothing about other people and bull forward in pursuit of their own selfish ends."

No - that is exactly what they are doing.

virgil xenophon said...

The Duke faculty that signed the open letter were, to anyone who has ever spent time on a college campus, obviously possessed of the leftist ideologically driven and uniform hatred of the rich, (mainly) white males who had also committed the unpardonable sin of belonging to exclusive all-white fraternities. (which is why they never apologized) Now if the team had been comprised of members of black fraternities and the stripper white..

Ralph Hyatt said...

To me at least, the really disturbing thing about the whole episode is the eagerness displayed by so many in the faculty to join what was, essentially, a lynch mob.

These are people who are supposed to be educating the elite young who are going to be filling leadership roles in business and politics for the next few decades.

I don't know much about the accused. I know they hired strippers and held loud, drunken parties. So yeah, not boy scouts (or perhaps some of them were). But apparently that, along with a physiological detail that I was told was not supposed to matter, was enough to convict them of rape before a trial and with no evidence whatsoever.

Why does the phrase "To kill a mocking bird" come to my mind whenever I hear about this case?

mikee said...

I am going to jump on the "well intentioned and intelligent" bandwagon.

Liberals are stereotyped as people who judge themselves by their intentions, not their results. Saying the Duke 88 were "well intentioned" is a lie - they were performing a public relations lynching to promote their own liberal agenda.

Intelligence in one aspect of life does not necessarily confer knowledge in other aspects of life. Which is why my CPA does my taxes and my barber cuts my hair, not the other way around. The Duke 88 were the opposite of intelligent - they were ideological to an extreme that to this day keeps them from recanting their erroneous charges.

mikee said...

I am going to jump on the "well intentioned and intelligent" bandwagon.

Liberals are stereotyped as people who judge themselves by their intentions, not their results. Saying the Duke 88 were "well intentioned" is a lie - they were performing a public relations lynching to promote their own liberal agenda.

Intelligence in one aspect of life does not necessarily confer knowledge in other aspects of life. Which is why my CPA does my taxes and my barber cuts my hair, not the other way around. The Duke 88 were the opposite of intelligent - they were ideological to an extreme that to this day keeps them from recanting their erroneous charges.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, having learned my lesson, I tracked all of your posts tagged with "Duke rape case." And along the way I found another word you used to describe the folks that in today's post you labeled "well-intentioned."

Misinterpreted. Remember that word. Professors like it. We mean well. We mean to demonstrate empathy and outrage in all the right places. And if you don't credit us with the grand ideals we intended, we will say you don't read well enough. Try again.

Yes, it wasn't that the Duke faculty were unjust or unfair. Those of us who don't belong to their affinity group (thank you, Marshal, for that word) just aren't sophisticated enough to interpret them properly.

Except that I think we really do understand them, better than they understand themselves.

CWJ said...

Althouse posted -

"But shouldn't the story have been that the tendency to analyze the world in terms of money and power is what led intelligent and well-meaning academics to misperceive evidence and lose track of principles of fairness and justice?"

Intelligent and well-meaning people (but maybe not academics) recant and apologize when having caused great harm and been proven wrong.

sane_voter said...

Any Duke lacrosse post needs a trigger warning.

The Godfather said...

You can't understand the Duke Lacrosse "Rape" Case unless you are prepared to deal with ideology. The 88 professors didn't come to the conclusion that the lacrosse players were guilty through a careful -- but erroneous -- evaluation of the evidence. Their ideology led them to want to believe that these rich, privileged, white, guys (RICH PRIVILIGED WHITE GUYS) must be guilty. Nifong, a white prosecutor with a largely black electorate, needed to score points with his electorate by prosecuting the rich, privileged, white, guys (RICH PRIVILIGED WHITE GUYS) who raped the poor black woman (POOR BLACK WOMAN).

The worst distortions of our political system right now comes from ideology. You are wrong because of what you believe, not what you do.

You remember Kristallnacht and the Bundestag fire? The Hutus and the Tutsis?

Gahrie said...

"Well-intentioned" is a middling term of praise and should be understood to signal that bad was done by people who lacked judgment and insight. To me, it calls to mind the aphorism: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Very true.

What I wonder however, is why the term is never applied to conservatives or the political right?

Paco Wové said...

"these are people who mean well and intend to conduct themselves as good people in this world. Then they apply the high-level concept in practice and make terrible mistakes. I don't believe these are people who are choosing to be evil or mischievous or who care nothing about other people and bull forward in pursuit of their own selfish ends."

This describes almost everybody in the world who does evil. There are very few Snidley Whiplash types who wake up in the morning thinking, "Whom can I screw over today?" People who do evil are people who do evil, regardless of their intentions. You are attempting to give you ideological peers an 'out' by falsely placing them in separate category they do not deserve... "Well, he was evil, but he wasn't evil-evil". Bullshit. Evil done for a good cause is not one whit different than evil done "malignly". Those people are evil, and our perverse educational establishment rewards them for it.

Tim said...

Althouse, upon what evidence do you characterize the Group of 88 as either well-meaning or intelligent?

Because nothing I have seen of them indicates either of those to be accurate adjectives.

Quaestor said...

"I wonder that the students don't sue the author. It would be a long slog, I think, but would it not also help the truth come out?"

Reade Seligmann, Ryan McFadyen, and the others should take Cohan to court in the UK. Libel is much easier on the plaintiff under English Common Law than under the rather nasty terms imposed by the American legal tradition. Also loser pays, which is nice if you're on the side of the angels.

Like it or not those Duke lacrosse men are now public figures, thanks to the machinations of Crystal Mangum, Mike Nifong, the Group of 88 and their undergrad myrmidons, and are therefore unlikely to get satisfaction in libel case argued in a US court. Cohan can always avoid a charge of malice by pleading stupidity.

southcentralpa said...

No mention of this book would be complete without a link to http://www.durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/ where it is rather thoroughly and systematically dismantled.

Big Mike said...

@Tim, here's a thought experiment. Let's reset the time from 2006 to the 1930's but let's leave the location in the south. This time let's make the defendants a group of young Black men charged with raping a young white woman.

Any idea what would happen? As it turns out, we don't have to guess; we can go look up the case of "the Scottsboro Boys."

What I am saying is the the two differences between the "gang of 88" and the citizens of Alabama calling for the execution of the Scottsboro boys are (1) the direction of the bigotry (antipathy towards young white male jocks versus antipathy toward poor young Blacks) and (2) the Duke lacrosse players had the ability to fight back against the Duke faculty and administration establishment.

Because one can be nominally intelligent and well-intentioned but still be a flagrant bigot. Intelligence does not preclude bigotry, as any of a number of intelligent people who are vehement anti-semites prove daily.

Jupiter said...

"I believe that on a high level of generality, these are people who mean well and intend to conduct themselves as good people in this world."

Interesting. I believe they are smug, connected idiots, to a man, woman and dog, and they intend nothing but their own ease and comfort, to be achieved through the systematic exploitation of their betters. Perhaps being one of them affects your judgment?

Jupiter said...

Zeb Quinn raises an illuminating point;

'But don't "good people" admit to it and take ownership when they have have made a dreadful mistake that harms others, and then undertake some sort of effort to right those wrongs?'

It is quite remarkable that not one of the 88 has publicly expressed any regret for their actions. Is it really possible that, to a man, woman and dog, they are without the least semblance of a conscience?

Actually, I don't believe that is the case. Rather, they find themselves in a difficult position. They cannot apologize for their own repugnant behavior without implicitly criticizing the other 87. And they well know what the penalty for that would be, in the totalitarian community of which they are prominent and respected members.

These are the creatures that squat amidst the ruins of the American system of higher education.

Seamus said...

To me at least, the really disturbing thing about the whole episode is the eagerness displayed by so many in the faculty to join what was, essentially, a lynch mob.

True say. It could also be described as a photographic negative of the Scottsboro Boys case.