Vanity Fair contributing editor and Duke University alumnus Cohan (Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, 2011) turns a microscopic lens on the 2006 scandal involving an alleged rape by members of the school’s lacrosse team.
The case of a group of white athletes at an elite Southern university accused of raping an African-American stripper exploded into national headlines in the spring of 2006 and continued to play out in the media over the following year. A confluence of perennial hot-button issues related to race, class, money, athletics, politics and power made the Duke lacrosse scandal perfect fodder for the traditional media and its growing online counterpart. Initial condemnation of the accused, whose team’s arrogant and often drunken behavior in the preceding years had drawn the ire of locals, professors and fellow students, eventually gave way to rising questions about the handling of the case by the Duke administration, the media and, most crucially, by the police and prosecution, led by Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong. Cohan seemingly leaves no stone unturned in covering all aspects of the case: the criminal proceedings, the media coverage and its impact, and the issues raised in the community and at Duke and other similar schools. The author mostly refrains from editorializing, letting the voluminous evidence and historical record speak for itself, carried along by the story’s undeniably gripping drama. That he does have an opinion on the matter comes through, however, particularly in his descriptions of those involved. Nifong, whose epic mishandling of the case cost him his career and impacted the lives of all participants, remains unwilling, or unable, to comprehend his failures. Cohan’s book will hopefully help others avoid them.
A comprehensive, illuminating and highly readable study of a notorious episode in the annals of the American justice system.