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Telling Victim from Villain at Duke

Duke University lacrosse scandalAlthough the infamous Duke University lacrosse scandal is long gone and mostly forgotten, there are still people interested in it and people ready to use this interest. Among them – William D. Cohan, the author of a new and very thorough retelling (it cannot be called investigation per se) of this story, “The Price of Silence”.

Back in 2006, the public was immediately attracted to the case’s unpleasant nature: an African American student of North Carolina Central University who also worked as a stripper, dancer and escort, accused three white Duke lacrosse players of raping her at a party organized by the team’s captains. The case was quickly labeled as a hate crime, but later it was revealed that accusations were, in fact, false – the investigation uncovered a lot of inconsistencies in the accuser’s interpretations of events, and the defendants were found innocent.

William D. Cohan didn’t uncover any new evidence and doesn’t make any allegations in this respect. But this, however, doesn’t make the story he tells any less fascinating. First of all, he introduced a lot of new details into it, and although these details don’t change the overall picture, they let the reader get a better understanding of what happened in Duke back in 2006. This allows to flesh out the personalities of the people involved in the case, thus making them look like real individuals to the reader.

However, although Cohan’s account makes for a rather fascinating reading and the amount of work he did calls for due respect, in some aspects the book can be found somewhat wanting. For example, the multitude of new details adds to the case, but the author didn’t seem to make a lot of work structuring and organizing them. Sometimes it looks as if he tried to include everything he managed to find without taking into account whether this particular bit of information was all that relevant. For example, he informs us about the nickname of Mike Nifong’s (the initial prosecutor) father, the classes that Richard Broadhead, Duke’s president, took during his study at Yale, and so forth. Needless to say, all these things have from little to nothing to do with the subject matter, and needlessly clutter the text.

Another peculiar aspect of Cohan’s book is that he largely avoids making his own assumptions and performing his own analysis. He gives you a lot of information, some of which cannot be found anywhere but in this book, and allows you to draw your own conclusions. Some will be refreshed by the author’s not trying to impose his point of view, but there certainly will be a number of readers to find this approach disappointing.

In other words: if you are interested in the lacrosse scandal case, it is a thing for you to read; just don’t expect particular revelations.

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