The Price of Silence
The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities
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Bestselling author William D. Cohan, whose reporting and writing have been hailed as “gripping” (the New York Times), “authoritative” (the Washington Post), and “seductively engrossing” (Chicago Tribune), presents a stunning new account of the Duke lacrosse team scandal that reveals the pressures faced by America’s elite colleges and universities and pulls back the curtain, in a riveting narrative, on the larger issues of sexual misconduct, underage drinking, and bad-boy behavior—all too prevalent on campuses across the country.
Despite being front-page news nationwide, the true story of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape case has never been told in its entirety and is more complex than all the reportage to date would indicate. The Price of Silence is the definitive, magisterial account of what happens when the most combustible forces in American culture— unbridled ambition, intellectual elitism, athletic prowess, aggressive sexual behavior, racial bias, and absolute prosecutorial authority—collide and then explode on a powerful university campus, in the justice system, and in the media.
What transpired at Duke followed upon the university’s unprecedented and determined effort to compete directly with the Ivy League for the best students and with its Division I rivals for supremacy in selected sports—most famously men’s basketball, where Duke has become a perennial powerhouse and the winner of four national championships. As Cohan brilliantly shows, the pursuit of excellence in such diverse realms put extraordinary strains on the campus culture and—warned some longtime Duke observers—warped the university’s academic ethos. Duke became known for its “work hard, play hard” dynamic, and specifically for its wild off-campus parties, where it seemed almost anything could happen—and often did.
Cohan’s reconstruction of the scandal’s events—the night in question, the local police investigation, Duke’s actions, the lacrosse players’ defense tactics, the furious campus politics—is meticulous and complete. Readers who think they know the story are in for more than one surprise, for at the heart of it are individuals whose lives were changed forever. As the scandal developed, different actors fought to control the narrative. At stake were not just the futures of the accused players, the reputation of the woman claiming she was raped, and the career of the local prosecutor, but also the venerable and carefully nurtured name of Duke University itself—the Duke brand, exceedingly valuable when competing for elite students, world-class athletes, talented professors, and the financial support of its nationally prominent, deep-pocketed alumni. The battle for power involved the Duke administration, led by its president, Richard Brodhead, a blazing academic star hired away from Yale; the Duke board of trustees, which included several titans of Wall Street; the faculty, comprising a number of outspoken critics of the lacrosse players; the athletes’ parents, many of whom were well connected in Washington and New York and able—and willing—to hire expensive counsel to defend their sons; and, ultimately, the justice system of North Carolina, which took over the controversial case and rendered its judgment.
The price of resolving the scandal proved extraordinarily high, both in terms of unexpected human suffering and the stratospheric costs of settling legal claims. The Price of Silence is a story unlike any other, yet sheds light on what is really happening on campuses around the country as colleges and universities compete urgently with one another, and confirms William Cohan’s preeminent reputation as one of the most lively and insightful journalists working today.
Praise For The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities…
“At once a masterwork of reporting and a devastating critique of a university that has lost its way…what Cohan has done, to superb effect, is to bring a forensic level of reporting to the event, so that we are forced to throw out its long-accepted narrative and look at it with new eyes.… Every parent planning to send a child to an “elite” college dominated by an overly powerful athletic program should buy this book. For those with children thinking of Duke, it is required reading.”
“Exhaustive, surprisingly gripping…The Price of Silence proves its worthiness…When the story broke, it had plenty of salacious aspects…but the story turned out to be far more complex, a drama made rich by the characters’ apparent refusal to play their assigned roles…remarkable…Cohan has added a lot of new details to the narrative…extremely impressive…Ultimately, Mr. Cohan’s account is valuable for what the case says about wealth and our legal system.”
“Fascinating...What Cohan’s extraordinary 600-page tome shows is that there is a yawning gap between the lofty rhetoric and grubby reality of American elite universities... It is around the issue of sports that the tangled questions of power, money, racism and culture crystallize particularly clearly…as anthropologists know, every society has power networks and rituals that enable groups to coalesce. But another truism of anthropology is that rituals are most effective in upholding power structures – however distasteful – when nobody talks about them at all, be that on Wall Street or university campuses. In that sense, then, the good news about the 2006 scandal was that it spurred debate about standards.”
“The Price of Silence is the definitive account of what happened up to and after Crystal Gail Mangum made her accusation. Its 600-page length might at first seem more appropriate to a presidential biography or a history of one of the world wars, but The Price of Silence earns its heft, and unlike most biographies and histories, it rarely loosens its grip on its reader’s attention.”
“In his new book The Price of Silence, William D. Cohan presents the first authoritative account of what happened on the evening of March 13, 2006 and the chaos that followed. Cohan’s clear-eyed reporting tracks how administrators, lawyers, police, media personalities, Mangum, and the exonerated players reacted to the spotlight and the shadows it cast. In the book, Cohan speaks with a number of important figures who had never before spoken publicly about the scandal, including both Mike Nifong and former Duke University Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Steel.”
“Top-notch investigative journalism defines this examination of ‘one of the most improbable legal sagas in American history’. . . meticulous . . . not just an edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama and a cautionary tale, but also an illuminating fable about the power of status, talent, authority, and belief. Throughout, Cohan’s spare prose and objective tone cast his subjects in a humane light, even when their behavior is stunning . . . the definitive account of the case.”
"Cohan seemingly leaves no stone unturned in covering all aspects of the case... undeniably gripping drama... A comprehensive, illuminating and highly readable study of a notorious episode in the annals of the American justice system."
“The relationship between sports and the academic side of college life has long been troubled…Cohan explores the social dynamics that clouded every aspect of the case…Cohan explores the usual disconnects that occur in high-profile crime cases between what is reported in the press, chronicled in official records, and perceived as public opinion and what really happened. A gripping account of a sensational case.”
“[Cohan] is sharp about following the money…[he] receives extra points for fairness.”
— Karen Long
“Acclaimed investigative journalist Cohan turns from his previous focus on Wall Street to the 2006 Duke Lacrosse Scandal…Cohan tells the complex story, drawing on public records and interviews, to portray the sports players and the three indicted students, the police investigators, the expert defense team, the academic leadership, and the district attorney who generated a media storm over the case until it was dismissed and he was disbarred. With both detail and clarity, the author engages the reader in the paradox of the emergence of Duke as a nationally ranked university where scholastic excellence vied against a “party hard” social scene. ..This excellent presentation of media-generated hysteria over a criminal investigation offers insights into police work, prosecutorial excess, and an extensive and expensive legal defense, set in a North Carolina city where the wealthy university was neighbor to an economically stressed black community and seemed to echo national tensions.”
“William Cohan’s fascinating The Price of Silence shows that the Duke lacrosse case was not just a controversial legal investigation that became a heated media circus, but also a conflict that illuminated the fierce pressures on America’s elite universities as they battle for power and prestige and money. Cohan’s deep character study of the principal figures involved also reveals the case as a crucible of fate that created distinct winners and losers."
— Bryan Burrough, Vanity Fair contributing editor and the author of Public Enemies and The Big Rich, and coauthor of Barbarians at the Gate
“William Cohan’s scrupulously reported and grippingly written account of this elite campus horror story makes clear that if you thought you knew what happened at Duke, as I did, there is much more to learn. This is a story that ought to disturb anyone who cares about contemporary college life. For the first time, Cohan gets many of the central characters to speak—and what they have to say is eye-opening.”
— Jane Mayer, longtime staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of The Dark Side, and coauthor of Strange Justice and Landslide
Scribner, 9781451681796, 672pp.
Publication Date: April 8, 2014