Like the rest of the Penn State Nation, I was shocked by the disgusting details of the Jerry Sandusky Grand Jury report that was leaked in early November. Anger, sadness, disgust, embarrassment, and many other emotions filled my head as I tried to process what I was reading. I couldn’t believe that Joseph Vincent Paterno, a man that had stood for everything that was right about college athletics for 60 plus years, stood by and didn’t do all he could to stop an alleged child molester. From the report, it was evident Coach Paterno had done all that was required of him from an employee and legal standpoint, but should he have done more? Should he have followed up to find out how his superiors were handling the incident? Should he have reported it to the police? The answer to all those questions seemed rather obvious… absolutely.
Enter the national media, led by the Evil Sports Empire, ESPN. As I watched the coverage on TV and listened to sports radio, I couldn’t believe it was my school they were talking about. I couldn’t believe it was Joe Paterno that was being burned alive at the stake. The media was in a feeding frenzy and they wouldn’t be content until they had their pound of flesh. ESPN in particular led the charge with wall to wall coverage of the scandal. Talking heads on ESPN and ESPN Radio collectively set their crosshairs on our beloved school and football program. Some called for the program to skip the rest of the season and a bowl game. Others called for the program to be shut down and be given the death penalty. All demanded Paterno be fired. Personally, while I felt penalizing the program and players in any fashion was ridiculous, I couldn’t disagree with their stance on Paterno.
The basic talking point was that while Paterno fulfilled his obligation legally and as an employee, he failed his obligation as a moral human being by not taking what he knew to the police. Who in their right mind upon hearing that type of information would not go to the police? Who would be satisfied with simply telling their superiors the news and then washing their hands of it? Who wouldn’t do all they possibly could do to make sure the incident was investigated and that a potential child molester was stopped? These questions were repeated over and over again by the folks at ESPN and there was no answer or defense to them in my mind. I thought their opinions were justified and in this case correct. Joe didn’t do everything he could have and because of that, he needed to go. Needless to say, we know they eventually got their pound of flesh if not more.
Now fast forward a few weeks later. With coverage of the scandal dying down, news of another major scandal hits the wires. Syracuse Assistant Basketball Coach, Bernie Fine, faced accusations of molesting two former ball boys. Instantly, you could see the media would not be covering this story in the same fashion, specifically ESPN. Phrases like “let’s not rush to judgment;” “let the facts come out;” and “this isn’t the same as PSU” were commonly trotted out by the talking heads. On the surface they were correct. The story did seem different. There was no detailed Grand Jury report to read. There was no evidence that Syracuse had attempted to cover up the story in the past. If anything it seemed as though everything that should have been done was done. The allegations seemingly were investigated by the Syracuse Police Department, the Syracuse Post Standard, as well as the University with all ending in the same conclusion. The allegations were deemed not credible enough to push forward with any type of legal action.
Enter the infamous “tape.”
Last Sunday, ESPN released a sordid and disturbing taped conversation between Bernie Fine’s wife, Laurie, and the first alleged victim, Bobby Davis. Everyone by now knows the content of the tape and that it confirms the accusations of Fine being a child molester. While the tape is disturbing, the fact that ESPN has had possession of this tape since 2003 and chose to do nothing with it is even more so. In a recent ESPN.com Q&A, ESPN Senior Vice President & Director of News, Vince Doria, defended ESPN’s inaction.
FR: What is the role of a journalist relative to an investigation like this and involvement with authorities?
Doria: From a professional standpoint our role as a journalist is to seek out information and vet that information and when we’re satisfied with the credibility of that information to report it to the public. It’s what journalists do. It’s not necessarily the journalist’s role to go to the police with potential evidence that at the time we didn’t believe was strong enough to report ourselves.
We also were aware at that time that Bobby Davis had gone to the Syracuse Police in 2002 and told them about these allegations and he had been told by them that the statute of limitations had expired. So we were fully under the impression that the police had been made aware of the story and had decided not to pursue it.
All journalists could be asking themselves this very same question: What role should journalists play in providing information that may or may not have been reported? It’s complex and something we must continue to evaluate.
After reading this, I became quite confused given the stance ESPN had taken on Paterno and how he handled the Sandusky information. Doria attempts to dismiss the notion that they should have taken the tape to police because, in his words, “It’s not necessarily the journalist’s role to go to the police with potential evidence that at the time we didn’t believe was strong enough to report ourselves.”
Bernie Fine’s wife admitting on tape that she knew about him molesting Davis wasn’t very strong evidence?
That seems strange because according to ESPN’s moral high ground, Coach Paterno should have immediately gone to police upon hearing Mike McQueary’s account of the infamous shower incident.
I have to wonder if the report had been about Vince Doria’s child being molested, would his answer be the same. Or in Doria’s mind, does protecting a child molester only apply to other people’s children?
Doria continues by saying, “We also were aware at that time that Bobby Davis had gone to the Syracuse Police in 2002 and told them about these allegations and he had been told by them that the statute of limitations had expired. So we were fully under the impression that the police had been made aware of the story and had decided not to pursue it.”
This statement again puzzles me. Paterno was hammered for not going to the police and for not following up with his superiors to make sure proper action was taking place. Did ESPN ever think to consider maybe Paterno thought the same? Perhaps, as we are starting to hear now, he was led to believe the incident was being investigated properly by his superiors. Perhaps, as we are starting to hear now, he was led to believe the police were involved. Or perhaps, as we are starting to hear now, he attempted to take action against Sandusky and was shot down by those above him. We don’t know the answers to those questions because to this point Paterno has not spoken and probably won’t for sometime due to many reasons; health being the chief one.
One can only conclude that on the surface ESPN is just a guilty as they want to make Joe Paterno out to be. They had a tape with Bernie Fine’s wife confirming that Bernie Fine was molesting children in their home and chose to do nothing with it for eight years. ESPN let a child molester roam the streets of Syracuse freely. So I ask you ESPN talking heads; where is your moral compass now? You were screaming from the mountain tops just a few weeks ago, but now are strangely silent and apparently hiding under your collective news desks. Where are the calls for justice to be done? Using their own hypocritical standards applied to the Penn State case, should ESPN be shut down forever? Should ESPN be taken off the air for the rest of the year? Should ESPN Management be fired immediately? Should Mark Schwarz and others be led off in handcuffs? For some reason I can’t find the wall to wall coverage of your own scandal and your own immoral inactions. Of course, when you consider ESPN’s checkered moral past (see multiple sexual harassment incidents), I guess one shouldn’t be all that shocked by their silence.
ESPN loves to set the bar by which all others should conduct themselves, just don’t expect ESPN to live up to the same standards. Look in the mirror ESPN, chances are you will see a hypocrite staring back at you