Media hypocrisy at its finest? ESPN roasting Paterno for not reporting abuse, meanwhile they had tapes confirming Bernie Fine abusing kids and didn’t report it
Let’s be honest, I don’t watch sports news often, it’s not exactly relevant to my website. I haven’t heard a PEEP about the newest “coach fired for molesting little kids” story until today because it’s not getting the same mainstream airtime as the Sandusky case so it’s taken a week or so for me to hear about it. But man oh man, I’m really, really mad. And I hope you guys are mad as well after reading about ESPN’s blatant hypocrisy. First off, some back story for those of you unfamiliar with what’s going on…
Syracuse associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine was fired from the coaching staff, and it turns out there are some child abuse allegations that are behind everything. The victim, Bobby Davis, now 39 years old, has been trying to get ANYONE to believe his story for over 10 years. And my guess is the only reason people are listening (and reporting it) now is because of the Jerry Sandusky media coverage.
Davis has claimed since 2002 that Bernie Fine molested him as a child for over a decade. There are also 2 new victims coming forward with abuse claims, but that’s a whole other story. Back to Davis, the police couldn’t do anything without proof, so he called the coach’s wife, Laurie Fine, and legally recorded their phone conversation in which she admitted she knew about the abuse, witnessed some of it, that she was sorry it happened, and that she thinks it happened to other children. You can listen to the audio here. Even with the audio, the cops said they were past the statute of limitations (5 years) and no charges could be brought. Davis then contacted ESPN and sent them the audio, hoping they’d pick up the story. They didn’t.
I read through the article to see if they gave an explanation of why it wasn’t reported, and I noticed this little blurb in the article:
Davis first gave the tape to ESPN in 2003. At the time, ESPN did not report Davis’ accusations, or report the contents of the tape, because no one else would corroborate his story.
After a second man said this month that he was also molested by Fine (that man is Mike Lang, Davis’ step brother), ESPN hired a voice-recognition expert who said the voice on the tape matches the voice of Laurie Fine. The call was made and received in states that don’t require both parties to consent to a call being recorded.
So let’s talk about that for a minute, because it makes me really, really angry. The line “ESPN did not report Davis’ accusations, or report the contents of the tape, because no one else would corroborate his story” is troubling. There is NO new information today than there was in 2003, so why is ESPN OK reporting on this story now? Oh, right, now they have the voice recognition expert saying Laurie Fine was 100% the person on that audio. But the problem is THEY’VE HAD THAT AUDIO SINCE 2003 AND COULD’VE HIRED AN EXPERT TO EXAMINE IT THEN. So this really isn’t new information. It’s information they should’ve had in 2003. And should’ve reported as a news story back then.
To those of you that think ESPN shouldn’t have reported this as news because it’ “libel,” that’s simply not the case. I can see how it would be libel if it was simply a victim coming forward with claims, with no proof, and the police weren’t filing charges. But there are cold hard facts. Fact #1, a victim went to ESPN on record saying it happened, Fact #2, the abuser’s wife confirming she witnessed the abuse happening. Fact #3, knowing the cops couldn’t press charges because the statute of limitations expired.
That, right there, is a story. A legitimate story. So why wasn’t it reported? Who dropped the ball here? Using the “we couldn’t confirm it” excuse is BS. #1, ESPN runs stories all the time based on hearsay. #2, there were 2 sources in this case, which should be enough for a story. #3, the media reports all the time about facts surrounding a case, but doesn’t offer judgment on whether or not the crime took place. ESPN can report that the victim came forward, that there’s audio of Laurie Fine, etc, without actually saying the crime took place. If there are facts like this surrounding a case, it’s not libel. If anyone would be getting sued for libel, it would be the victim and Bernie’s wife for claiming he committed a crime if he didn’t actually commit the crime. ESPN is allowed to report people are making those claims, and has audio confirmation of both sources. That’s not libel. That’s journalism.
Does this seem really fishy to anyone but me? I don’t know why ESPN would want to cover up a story like this, but it seems like a complete failure in not only journalistic integrity, but a failure in being a decent human being. Whoever heard those audio tapes at ESPN and decided the public didn’t deserve to hear it should be fired. That guy has been coaching 8 years since ESPN got those tapes. 8. YEARS.
Sure you can argue that ESPN reporting this in 2003 wouldn’t have changed anything. The abuse already happened. But after seeing the aftermath of the Sandusky fiasco, we know that’s not true. A LOT can happen from media coverage. Victims come forward. People lose jobs when they’ve handled situations wrong. Police work harder to bring charges. Sure, it’s unconventional, but the media can use used to bring justice when it’s not available otherwise. And I think that’s what the victim was looking for by sending the audio to ESPN. If this supposed monster wasn’t going to jail, he at least wanted people to know. So he gave the media proof. And the media still didn’t share it.
But why? Just because there weren’t charges? Does that mean this guy still deserves a job working with young men? Does that mean parents don’t have a right to know? If ESPN and other media outlets would’ve circulated this story in 2003, this guy wouldn’t have have been coaching up until this year. I mean, think about that.
I just don’t understand how ESPN can report for days and days and days calling for the resignation of Joe Paterno for not reporting information information his assistant coach saw. But then they think it’s OK to not report information like this, when there’s SO MUCH proof. I mean, that phone call audio? Seriously? You’re just going to sit on that for 8 years? You don’t think that Syracuse University should hear that? Or that potential players should know about it? Or Syracuse fans? Or parents of children that are going to be around that guy?
Out of these two horrible failures of the system, who comes out looking more foolish? Paterno had information from another coach who saw something. Joe Paterno didn’t see anything. Joe Paterno didn’t talk to a victim. Joe Paterno didn’t have audio tapes. Yet Joe Paterno was fired and is being crucified in the media, INCLUDING ESPN. Meanwhile ESPN had audio and on-record quotes from a VICTIM confirming abuse took place and they swept it under the rug and didn’t fact check the validity of the audio until 8 years later. So if you ask me, ESPN looks way worse here. Yet everyone is acting like they acted appropriately, and I don’t get it. I really, really don’t.
I guess according to ESPN, it’s not worth reporting unless multiple children are molested. One kid? Ehhhhhh… the victim is probably lying. They need a second victim, then and only then will they hire a voice-recognition expert to determine whether or not the tapes are legit. Glad to know that’s how journalism and BEING A DECENT HUMAN BEING works.
It’s a shame this story will most likely go unnoticed because ESPN is such a monopoly in sports reporting. Of course they’re not going to harp on their own screw up. I’m really hoping some of the mainstream media outlets pick up on this and hold ESPN accountable to encourage that some action is taken, AKA people need to get fired and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
UPDATE: Here’s an article I found entitled “ESPN reporter explains why Fine tape wasn’t released in 2002” yet, ironically, the reporter explains nothing about why it wasn’t released in 2002. So… that was productive? It almost seems like he’s indicating ESPN didn’t report it because the alleged acts were past the statute of limitations to PRESS CHARGES. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t HAPPEN. Again, that’s NOT an excuse.
I just read here that the statute of limitations for this type of abuse is 5 years, so when Davis came forward in 2003 with the tapes to ESPN and the police, no charges could be brought, even with the confirmation audio with Bernie Fine’s wife. ESPN seems to be indicating this is why they didn’t report it, but that still makes no sense because IT STILL HAPPENED. Just because charges can’t be brought doesn’t mean you don’t have a story.
UPDATE 2: The totally unhelpful article I linked in the last update is the only article showing up in a Google News search questioning ESPN’s reporting. Everyone else is glazing over it and accepting ESPN’s explanation. Why isn’t anyone talking about this or upset about this?
UPDATE 3: A third victim named Zach Tomaselli has come forward after seeing all the media coverage. He claims he was abused by Coach Fine in 2002 in a hotel room. It’s possible charges MAY be able to be taken out against Bernie Fine since the statute of limitations changes to 10 years when “an adult arranged for a child to be transported across state lines for the purpose of sex” which is supposedly the case here.
UPDATE 4: Props to the farker that spotted this not-so-ideal photo over at Huffington Post. Don’t see it? Look again. Took me a second glance.
UPDATE 5: As of yesterday there were no articles similar to mine. After being picked up by Reddit and Fark, I did another Google search and found writers expressing similar concerns on TheBigLead, HollywoodReporter and Courier-Journal. If anyone else spots another article, let me know. I hope bigger news organizations start asking questions, and get answers from ESPN on why they didn’t break this story 8 years ago.