SBD/November 9, 2011/Media

Is Big Ten Network Tiptoeing Around Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal?

BTN planned to air Paterno’s news conference live, but it was canceled
The Big Ten Network “seems to be tiptoeing around” the Penn State sex abuse allegations and has “limited its coverage to brief news summaries" and coach Joe Paterno’s written statements, according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. In contrast, ESPN has “aggressively covered the story as it relates to Joe Paterno, and national network morning shows have weighed in on what has become a national and international story.” McCarthy notes on the BTN there has been “no coverage of the boys allegedly victimized, no debates about what should happen next, no analysis of the impact on PSU and the community.” BTN VP/Communications & University Relations Elizabeth Conlisk said that the net “planned to air Paterno’s weekly news conference live Tuesday and have lead anchor Dave Revsine lead its coverage.” But Penn State “axed the event.” She said that BTN “planned more extended coverage Tuesday night and today.” Conlisk: “We do not have a 24-7 news operation. To compare us to full-time news organizations is a little bit inaccurate. We do, however, recognize that, to be credible, we cover issues like what is happening at Penn State, and we do report them. But we’re measured." Big Ten Conference Assistant Commissioner Scott Chipman said that the league “doesn’t tell its network what to cover” (USA TODAY, 11/9).

PR BLUNDER: Mike Paul, crisis consultant at N.Y.-based MGP & Associates PR, said that PSU officials “blundered Tuesday when they canceled a regularly scheduled news conference” for Paterno. Paul said, “When you say nothing, when you cancel a press conference or say he won’t speak about it, there’s a perception there’s something to hide” (USA TODAY, 11/9). PSU professor Steve Manuel said that the canceled press conference “was the latest public relations gaffe committed by the university that has helped to fan the flames of the media firestorm” (CENTRE DAILY TIMES, 11/9). In Pennsylvania, Alexander Angert noted “more than 100 reporters, photographers and camera people waited outside of Beaver Stadium awaiting Paterno’s arrival.” Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde said of PSU, “They are going to get ripped for shutting down and hiding. They may decide this is their best move because maybe they felt it was going to go badly to begin with. Penn State is in such a bad position that there is very little they can do to make this look any better.” Forde added, “This is another indication of Penn State not standing up and not explaining and not giving people answers they deserve.” SI’s Joe Posnanski said, “It doesn’t surprise me, but it’s a huge mistake to let it go this far and then do ... this at the last minute; it only increases the intensity of things.” The Centre Daily Times’ Jeff Rice said, “This is not the way to handle things and they’ve made their bed and now they are going to have to sleep in it” (, 11/8). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said PSU canceled Paterno's news conference because they did not want it "degenerated into some kind of over-the-top farce in which Joe would have run the risk of coming off as a bewildered old fool who could not handle the masses. ... They could not have that be the everlasting image of Joe Paterno" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 11/8).

MEDIA MONITOR: The fallout from the scandal continued to make national headlines, as last night's broadcast news programs and today's morning shows aired reports. This morning’s edition of ABC’s “GMA” led with Penn State. The nearly six-minute report featured reporter Dan Harris live from State College and ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap speaking with co-host Robin Roberts in-studio. NBC’s “Today” led with a three-minute report from the net's Ron Allen. CBS’ “The Early Show” led with a report on the sexual harassment allegations against presidential hopeful Herman Cain, followed by Penn State in the first 10 minutes of the broadcast. The seven-minute report featured CBS’ Armen Keteyian speaking live in-studio with the show’s co-hosts, followed by a live interview via satellite with former Penn State WR O.J. McDuffie. All three nightly news programs led with reports on Herman Cain; ABC and NBC followed with reports on Penn State that focused on Paterno’s future and his role in the scandal. Penn State was the third story on CBS’ “Evening News,” which featured a 30-second report and no live coverage. NBC’s “Nightly News” ran a four-minute report, with Allen reporting live from State College. ABC’s “World News” aired a three-minute report featuring Dan Harris live from State College (THE DAILY).
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