SBD/November 14, 2011/Media

ESPN Lauded For Its Handling Of First Penn State Game Since Scandal Broke

ESPN widely praised for coverage of Nebraska-Penn State game Saturday
ESPN delivered "effective, nuanced coverage" of Penn State Univ.'s first football game since the child sexual abuse scandal surrounding the school emerged last week, according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. There were concerns ESPN "would make two big mistakes" -- act as an "apologist for [former PSU football coach Joe] Paterno and worry more about the scandal's impact" on Paterno and "make Saturday's event about ESPN." The net "didn't make either mistake," and Saturday's coverage "was all the stronger for it." ESPN's on-air talent "wisely kept the focus where it should have been Saturday: the players and coaches from the Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers; the victims and their families; and the tough future for the folks in Happy Valley who face years of lawsuits, scandal coverage and rebuilding." The "College GameDay" crew did not "go in the tank for JoePa either" (USATODAY.com, 11/12). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Sofia Fernandez wrote the situation was "handled with taste by ESPN" during the Nebraska-Penn State game. The net "addressed the issue in its interviews with new head coach Tom Bradley and quarterback coach Jay Paterno ... but did not go overboard in its approach." Meanwhile, halftime shows on other networks such as CBS and ABC that were "televising college gridiron games Saturday mentioned the scandal when reporting game scores but were mostly restrained like ESPN" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 11/12). The game earned a 3.8 overnight Nielsen rating on ESPN, marking the net’s highest-rated college football game in the 12:00pm ET window on record, dating back to ’01 (THE DAILY).

GOOD CALL: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes after a week in which it "did not offer the best Penn State scandal coverage, ESPN rebounded with excellent work Saturday." "College GameDay" addressed the PSU "situation in a respectful way, but with journalistic integrity." The show "wisely ended 15 minutes early so ESPN could go to pregame coverage of the Penn State-Nebraska game, which included Penn State players taking the field and a prayer at midfield involving both teams." The game broadcast was a "delicate balance of covering an actual football game and what it all meant in the grand scheme of things, and ESPN handled it deftly" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 11/14). However, FOXSPORTS.com's Brian Lowry wrote ESPN's crew of play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch, analyst Chris Spielman and sideline reporters Tom Rinaldi and Lisa Salters "appeared in over their heads." Pasch kept "calling the day 'emotional,' but that hardly sounds commensurate with the scandal's magnitude." Nor did "anyone ever broach an obvious question -- whether Paterno’s assistants who remain on the staff might have been aware about the charges against Jerry Sandusky that have rocked the program." The "GameDay" crew also "seemed uncomfortable, trying to go back and forth between X's and O's and what Penn State players had been through over the past week." Lowry: "They face a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't challenge" (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/12).

GETTING TOO CLOSE? USA TODAY's McCarthy notes ESPN had a camera crew and reporter Mark Schwarz "stationed outside Paterno's house from morning to night Saturday." McCarthy asks, "Did ESPN and other news media cross the line staking out Paterno's home?" ESPN VP/PR Josh Krulewitz said, "The footage and reports from that location and others have helped provide perspective for viewers." Still, several reporters "mentioned over the weekend that they were witnessing an angry backlash from locals in State College, Pa., who are tired of the media that have descended on their town" (USA TODAY, 11/14).

BAD TIMING AWARD: In L.A., Mike Hiserman noted when "GameDay" returned from a commercial break showing PSU players who "were chanting and moving rhythmically in a large circle, firing themselves up before the game," viewers could hear Lee Corso off camera saying, "Where's that little kid?" Krulewitz said that a "charity auction was held and the winner got to hand the hat to Corso" of the team he was going to pick for the upcoming segment. The winner was a child, so the comment was "merely a shocking coincidence" (LATIMES.com, 11/12).
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