SBD/December 1, 2011/Media

Syracuse Post-Standard Explains Why It Did Not Give Davis Tape To Police In '03

Fine was fired Sunday after allegations of sexual molestation surfaced from three men
The Syracuse POST-STANDARD has offered an explanation for why it held onto a tape of a phone conversation between Bobby Davis, who is accusing former Syracuse men's assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation, and Fine's wife Laurie. Davis gave the tape to both the newspaper and ESPN in '02, and the POST-STANDARD's Michael Conner wrote following ESPN airing the tape last weekend and the paper subsequently posting clips online, "people began to ask questions." The questions were, “Wasn’t the tape recording the proof The Post-Standard editors said they lacked to publish a story?” and “Why didn’t the newspaper turn over the tape to police?” Connor noted after Davis approached the paper in the fall of '02, two reporters “talked to dozens of people and collected a lot of information,” but they still “needed more.” After discussions with Post-Standard reporter Mike McAndrew “and with our knowledge, Davis secretly recorded a phone conversation with Laurie Fine on Oct. 8, 2002. Our understanding is that it was legal, under the laws of Utah and New York, for someone in one of those states to record a phone conversation with someone in the other state without informing the second party.” Connor: "Some of the language seems to support Davis' depiction of his relationship with Fine. ‘Seems’ wasn't good enough to publish this story.” He added as to why the paper did not turn the tape over to police, "To us ... our role has always been clear: to investigate with a goal to publish. To us, handing over to police materials we didn't feel confident enough to publish was unimaginable. ... Imagine a news organization, failing to lock up a story, fueling police investigations by passing along leftovers from its reporting. Imagine how quickly we would lose the trust of sources we rely on and readers who turn to us if we turned from watch dog of government agencies to lap dog at their call.” Connor writes it is “hard to find a precedent in modern journalism for this role of newspaper as police tipster.” When people “ask about our ‘moral responsibility,’ however, we believe we were faithful to it.” Connor: "We exercised our moral responsibility by checking out Davis' story as thoroughly as we could. That's more than anyone else can say until the last two weeks" (Syracuse POST-STANDARD, 12/1).

HELD TO THE SAME STANDARDS: THEPOSTGAME.com's Jay Hart noted ESPN and the Post-Standard held onto the taped conversation for eight years and asked, "If the media are rightly aghast that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno kept quiet about Jerry Sandusky's alleged molestations, shouldn't news outlets be held to the same standard regarding Bernie Fine?" And even if "they did not have enough corroborating evidence to publish a story, shouldn't they have turned the tape over to law enforcement authorities?” ESPN said that it did not notify authorities of the allegations because Davis “had gone to the Syracuse police in 2002 and been told the statute of limitations had expired.” Now ESPN and the Post-Standard “find themselves in a situation eerily similar to the one that got Paterno fired and earned him a visceral beating from the media -- including ESPN.” There is certainly “a separation between journalistic responsibility and moral obligation.” In the case of Fine, neither ESPN nor the Post-Standard “felt they had enough information to publish a story that would effectively change a man's life forever.” Hart: “A distinction must be made between the standard for reporting a story and the moral obligation to report a potential sex crime against minors. Still, if we, the media, are going to hold the likes of Joe Paterno to a certain standard, then we'd better hold ourselves up to the same standard. We may be a part of the 'media,' but we're people first” (THEPOSTGAME.com, 11/30). CBSCHICAGO.com’s Dan Bernstein wrote under the header “ESPN Must Explain Itself, Soon.” With every day that goes by “since it became clear that ESPN preferred to protect [Syracuse basketball coach] Jim Boeheim, Syracuse hoops and their valuable programming property, the purported Worldwide Leader looks worse” (CBSCHICAGO.com, 11/30).
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