SBD/July 20, 2012/Media

ESPN's Poynter Project Reviews Company's Coverage Of Sandusky Scandal

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Poynter praised ESPN for "thorough and substantial coverage" of the Freeh report
ESPN's "SportsCenter" provided “thorough and substantial coverage” of the Freeh Report findings concerning the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, compared to its "slow, scattershot and tone deaf" coverage when the scandal broke last November, according to Fry & McBride in the latest entry for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project. Jeremy Schaap “parsed the lengthy report quickly and ably, and he was similarly sharp whether he was discussing what would come next or interviewing legal experts and lawyers.” Don Van Natta Jr. “also did superb work” on ESPN.com. In the net's November coverage of the topic, Sandusky’s victims "too often were shoved aside by lesser concerns,” but ESPN “rarely forgot them in its reporting last week.” However, analyst Matt Millen, who played football at Penn State, “was miscast,” and his “difficulty coming to grips with the implications of the Freeh report for [Joe] Paterno’s legacy and Penn State’s culture was painful to watch.” Media critics and viewers have “pilloried Millen, but we think ESPN’s producers should bear a substantial part of the blame for what went wrong.” Millen is “too close to the subject to offer clear-eyed analysis.” Given “how close Millen is to Penn State, for him to be useful, someone at ESPN needed to do more to help him prepare -- he needed time to read the report and needed help assessing what he knows about the good and bad of building a culture around a successful college football program.” In a statement last Saturday, ESPN said, “Matt played at Penn State and was also interviewed for the Freeh Report and as a result we thought he had a unique perspective. … In hindsight, having Matt in a featured role put him in a tough spot.” Fry & McBride hope to see “more such unflinching takes on the culture of college athletics,” but also hope ESPN will “continue to talk about and speak for the children who are at the heartbreaking center of this story” (ESPN.com, 7/18).
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