Why Wouldn't ESPN and The Post-Standard Publish Bernie Fine Allegations in 2003?

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Why Wouldn't ESPN and The Post-Standard Publish Bernie Fine Allegations in 2003?
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The journalist’s creed states that, “suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.” With the recent scandals associated with Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel, suppressing news hasn’t been the journalists’ problem.

The Bernie Fine accusations have turned the tables on news media, leaving the reader to wonder whether a cover-up has been perpetrated by the group who purportedly uncovers scandals. 

The Post-Standard has reported that Bobby Davis initially contacted their newspaper in September 2002 with allegations that Bernie Fine abused Davis repeatedly from the ages of 12 or 13 to 15. The Post-Standard assembled a sports reporter, an investigative reporter, and an editor to investigate Mr. Davis’ allegations. 

The Post-Standard is vague on when they concluded their six-month investigation, but assuming it started shortly after Davis secretly recorded the phone call with Fine’s wife, Laurie, the decision to not publish Davis’ allegations would have occurred between March and April.

Michael Connor of The Post-Standard said the newspaper faced the question, “Is there enough proof here to ruin a person's life?” The answer was no, and the investigation was closed.

One hypothesis as to why The Post-Standard has been vague on the investigation closure date is that the Fine investigation coincided with the Syracuse basketball team’s run to the NCAA Finals. Carmelo Anthony and the Orangemen went on to win the National Championship, an accomplishment that comes with financial rewards for the university and the Big East. 

NCAA college basketball payouts are based on a six-year period of success, and the Big East’s overall performance was inflated by Syracuse’s 2003 national basketball championship. 

So, their performance between 2001 and 2006 led to the Big East receiving over $14.85 million in 2007, while the eight conferences that did not win a first-round game in those six years received slightly more than $1 million each.

Craig Jones/Getty Images

Another major financial boon occurred in 2003 for Syracuse University. Syracuse’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications received a $15 million gift from the S.I. Newhouse Foundation and the Newhouse family to fund the construction of the third building in the Newhouse Communications Complex. 

S.I. Newhouse, Jr. is the owner of the multibillion dollar conglomerate, Advance Publications, which owns The Post-Standard. Would news broken by the Post-Standard put a damper on the $15 million gift given by the S.I. Newhouse Foundation to Syracuse University?

According to The Post-Standard’s timeline, ESPN was not aware of the Bernie Fine accusations prior to April 6, 2003, when they interviewed Jim Boeheim for an episode of “Outside The Lines.”

It wasn’t until June 2003 that Bobby Davis contacted ESPN with the recorded conversation with Laurie Fine. 

In a statement made by ESPN Senior Vice President & Director Vince Doria, ESPN could not confirm that the voice in the audio Bobby Davis provided was that of Laurie Fine. Doria stated that ESPN knew the police had told Davis that the statute of limitations was expired, so ESPN did not pursue additional action with the Syracuse police.

The relationship between Syracuse and ESPN runs much deeper than the millions of dollars paid to the Big East for broadcasting college basketball games. Many of ESPN’s sportscasters and journalists are graduates of Syracuse’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Syracuse alumni employed by ESPN include Mike Tirico, Jayson Stark, Anish Shroff, Dave Ryan, Dave Pasch, Sean McDonough, Matthew Berry, Steve Bunin and David Amber.

ESPN’s parent company, Walt Disney, has done business with Advance Publications (Newhouse’s conglomerate) prior to 2003, buying Fairchild Publications from Disney for $650 million in 1999.

Michael Eisner, the former president of Walt Disney, held a gathering of media executives on November 14, 2002 at a breakfast discussion in Manhattan. Newhouse School of Public Communication sponsored the event. 

Most interestingly, ESPN, Advance Publications, and The Post-Standard all have employees who sit on the Advisory Board for the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Would these events and relationships make it difficult to report the news?

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