The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University hosted a day long symposium titled, "When Games Turn Grim: Can Media Cover Sports Scandals Responsibly?"
Shortly after the panel on journalism and sports scandals began, the questioning shifted to how the allegations against former SU Assistant Coach Bernie Fine were covered by the media. ESPN Vice President of News Vince Doria was challenged on whether ESPN would have gone forward with Bobby Davis and Mike Lang's allegations if the Penn State scandal had not happened.
"I like to think the sourcing of it and the facts we had at the time would have compelled us to report it but can I tell you that Penn State wasn't in my head? I can't tell you that," said Doria.
Post Standard Editor Michael Connor said that while the paper's staff had investigated Davis' claims in 2003, they were not comfortable publishing them. The Post Standard also had a copy of the recorded phone call between Bobby Davis and Laurie Fine - but didn't write about it until ESPN made it public.
"Laurie gives no confirmation that she saw anything, there's no time frame given, so we don't know when this incident occurred. There's no description of what the incident was," said Connor.
Doria said that ESPN did not consider the tape as proof of anything criminal - but felt it was newsworthy since Laurie Fine never denied the allegations.
"The fact she had this long phone conversation and nowhere did she say - Bobby, what are you talking about? None of that ever happened, Bernie's not like that. So it was a piece of background evidence to the story we thought was instructive," said Doria.
Both ESPN and the Post Standard defended their decisions to not provide the tape to police. Post Standard reporter Mike McAndrew said the newspaper did it's job by thoroughly investigating the claims - something McAndrew said authorities failed to do back in 2003.
"We did far more than the people who had a legal obligation did when we were contacted with these allegations," said McAndrew
Vince Doria admitted that reporter Mark Schwarz made a serious mistake when he put Zach Tomaselli in touch with Bobby Davis. Both men had claimed they were abused by Bernie Fine but Doria said a reporter never should have put two independent sources in contact with each other.
"Sometimes reporters in efforts to advance a story make some decisions they shouldn't have made and that was the case here," said Doria.