In light of an audio tape, should the Post-Standard have gone to the police or published its story about allegations of sexual abuse against former Orange coach Bernie Fine back in 2003?
They are questions CNY Central's Jim Kenyon asked of Post-Standard Senior Managing Editor Stan Linhorst on Tuesday. Linhorst's reply, "none of us are giving any media interviews." Linhorst advised people to monitor Syracuse.com throughout the day for updates to the Bernie Fine story and how "we interact with our readers." Approxiamtely six hours after Jim spoke to Linhorst the Post Standard published a piece entitled, "Why the Post-Standard Didn't Give Bobby Davis' Tape to Police in 2003."
Here are some excerpts from the article:
"To us, handing over to police materials we didn't feel confident enough to publish was unimaginable. Look at it another way. When police or the district attorney gather evidence and decide they don't have enough to charge someone with a crime, do they deliver their evidence to us and say, "Here you go, we don't have enough to prosecute but you might get a heckuva story out of this." Of course not. We have separate and independent purposes, and are often locked in an unsteady dance around information that one has and the other wants...."
"It is hard to find a precedent in modern journalism for this role of newspaper as police tipster. There is a reason for that. We serve the public best by keeping an eye on local law enforcement, not by working up their cases. If a police investigation follows our work, it ought to be because of what we published, not what we didn't."
"Is it possible we made a wrong call? Is it possible we could have done more? Of course. We agonized over these decisions in 2003 as we do today. We hope to learn from the experience..."
"When people ask about our "moral responsibility," however, we believe we were faithful to it. We listened to Bobby Davis, we checked out his story every way we could, we knew he had gone to police, we weighed the arguments for and against publishing, and we made a decision. The reason this tape exists is because we took our role so seriously. 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."
Fault our decisions, quarrel with our methods. We welcome the debate and the advice. But don't mistake us for an arm of law enforcement. Police have their job to do. We'll keep trying to do ours."
On November 20th, before ESPN played portions of the taped phone conversation between Bernie Fine's wife, Laurie and his chief accuser former ball boy Bobby Davis, the Post-Standard published a story "Why we didn't publish the Bernie Fine story in 2003."
The article explains the extensive process through which the paper investigated Davis' claims, but decided it did not have enough evidence to publish a story. The article however makes no mention of the taped phone conversation even though reporters and editors were apparently aware of it.
Kenyon also contacted former Post-Standard reporter, Matt Michael, who investigated Davis' allegations against Bernie Fine. "I was disappointed that it didn't run" Michael told Kenyon. He added, "We had all sorts of lawyers involved and editors." Michael said that the tape surfaced after Davis had begun talking with the Post-Standard.
On Monday, Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler told CNY Central's Michael Benny that had the police been aware of the tape in 2002, they would have launched an investigation.
What do you think? Should the Post-Standard have run the story back in 2003? Did the audio tape provide enough evidence to publish? It's the topic of conversation on both our CNY Central website and Facebook page.
Tom Cassidy posted, "Of course they should have. It was either evidence of the crime of sex with a child or evidence of a crime of extortion. Whenever you see evidence of a crime you should let the authorities know. What they do about it from there, you have no control."
Brenda Bristol Dann said on our wall, "I should think it was a legal obligation... they were witness to a crime against a child and did nothing. There should be legal ramifications."
Mark Hoxie posted, "As much as I disagree with the PS holding onto this and as much as I think they were acting in their own best interest, if journalists become criminally liable for investigations they do, that opens a HUGE can of worms..."
Evette Scott Pope also voiced concern saying, "My understanding is that ESPN also had the tape and did not come forward. I could be wrong. If either media had what could be direct evidence in a crime.. even if it was past the statue of limitations... I feel they have an obligation to come forward. How can I trust any information they give as "news" to be true and accurate now that I know they only reveal what serves them."
Larry Hensinger shared his outrage saying, "Where is the moral outrage against the Post Standard and ESPN? They had potential evidence to expose a potential child molestor and did not notify the police. This is the very thing that cost Joe Paterno and the President of Penn State their jobs. I believe the powers that be with the information of the tape at both the Post Standard and ESPN should also be fired."
Do you agree or disagree with these thoughts? Share your comments below or join our conversation on Facebook.