Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ESPN reaps what it sows. None of us are better for it.

The criticism of ESPN in the Bernie Fine case is misdirected, though the network deserves to be criticized for an entirely different reason. I suppose eventually bad business practices will come around to bite you eventually.  
First, the Mothership was correct not to report in 2003. With two accusing sources and a phone conversation between a deranged wife and an accuser is not enough sourcing to ruin a man's life when it's just as possible a vendetta against him. 
As a news gathering service, part of ESPN's duty is to look for foul behavior, make sure that it's foul, either through strict cross-examination of witnesses if not by substantial police interrogation. Like any other cover-up or corruption, a news source is not supposed to report until they have enough credible evidence that it holds up. 
The moral obligation of a news network in this situation is to get the facts straight, then report to the world. To do anything else would lead to TMZ style journalism.
In Penn State's case, educators had a moral obligation to make sure one of their own wasn't abusing kids in their own locker room, particularly after another educator on staff witnessed it firsthand.  That the media reported a failure to do so was in no way irresponsible.

Both Penn State and ESPN failed to live up to these moral guidelines and both should be punished appropriately. However, 
ESPN was wrong to publish the story at all. Penn State failed to act that it could even become a story in the first place. This is not the apples to apples comparison Penn State fans want it to be. 
I am not taking a stance on Bernie Fine's innocence, but it's not clear cut. His wife's recorded phone conversation certainly draws a lot of questions, less about Fine's behavior and more about her own.
Obviously this creates enough of a distraction at the school that he can't do his job properly. It also endangers the players and coaches he works with.
Without a proper investigation, Fine should have been placed on a leave of absence until the dust settles. Perhaps the same is true of Joe Paterno, but with Fine, there is not a three-year researched, 23-page document that shows credible evidence suggesting a cover-up. Paterno may have gotten his leave of absence if he hadn't tried to call his own shots; something the board of directors finally got sick of.

ESPN's going to face the consequences from both ends because of its unfair treatment at Penn State. With the NBA in a lockout and college basketball not yet started, the Network needed to fill their news cycle and Penn State provided an easy mid-week target.
Now other networks are going to use ESPN's failure to report in 2003 as an easy story, even though all of them would have done the same for ethical and moral reasons.
With ESPN's ridiculous defense of its actions a few weeks ago, it will now have to face the same unfair scrutiny or be labeled hypocritical.
Maybe ESPN will finally learn the value of civil rights, even as it applies to business. As Brother Ali asked,
"The moment you refuse the human rights of just a few/ What happens when that few includes you?"

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