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Parallel between the Freeh report and the ESPN/Bernie Fine Cover-Up

Since the Freeh report was released and a new round of attention was brought to the actions of the Penn State administrators involved in the cover-up, I think it's worth revisiting the response to the Bernie Fine accusations. After all the information that Freeh brought out, these two stories become pretty parallel.

Here's an overview of the stories from the journalists. ESPN and The Post-Standard were in possession of accusations against Bernie Fine in 2002. They investigated those accusations internally in a journalistic manner and found that there was no way for them to corroborate those facts. They also had heard that the statute of limitations had expired, relative to actual charges. So they just sat on this information.

Drawing language from the Freeh report, couldn't we say that this shows "total disregard for the safety and welfare of [Fine]’s child victims"? How about that they "concealed critical facts relating to [Fine]’s child abuse from the authorities, ..., the [Syracuse] community, and the public at large"? Similarly can we conclude that they "created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys..."? I really like the way the link above puts it. They " faced the question, “Is there enough proof here to ruin a person's life?” The answer was no, and the investigation was closed." You might even call it "humane," right?

There are indeed several key differences between these cases. There were actual police investigations involved in the Sandusky case. In the Sandusky case, there was a repeat incidence (while with Syracuse they merely had two accusers years after the fact). The accusers in the Syracuse case were already adults, though the potential for more abuse certainly existed. Moral standards aside, it's also true that the media don't meet the same legal standard of "mandatory reporters" the way the university officials do. But there's enough similarity in response here that I think it's worth considering.

I'm not in any way suggesting that two wrongs make a right, or that there's any excuse for the behavior by the Penn State officials involved in the Sandusky scandal. All I'm suggesting is that we actually have two cases where people presented with accusations of child abuse reacted in a similar way. We've given one group a pass and put the other group up for crucifixion. In response to their involvement in the scandal Penn State started a very public investigation into the internal response, which has now been further fodder for media scrutiny. The media entities responded to their involvement by moving on to other stories.

If we really care about stopping child abuse (which is the point here right?), then we need to understand why the people involved in both of these instances were so reluctant to make the accusations public and why they were more concerned about the reputations of those accused, than the safety of the victims. After all, if we're going to learn from the Freeh report, then we ought to be a lot more suspicious and prepared to react if the same thing happens twice.

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