Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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What obligation does the press have to report crimes?

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Albany/HV: What obligation does the press have to report crimes?
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Two media outlets have said they knew of the allegations against Bernie Fine back in 2003: The Syracuse Post Standard and ESPN. Both also had that taped phone conversation between accuser Bobby Davis and Fine's wife, Laurie. Many people have wondered why the news organizations didn't report it to authorities. It's because they didn't have to. Our Iris St. Meran spoke with a journalism professor and attorney who explain why.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Former SU ball boy Bobby Davis first came to ESPN and the Syracuse Post Standard with his story back in 2003. Both organizations decided not to report it because they say there was no corroboration. Eight years later, after Davis' stepbrother, Michael Lang, came forward, also accusing Fine of abuse, ESPN broke the story.

Davis told ESPN, "I just remember being disgusted in a sense and that's when he started trying to touch me."

More than a week later, ESPN released a phone conversation between Davis and Fine's wife, Laurie, that Davis says he recorded in 2002.

Fine: What did he want you to do? You can be honest with me.
Davis: So, what do you think, What he always does.
Fine: What? He wants you to grab him?

Both the paper and the network had a copy of that tape since 2003. Many of you are asking why did they wait so long? And should they have gone to police? Legal experts say they're not obligated to.

"There's no independent duty or legal obligation on the part of the press to disclose to law enforcement authorities information acquired in the course of constitutionally protected news gathering," said Greenberg Traurig Law Firm Partner Michael Grygiel.

Grygiel says the press could be required to share information, but only in a highly unusual circumstance that could cause immediate harm or a threat to other people like a terrorist attack.

John Nicholson has worked in news for a number of years and now teaches journalism. He says while doing this job, moral and professional obligations can and will conflict,

"A newsperson's job is to report and gather the facts, not to necessarily help the police. But having said that, part of the reporting I think, would be to go to the police when you have the facts and say, 'Are you investigating this? What do you know about this?' That would bring it to the police's attention," said Nicholson.

Both the paper and the network addressed these questions. In an editorial, the Post Standard says there was not enough evidence for publication at the time. And when it came to the tapes, ESPN's Senior Vice President said the network needed to confirm it was Laurie Fine and then see if the Fines would respond.

To read ESPN's and the Post Standard's full explanation, visit:

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