In 2003 ESPN received an audio tape from Bobby Davis, who alleged that it included the recorded voice of Bernie Fine’s wife.
(Laurie Fine verified voice on tape in’03. Where was World Wide Leader?)
In the tape, Laurie Fine acknowledged her husband’s sexual abuse of a child - Davis himself - on multiple occasions while also confirming that she thought there were more molestation victims who had been targeted by Bernie Fine.
On Nov. 17, 2011, ESPN first broke the news of the allegations against Fine by Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang, though ESPN did not acknowledge the existence of the audio tape until last Sunday. ESPN’s acknowledgement of the tape - and its contents - quickly led to Bernie Fine’s firing by Syracuse University. The revelations of the tape also produced a backtracking statement from Jim Boeheim, who had earlier cited his 48-year friendship with Fine in calling Davis and Lang “liars” who were “trying to get money.”
As part of a Q & A done with ESPN VP of Public Relations Josh Krulewitz about the network’s coverage of the story, ESPN Senior Vice President & Director of News Vince Doria justified not reporting the allegations made against Bernie Fine in 2003 - which included the audio tape in which Laurie Fine acknowledged her husband’s sexual abuse of a child - thusly:
“based on that tape which we had not generated; which we had no real knowledge of how it was made and Bobby Davis’s story – which was one person with no corroboration – we felt in 2003 that the material we had did not meet the standards for reporting the story.”
But Laurie did, in fact, “corroborate” the allegations made by Davis at that time - to the SYRACUSE POST-STANDARD: in 2003 confirm that it was indeed her voice on the tape to the SYRACUSE POST-STANDARD:
After we heard the tape, we approached Laurie Fine. She admitted to phone conversations with Davis.
The bedrock defense from ESPN’s Doria in not reporting the existence of the tape when ESPN broke the story on Nov. 17, 2011, was that he and his colleagues had previously been unable to confirm Laurie Fine’s voice on the tape.
When we had the audio in the past we had never been able to confirm that it was Laurie Fine. Part of it was we had no independent video of her and her voice – something we could look at and say, “Yes, that’s her and yes, that appears to be her voice.”
So why did it take eight years for ESPN to do what a local Syracuse outlet did immediately after receiving the tape?
Because ESPN never contacted Laurie Fine directly. Not in eight years. Not even after it finally broke the story two weeks ago!
The only attempt Doria reported this week that ESPN ever made to contact any member of the Fine family came after it broke the story in 2011 - and even then ESPN didn’t reach out to the Fines directly.
At the same time we felt we really wanted to go to the Fines [in 2011 after ESPN broke the story]and present this evidence to them and give them the opportunity to respond in order to be as fair as possible. We tried on several occasions to contact Fine’s lawyer and the communications representative for the law firm got back to us and listened to our request where we told him we had some new information that we wanted to present to the Fines to get their side of the story and he promised to get back to us but never did.
If Vince Doria’s newsgathering organization did, at the very least, attempt to contact Laurie Fine or her husband directly it would now most certainly report that fact. It - and Doria - hasn’t.
While the Post-Standard also errored by not reporting the story in 2003 - or providing the tape to police at the time - at the very least it reached out to Laurie Fine directly who, “ … admitted to phone conversations with Davis, confirmed portions of the recording were accurate, suggested the tape had been doctored ...”
Not only did ESPN place children in peril after it did not report an audio tape of Laurie Fine acknowledging her husband’s molestation of a child - and more victims - to the police in 2003, ESPN showed gross journalistic negiligence by not trying to directly contact the Fines before deciding to bury the story at that time.
Add in ESPN’s wildly disingenuous “lack of corroboration” and “voice verification” defense for not publishing the story in 2003, and leaving out the tapes from its initial story 2011, and we are surely witnessing the darkest moment in sports journalism history.