WEAE Only Exception To ESPN Ban On Roethlisberger Story
July 23, 2009 at 4:48 AM (PT)
ESPN RADIO Sports WEAE-A (1250 ESPN)/PITTSBURGH was the only ESPN entity to be allowed to report on the sexual assault allegations against PITTSBURGH STEELERS quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER in a network move that drew criticism from news ethics observers.
The NEW YORK TIMES' RICHARD SANDOMIR reports that ESPN allowed the PITTSBURGH radio station to include the story in its SPORTSCENTER updates, but prohibited its talk hosts from discussing the case. Other ESPN RADIO national and local hosts were included in the ban, which ran from the time the news broke on MONDAY until late WEDNESDAY, when the network reported that the DOUGLAS COUNTY, NV Sheriff would not be filing criminal charges (the alleged victim is filing civil suit against ROETHLISBERGER).
The network issued its edict based on a policy that it does not report on accusations in a civil suit that could be proven false, and did the same thing when a civil suit alleged that then-ATLANTA FALCONS quarterback MICHAEL VICK had given a woman herpes in 2005, but the network did report civil allegations of sexual assault against LOS ANGELES LAKERS reserve guard SHANNON BROWN last month. SVP/Dir. of News VINCE DORIA told the TIMES that the exception was made in BROWN's case because the allegations came during the NBA playoffs and could have affected the team.
"Damage to (ROETHLISBERGER's) reputation is not our only criteria, but it’s the driving force in making this decision," DORIA told the TIMES, adding that said the network was historically very cautious when "people have filed civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct, which is among the most serious and damaging charges you can make." Network Pres. NORBY WILLIAMSON said, "We exercised caution, but we used that time to do some reporting and do some checking and ask questions. We made a decision that this was the right time based on the evolution of the case."
POYNTER INSTITUTE Ethics Group Leader KELLY MCBRIDE told the TIMES, "ROETHLISBERGER is clearly an interesting person to their audience, and I would think that just about anything involving him would be newsworthy to their audience. That doesn’t absolutely justify reporting on a civil lawsuit, but it merits spending the resources to check out the lawsuit to see if there is any merit to it."
Former ESPN anchor DAN PATRICK, now hosting a daily radio show for THE CONTENT FACTORY, told the paper, "If (ROETHLISBERGER) is found not guilty, do they cover it? I don’t know. Maybe their approach is correct. But if you’re the World Wide Leader, you have to explain why you’re covering something or why you’re not."