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Truth is elusive in Bernie Fine scandal

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Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock writes about the sports world from every angle, including those other writers can't imagine or muster courage to address. His columns are humorous, thought-provoking, agenda-free, honest and unpredictable. E-mail him, follow his Twitter or become a fan of Jason Whitlock on Facebook.

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For those of you who can discern the truth within this Syracuse-Bernie Fine-child-molestation scandal, I tip my hat. You have a level of X-ray vision/intellect that escaped my limited physical/mental blessings.

From where I sit — despite the allegations of a third accuser, the public airing of a secretly recorded conversation between Fine’s original accuser and Fine’s wife, and Syracuse’s abrupt decision to fire Fine on Sunday — the truth still appears extremely murky.

Again, as I said a week ago, my words are not written to argue for the exoneration of Jim Boeheim’s longtime assistant coach. I don’t know Bernie Fine. I don’t know what he’s capable of doing or concealing. I’m also not a defense attorney.

I’m a sportswriter, a pundit and an occasional journalist. My interest in the Fine scandal revolves around journalistic fairness and whether a possible lack of fairness will inhibit us from ever learning the truth about Fine.

It’s my belief the truth has been severely compromised. Unlike the Jerry Sandusky-Penn State controversy, the Fine scandal was first tossed into the media microwave and then the subsequent “hot potato” was handed over to the people our tax dollars pay to unearth kernels of truth from complex criminal matters.

The upside-down process created a circus that has made the truth virtually irrelevant. From the moment ESPN hastily aired Bobby Davis’ and his stepbrother Mike Lang’s allegations against Fine, everyone and every institution impacted by the story — including ESPN — went into CYA mode.

The Syracuse Post-Standard, armed with the same 2003 information ESPN had, started playing catchup. The local district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, and the local police chief, Frank Fowler, immediately blamed each other for botching the original “investigation.” Boeheim called the accusers liars. Syracuse University claimed its 2005 investigation thoroughly vetted and refuted Davis’ accusations. And, it now appears, ESPN waited for its original story to smoke out a third accuser before unveiling the corroboration (the Bobby Davis-Laurie Fine audio) it believes justified its original flimsy report.

Everything that has happened in the last week smells like public relations and not a search for truth. If this scandal ever leads to criminal charges against and a trial for Bernie Fine, every party listed above will have significant questions to answer in front of a jury.

This is a journalist’s worst nightmare. A reporter never wants to be part of a story, especially not a criminal case.

A media outlet had the alleged smoking-gun evidence (audio of Laurie Fine talking about her husband’s relationship with Bobby Davis) against a man accused of child molestation but kept quiet about it for eight years until it needed to unveil the evidence to justify premature reporting.

There is a lot that must be explained before I can discern any truth.

I’ll repeat what I said a week ago: Let’s hold off on comparing the Fine case to the Sandusky case. There has been no full police investigation, grand jury findings or indictments.

I don’t have a vested interest in the outcome. This story just screams caution. That’s the only plausible explanation for two media outlets to view the Bobby Davis-Laurie Fine conversation as non-corroboration in 2003. We need a plausible explanation for whatever gave ESPN and The Post-Standard pause in 2003 and again last week.

 

The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling. I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found. I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.

 
Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim on the Nov. 27 firing of assistant coach Bernie Fine, who is being investigated after he was accused of molesting team ball boys.

It can’t simply be because there was no third accuser. Zach Tomaselli, the third Fine accuser, has extremely shaky credibility and motive to seek sympathy from the public. He has been charged with molesting a 14-year-old boy in Maine. Fred Tomaselli, Zach’s father, disputes his son’s allegations against Fine and called Zach a liar.

How can we discern the truth?

Some people believe the unvarnished truth can be heard in the Bobby Davis-Laurie Fine conversation.

That’s not what I heard. I heard a delusional woman who thinks her husband should hunt down “gay boys” for male companionship and sexual service. I heard a delusional woman trying to reason with a man whom she believed was previously sexually molested by her husband; a man (Bobby Davis) who claims to have had a sexual relationship with her more than a decade earlier.

I heard a mother allegedly covering for someone accused of child molestation.

I heard what The Post-Standard and ESPN likely heard in 2003. I heard what The Post-Standard and ESPN likely heard last week . . . before Tomaselli chatted with Bobby Davis. That’s right. The third accuser contacted the first accuser on several occasions before contacting the police.

Again, I’m not a defense attorney. And this column is not written to offer Bernie Fine exoneration. It’s written to point out that the search for truth and justice has been damaged by the media’s desire to capitalize off the Sandusky controversy.

Let’s hold off on treating Jim Boeheim like Joe Paterno and Bernie Fine like Jerry Sandusky at least until the police have conducted a thorough investigation. And, for those of you who really believe in our Constitution, let’s withhold judgment until Boeheim and Fine have had a chance to defend themselves.

It’s the red-blooded, patriotic-American thing to do.

Tagged: Syracuse, South Carolina Upstate, Bobby Davis

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