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November 11, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

The Florida journalism school The Poynter Institute, which partnered with ESPN to act as an ombudsman of ESPN’s sports news coverage, has excoriated the cable sports network for its failure “to ask tough questions and shed light” on the scandal involving Penn State’s football defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky, athletic director Tim Curley, university vice president Gary Schultz, and coach Joe Paterno. In a commentary written by Jason Fry and Kelly McBride, ESPN was criticized for being “behind the curve, failing to turn up new information or advance the story and instead sounding tone deaf to the nature of this story,” for three days after it broke. The writers noted that in its initial coverage the network focused on how the scandal might affect recruiting at Penn State, something that enraged viewers who posted their own criticism on an ESPN blog — like one who wrote sarcastically: “10-year-olds anally raped? Quick, what are the recruiting implications?” Commented the ESPN ombudsmen, “We often marvel at the anonymous vitriol of web comments sections, but in this case the mob was right to take up its virtual torches and pitchforks.” They concluded: “Moving on to fallout and other issues is standard journalistic fare, but the Penn State scandal isn’t any other second-day story, and can’t be treated like one. It is so searing because it is about the sexual abuse of children, compounded by the apparent failure of leaders to take moral responsibility for protecting them and a gnawing suspicion that the power of institutions eroded that sense of responsibility. We would expect the instincts of a 24-hour broadcast newsroom to be quicker.” Similar outrage over ESPN’s coverage of the scandal was expressed by the Ralph Nader-founded League of Fans, which said in an editorial that the first three days of the network’s coverage made it “seem like ESPN was more interested in protecting one of their biggest assets, college football, than seriously covering one of the biggest sports stories in years.” The editorial asked, “Can ESPN, or any large sports media conglomerate with significant investments in the sports they cover, report fairly and thoroughly on controversial sports issues that impact the business side of their company? Based on ESPN’s coverage of the Penn State story this week the answer is a resounding ‘No.'”