By Michael McAllister
Michael Connor, executive editor for the Syracuse Post-Standard, explains why they didn't run the story in 2003 after their investigation in an article on syracuse.com:
The reporter had already talked with Davis in at least three lengthy phone interviews. Davis, then about 30, had approached the paper with a horrifying story. He said he had been fondled sexually by a well-known assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University, Bernie Fine. Davis said he was 12 or 13 when the sexual contact began, and that it had continued for about 15 years until Davis ended it.
Fine, who has been placed on administrative leave by SU pending the results of a police investigation, said Friday, ďThese allegations are patently false in every aspect.Ē
Very little seemed patently true or false when our reporters and editors began looking into this story in the fall of 2002. Thatís why we decided to send a reporter and photographer to Utah, where Davis was living at the time. We wanted to meet the accuser face to face, question him in exhaustive detail, gather as many leads as possible and determine whether his account was credible ó whether there was a publishable story.
Hereís how we went about it: A sports reporter and an investigative reporter paired up as a team and dug into Davisís assertions for nearly six months. An editor worked closely with them to track their process and progress. They interviewed dozens of people, some of them repeatedly. During the visit to Utah, one interview with Davis lasted 12 consecutive hours.
The reporters did thorough background checks on every person who was interviewed, and on some who werenít. They searched for lawsuits and criminal records and any information that might prove relevant. Their interviews required a delicate balance between asking people what they knew about Fine and Davis and, in the mere asking of questions, spreading information we didnít know to be true.
We decided a couple of things early on: We would not confront Fine with the accusations until and unless we had enough to publish; and to have enough to publish, we needed substantial corroboration of Davisís account or another accuser. Unlike the case in Penn State, there was no grand jury hearing evidence, no law enforcement investigation of any kind going on that we could determine, no criminal charges about to be leveled. We were on our own. Whatever we published would be outside the realm of officialdom. We had to get it right in every way.
For months, the reporters stayed in touch with Davis when he returned to Syracuse and when he was back in Utah, poring over names and dates and details and pinning down every fact that was checkable. Davis pointed them toward other men he suspected might have been molested by Fine. The reporters talked to each of them. None told the story that Davis had told us.
By the spring of 2003, we decided to pull together in narrative form what had been reported and see what we had: Yes, Davis had a close relationship with Fine, had stayed at his house, traveled with him and been a ballboy for the SU team. No, none of the other men Davis thought might have had similar encounters with Fine revealed anything of the kind. The Syracuse Police Department at the time had commenced no investigation. Months of reporting had yielded no substantial corroboration.
The reporters culled from their notes a draft summation of what they had found. We convened a story meeting with about 10 reporters and editors. We examined the findings and concluded that we had not met our threshold for publication.
We decided to curtail the investigation, keep in touch with Davis and resume reporting on it in earnest if another accuser or new information emerged.
Davis then took his story to ESPN. Their reporters looked into it in 2003, and reached the same conclusion we had reached: There was not enough evidence to justify publication.
Fast forward to late fall 2011. The Penn State scandal erupts. Davis, energized by that scandal, reiterates his account to ESPN. This time, a second accuser comes forward ó a stepbrother of Davisís, someone we had interviewed in 2003. This time, ESPN goes with the story. This time, police initiate an investigation.
This time, we still have some distance to travel before we discover whatís patently true and false.