Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What news media ethical issues does this raise? You may have to do a little research to understand Pitino's remarks fully.


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13 comments:

Susan White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
....J.Michael Robertson said...

Susan: Good job digging out background.

Susan White said...

So, according to a brief Google search I did, Rick Pitino (head basketball coach at the University of Louisville) had an extramarital affair with Karen Cunagin Sypher six years ago (now his equipment manager’s wife) and is allegedly being extorted by her for about $10 million. According to Sypher, Pitino raped her, got her pregnant, paid $3,000 for her abortion, and then paid his equipment manager to marry her. Now they’re going to court. What a scandal.

One thing I found interesting was Pitino’s repeated complaints that the FBI was interfering with his personal life. According to this website, Pitino was the one who reported the case to them in the first place. It seems like he actually does want a little limelight on his situation – but only from his perspective.

I have no idea which party I agree with – they’re both pretty cracked. But, as far as I’m concerned, the media didn’t do anything wrong. All they did was report on another side of the story, one that happened to greatly embarrass one of the people it involved. Though Pitino might despair at the further damage to his reputation, it’s not up to him to control the media. He can’t just ask people to turn a blind eye (no matter how many times he brings up Ted Kennedy’s death). To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it’s un-American to dictate what people should or shouldn’t say, watch, read or believe.

As we’ve discussed in class, nothing lends more credibility to libel than making a big fuss over it. Though I don’t condone Pitino’s behavior, he didn’t actually do anything illegal. (Unless the rape allegations are true. Still, extortion seems to demand much more severe consequences.) Simply keeping his head down and shutting up about the whole ordeal would have caused the situation to blow over quickly. Yet here he is, ranting his head off, telling the media to stay away … kind of ironic that he has to hold a press conference in order to do that.

Lauren said...

Well first of all, the story sounds a little fishy if it took Karen Sypher six years to file a rape report, but regardless Rick Pitino cheated on his wife.

Of course the media is going to eat this up, especially if there's a possibility of a scandal that involves extortion, infidelity and abortion. He tries to make himself seem like an innocent saint in the press conference, but if he had an affair he doesn't really make himself out to be the most truth worthy person.

Unfortunately for Pitino, he is someone who is in the public eye and will be even more scrutinized. In all fairness, Journalists are just doing their job and reporting allegations until anything is proven.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I took a look at the Louisville Courier Journal and found this in a story from yesterday. The excerpt suggests the newspaper knew about the situation but did not report it until it became a matter of public record:

"Responding to Pitino's criticism of TV news outlets, WAVE-TV news director Lee Eldridge said his station led its noon newscast with stories on Kennedy's death and didn't cut into its programming with the Sypher interviews.

“I am not going to get in a war with Rick Pitino, but for the nature of this story and the fact he is a successful national figure, I think the amount of coverage that WAVE 3 has produced is justified,” Eldridge said.

He also noted that for months, WAVE and other local news organizations didn't report Sypher's claims until they became a matter of public record.

Transcripts of Sypher's interviews with the commander of the metro police sex-offense squad were released to The Courier-Journal earlier this month under the Kentucky Open Records Act, but audio and video copies of her statements weren't available until Wednesday."

caitlindee said...

OK. I know journalists are (more often than not) supposed to separate any judgments they may have about their subjects from their story, but in Pitino's case, I can't help but interject my personal thoughts about this tela novela. Regardless of whether the accused rape did happen or not, I would choose to report the story and the affair allegations made, no problem as a working journalist. However, when I question what's "right" and "wrong" in this situation, I surprisingly find myself siding with Pitino as far as the story goes. Here's why:

1. Karen accuses Pitino of raping her 6 years later. First off, 6 years IS a long time to wait to report a rape. But maybe it's enough time to wait for his career to take off (he IS apparently the only men's coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools - Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville - to the Final Four). I smell money and reputation on the line. Secondly, the rape in itself, I suppose, is a little irrelevant since there is no proof it was nonconsensual. So that aside...

2. Pitino admits to the affair, to the abortion, and to giving Karen $3,000 for health insurance to have the abortion. This is reasonable.

3. I researched abortions costs and without health insurance, one abortion can cost up to $1,200 at the most. Karen asked for $3,000. Where is the extra $1,800 and what does she need it for? Early signs of a gold digger?

4. This makes me think Karen is money hungry. Especially since she reportedly asked for cars, college tuition for her kids, and, now, 10 million all from Pitino (ballhype.com/). Something just doesn't seem RIGHT on her part.

Story aside, I don't really care that Pitino is angry with the media for publicizing the info they've chosen to use, but I do understand that any negative media can be a bad thing, especially for a man so highly looked upon in his profession.

So, is Pitino "wrong" for criticizing the media? No, he has the right to if he wants. Anyone does. Ultimately though, he's only feeding into the problem by making a bigger scene about the issue. I think the real question becomes: how believable is Karen's story and what is her motive? Justice or manipulating Rick into becoming some sort of sugar daddy?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Caitlin makes me think of yet another "ethical aspect" of presenting the news. Can you judge the ethics of a single news story without knowing what the complete coverage of the incident is over time? How many stories have been presented in a particular news source that in a fair and balanced way put the initial accusation and the alleged extortion attempt in context? This is particularly a problem with TV news, where time (and this space) is limited. Is context provided? Does the news source follow up??

Kevin Na said...

I don't think the media acted unethically in this case. It wouldn't be a balanced story if the only side of it told was Rick Pitino's. And from reading Prof. Robertson's comment, the journalists didn't come forward and report anything that wasn't a matter of public record or illegally obtained anyway. It seems Pitino's main complaint is that the media keeps on reporting on the same allegations that have been proven false. I guess there could be an ethical problem in that all of this coverage could potentially bias a jury when the case gets to court. But I don't think that the media is barraging the public with Pitino's scandal out of malice or neglect for ethics, but it's just the nature of having a public scandal story.

Chloe Schildhause said...

I am going to side with the media on this issue, but I agree with Caitlin in that it's fine and dandy for Pitino to get so butt-hurt from the exposure.

After reading various news reports on the issue, the media is reporting both sides and making clear that the allegations against Pitino are just that, pure allegations. They state what he is being accused of, but no media reports (that I've read) outright confirm the allegations as fact. Obviously Pitino should be upset, but doesn't he realize this happens to everyone in the public eye who chooses to have an affair? He needs to accept that what he did is news worthy.

I find it ridiculous that Pitino is asking everyone to not read the coverage. He is just furthering the myth of the media being an evil pool of reporting liars when in fact I barely know this Pitino guy. Why should I only listen to you Pitino? You have given me no reason to, I know you as well as I know the journalists reporting on the scandal. So instead of being ignorant and only listening to one side, as Pitino so boldly suggests I do, I am going to read various stories from a variety of sources. Pitino is asking me to do too much and I feel no sympathy for the man.

Melissa said...

The media absolutely have the right to air legally obtained material that's legal to air. Pitino's ego and reputation are on the line, which obviously elicits an emotional response. He feels compromised. As much as the media's right to air the material, it's his right to respond. It seems that he doesn't understand that his reaction only draws more interest into the story.

I guess what upsets me most about the situation is the fact that this warrants news at all. I understand how compelling a scandal can be, especially for a media outlet. There's plenty of room for follow ups, rich media pieces, etc. However, does this story really deserve all the time and energy? Rape and extortion happen with such regularity, but without the fame and media attention that comes with his athletic position, they receive little attention. Perhaps it's unethical of news consumers to pay such close attention to these theatrics when there are much more grave and high impact stories taking place on a daily basis.

stephanie said...

I agree with Melissa that it is almost disheartening to believe this story is so news-worthy and so much attention is being paid to a 'high-profile' scandal. I do believe, however, that as much as Mr. Pitino pleads with the media not to produce stories and pleads with the public not to pay attention to such stories, the reporters have a duty to follow: to report news. He may plead all he wants but in the end a reporter is ethically doing his or her job.

Brian Brause said...

This whole situation is actually pretty ridiculous. I agree with Melissa, that this is hardly newsworthy. However, we could argue that most news stories are not technically "newsworthy." This story has been blown out of proportion and has become a media frenzy.

This is very similar to the Kobe Bryant case a few years back. Kobe had had a clean record, who many kids looked up to, and the media's goal, right from the start, was to ruin him.

There seems to be a different phases in which these stories go through. First is the newsbreak. Everyone is in shock, people point fingers, "how could he do this to us," that sort of thing. The next phase is when more information comes out, that the incident may not be as dirty as it was originally portrayed and people start to take sides. When this starts to happen, the media kicks it up a notch, adding more gossip and/or including unconfirmed allegations. Most times, as in the Kobe Bryant, (cough OJ Simpson cough) case, the incident goes to trial and the person is cleared. Hardly anyone remembers the Kobe case and he's back on top in terms of stardom (and winning last year's NBA Finals)
They may lose the civil suit, but no one really notices.
Michael Vick on the other hand; he went to jail for dog fighting and killing the losing dog. He's out now, and people are excited to see him play again.

So my question is: What does the media accomplish by running these stories?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Robertson sums up:

* Eight of 13 students commented

"Pro" coverage arguments I derived from your posts:

* The most recent news stories are just an example of balanced coverage, presenting both sides. Indeed, presenting the specifics of the accusation may help Pitino's image in that the more you see/hear of the accuser, the less you believe her. If what Pitino says is true, he is the victim. So perhaps the mistake here is his press conference in that he would have come off better by keeping his mouth shut and letting the press highlight the flaws in his accuser's account, behavior etc. He's *asking* the press to cover his press conference. That's tacit acknowledgement the whole thing is news, is newsworthy and that's a *legal* justification for reporting.

* Hey, he started it by having unprotected sex with a woman he hardly knew. He's a victim but a special category of victim.

* It's public record. Of course, that's only a legal argument.

* He's prominent, and that's on any journalist's list of news values, the things that characterize what we present as news. But such lists are descriptive, not prescriptive. It's what we do, not necessarily what we should do. Also, his prominence is a tool he uses to persuade young men to play ball for him. He has thrust himself into the public eye. People *want to know about him*.

* Scandal sells. Are we ready to embrace the ethical justification that sometimes the means justifies the end in that sometimes you need to do "bad" stories to make money and lure eyes to the "good" stories. (Though, of course, who will credit our "good" stories if they question our ethics?)

* It sounds as if the woman's allegations are presented as just that, as unproven assertions.

* It's an example of truthtelling. The more truth the better????

* And, of course, specific information may kill rumors, may provide antidote to any bogus info being circulated by Pitino's enemies.

* I'll add a final point of my own. In this Internet age, the info will be out there somewhere and probably lots of somewheres. Credibility can be damaged if the media are seen to be protecting Pitino given the fact people with Internet access and general media savvy will be able to see the tapes and hear the audio. By not publishing certain things, are we saying certain less tech-able parts of the audience aren't able to handle the truth>

Cons I derived from your posts:

* He does seem to be a victim -- of a sort. He may deserve some empathy. Based on my time in the newsroom, it was always interesting to hear other reporters gossip about the things they did NOT put in stories, some of those omissions for what seemed to be ethical reasons.

* Could all this info bias a jury? It's a question worth asking.

* The story is useless, trash, of no real news value. We should remind our audience of their weakness by ignoring the story and putting our resources elsewhere.

* Is this just another example of the news media going after sports figures in a way they don't go after others??

* Maybe it's ethical and maybe it isn't. We'd need to see the whole package of stories/coverage in a year or two. One story is not THE story.