The past few days have been fascinating here in the Ville, as everyone and their brother talks about the saga involving Rick Pitino. Most everyone has an opinion as to what may or may not have happened and rumors have run rampant from the interesting to the bizarrely ridiculous. While everyone speculates and tries to make sense of what is happening, one group has already cast its collective lot. Even though the stories are still inconclusive and the evidence is still out there to be found, the mainstream Louisville media has already made a decision as to what story they will tell. For them, one side of the story is clear and the other is “not credible.” Beginning with the folks at local news channel WDRB and followed by every mainstream outlet in the town, the message is clear. We will take public statements from Pitino, but we will ignore whatever is said by Karen Sypher.
For those of you that havent followed the day to day movement of the story, WDRB (Fox 41) in Louisville has interviewed Sypher, given her a lie detector test and is the one outlet to admit to having the full extent of her allegations. Yet they wont release them, and instead have decided they arent credible enough to report. Meanwhile, news agencies virtually tripped all over themselves to get Pitino’s side out, making sure to run his well-crafted public statement in full and quoting the claims of Sypher’s husband that her allegations are “bizarre.” As far as I know, no lie detector test has been given to Pitino or Tim Sypher, and their quotes have gone untested or unchallenged. But as of yet, no media outlet has produced a public statement or interview with Karen Sypher, and it doesnt look like one is coming any time soon.
I find this dichotomy in terms of how the news coverage has proceeded to be unsettling. I fully admit that I have no idea the truth or veracity of any of these stories and at this point, the whole concoction is beyond bizarre. In addition, I fully appreciate that there is an FBI investigation going on that could produce any number of results and Pitino’s decision to not speak any more than he has is perfectly understandable. But I do think the mainstream media’s treatment of this issue has been shameful. The media has had no problem quoting at length comments by Pitino and Tim Sypher blasting the accuser. While it is perfectly within their right to do so (and in Pitino’s case was a very smart decision to beat the story with an opening punch), the media’s decision to basically not question these comments and leave Karen Sypher’s story in silence is hypocritical and unfair. How is it that the story of the FBI Investigation is “news”, the comments made about Karen Sypher are “news” and investigations into her background are “news”, but the substance of her allegations, which she is perfectly willing to share and are at the heart of this entire ordeal, are not “news?” The day Rick Pitino came forward with his public statement, Sypher’s allegations became part of a criminal investigation, and thus are “news”….but not seemingly to the Louisville media.
I understand that in many ways this is a tough situation. One doesnt want to encourage the proliferation of untrue rumors about famous individuals and the media has a responsibility to filter through the rubbish to find the actual story. But in so doing, the media should not by its reporting of what is “news”, take a side in an issue. Either this is a story or it is not a story….and if the media had decided to ignore the issue entirely, I would have understood. But once you have made a decision to plaster the headlines on the front page, to give one side of the issue its complete and unedited statement to the public and to allow an individual’s character to be criticized by her ex-spouse, then the decision to not allow the other side to have the same say strikes me as character assassination.
I fully admit to having zero knowledge of who is telling the truth in this instance and whether Karen Sypher is a victim or was simply out for a cheap payday. But the reason I cant determine what is true is because the local media in Louisville and Kentucky has made a self-declared “information embargo” and has only let one side of the story be heard. In so doing, they have cast their lot with Pitino’s side, if not overtly, by implication. Fox 41 is perfectly willing to use Sypher to promote their station, its news coverage and to keep this story in the news on a daily basis. But allow her to get her side out to the public? No, that they cant do (but tune in for more video of her tonight….now she is upset!)
In this day and age of blogs and the dying of the newspaper and local news industry, we always ask ourselves what truly is “journalism.” That question always sparks debate, especially from professionals who have been working in the field for a long time. However if this saga has taught us anything, it is that the mainstream media plays by its own set of rules, based on currying favor with those of importance and making decisions having little to do with fairness. That may be understandble and even practical….but it certainly isnt journalism.