The Syracuse Post-Standard, who along with ESPN Outside the Lines, had a audio taped conversation between Laurie Fine and Bobby Davis in 2003, has responded to criticisms about whether they should have done more, including possibly turning the tape over to police.
The Post-Standard also lays out details of how the investigation began. Davis first went to Syracuse police, and was told the statute of limitations had run. Bobby Davis then approached the Post-Standard in the Fall of 2002, and they began an investigation. When they needed more, Davis agreed to record a conversation with Laurie Fine, believing that she would corroborate his story or elements of it. Davis did this in cooperation with the reporter on the story, Mike McAndrew, and set up the conversation and recorded it with the knowledge of the Post-Standard.
We heard about the tape, contents which were released Sunday morning by Outside the Lines and then the Post-Standard. There was a lot of deeply concerning statements in that piece.
Now here’s where it gets into a debate, about the role of journalists in investigating a story, interacting with police, and how to handle information. From the Post-Standard:
Captured on tape was a conversation that sounds sleazy and sickening — and vague and ambiguous. Some of the language seems to support Davis’ depiction of his relationship with Fine. “Seems” wasn’t good enough to publish this story. If you were the target of such damaging accusations, you’d expect that degree of care from us.
The Post-Standard was hoping for the clear smoking gun, for Laurie Fine to say, “yes, I saw him molest you.” When talking about the time in the basement, I agree that she doesn’t specifically say that, and that particular part of the phone call could be interpreted differently.
Taken as a whole, though, I don’t think there is anything vague and ambiguous about whether Laurie Fine had knowledge that her husband was a pedophile, so long as you believe that a) it was Laurie Fine talking, and b) it was not altered or doctored. (The Post-Standard did approach Laurie Fine and she acknowledged conversations, confirmed portions were accurate, but claimed it was doctored).
So, here’s the question, and I think where reasonable people have issues after hearing that tape or reading the transcript. It seems pretty likely that Laurie Fine knew what her husband was doing if that piece of evidence is authentic. Here are couple of other points of the transcript that I don’t think are ambiguous on that point:
Laurie: What did he want you to do? You can be honest with me.
Bobby: What do you think? What he always does.
Laurie: He wants you to grab him? Or blow him?
Bobby: He tried to make me grab him. But first he’d try to grab me and start touching me. …
Laurie: Right. But when he gave you the money, what did he want for that? He wanted you to grab him or he wanted to do you?
Bobby: He wanted to do me. He wanted me to touch him. He tried to make me touch him a couple of times. He’d grab my hand and then I’d pull away. Then he’d put me in your bed and then, you know, put me down. And I’d try to go away. Then he put his arm on top of my chest. He goes, If you want this money, you’ll stay right here. I’d try to leave and he’d grab me real hard. You know what he does — I told you about this before, right? He’d grab you if you tried to walk away and he’d say, I’ll pull it off or something like that.
Laurie: Right, right.
Bobby: I told you that before.
Laurie: But you never had any oral sex with him?
Bobby: No. I think he’d want to.
Laurie: Of course, he would. Why wouldn’t he?
Now, that segment isn’t her saying what she saw. It is Davis telling her, but the matter-of-fact way in which she asks questions about whether he wanted to blow him should tell a reasonable person that there is some serious fire here. Or this:
Laurie: Yeah, he has the fraternity. He doesn’t go up there anymore, hardly at all. The fraternity moved, so that wasn’t. .. Really, there’s no place for him to run and drag people …
Bobby: Laurie, it doesn’t matter. He would do it downstairs while you were upstairs cooking sometimes.
Bobby: He’d be like at Manley, he’d shut the door. The secretaries must … I’d come out all red.
Laurie: When (the Fine’s son) was little and you lived there, he’d say, ‘You better put (their son) to bed.’ I’d say, ‘He is in bed.’ ‘Well, you better go check him.’ And I’d go up to check him. I’d come down. He’d be out of the living room in the basement. He used to think of ways to get me out of the room. Like, I’m not an idiot, Bernie.
Bobby: Exactly. When I stayed there in your basement, he’d come down there every night. I’m like, what the heck, what’s Laurie thinking?
Laurie: What did I think? … And then he’d come down to where you were every night. And he’d say to me, ‘Go check (their son).’ Or… Go lay with him. Go upstairs.’ Anything to get me out of the room. And I knew. I told you when I was walking down the stairs at night, I’d say to myself, Guaranteed he’s not in there. When I’d look in, his papers would be spread out all over and he’d be gone. Right down the basement, door closed.
Bobby: He did that every night.
Laurie: You know what, go to a place where there’s gay boys. Find yourself a gay boy. … Get your rocks off, and have it be over with. He needs that male companionship that I can’t give him. [emphasis mine]
See, I don’t think there is anything ambiguous there. Yeah, the woman didn’t admit to actually seeing anything. She admitted to knowing and ignoring it. She admitted that she knew what was going on, and knew where he was. Earlier in the conversation, she admits she is very cautious in what she is saying, she asks if the conversation is being recorded. She asked that.
The Post-Standard said they did a thorough investigation, they said they could not come up with corroborating evidence. I have no doubt that they chased leads. For me, it comes down to this: if you had that information, you either had to make the case, and maybe, just maybe have the guts to take on a case where you believed you were on the right side, or pass the information on.
Sometimes, you are given a case, and you just roll with what you have. Other times, you know things, you know you are on the side of right, even if you need more. You say, we make this case, or we go down trying because we think it’s right.
Child abusers are different than say, knowing about a bank heist that happened in the past. It’s different that investigating reports of campaign finance abuse or corruption. If you have information from a wife speaking in the way that Laurie Fine did while not knowing she was recorded, that . . . cannot . . . die . . . on . . . the . . . vine. If you question its authenticity, that’s different, but if you believe that she said it, but just didn’t say in so many words that she saw some slap slap slapping going on, it cannot die.
And so I understand what the Post-Standard is saying about going to the police. The fifth estate has a long history of being the watchdog of the police, not its investigative arm. The Syracuse police had their opportunity and seemed dismissive. They would not have been dismissive had they heard the audio tape that was acquired after he first approached them and told them he was molested. That tape raises so many red flags you would think you were in Beijing.
I applaud the paper for addressing this. I think it should lead to a reasonable discourse about the cases when the journalist’s credo and the normal citizen’s duty to report knowledge of child abuse cross. Personally, I think this is a case I would have stood on what I had, because after hearing a woman ask about whether her husband wanted to blow someone, and admit that she knew he would go down to the basement, I would believe that I was on the side of right.
Previously: ESPN’s Role in the Bernie Fine Investigation is Troubling
Previously: Bernie Fine’s Wife Knew About the Possibility of Abuse, and Had a Sexual Relationship With the Accuser Also
Previously: Jim Boeheim on Bernie Fine’s Accuser: “The Kid is … Trying to Get Money”
Previously: Jim Boeheim on Bernie Fine: “There’s Absolutely No Way I Believe Any of This Could Have Possibly Happened”
[photo via Getty]