It seemed jarring. A sexual assault case - and the accused publicly naming his victim at a press conference. Then media outlets freely quoting him as he identified the woman involved.
That's what transpired last week when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was named in a civil suit alleging he raped a Canadian woman at a Lake Tahoe resort in July, 2008. (Police say they have no plans to press criminal charges in the affair.) The Super Bowl champion then addressed a press conference to defend himself against the allegation.
In doing so, he named Andrea McNulty, a native of New Brunswick, as his accuser. A few media outlets - the Washington Post among them - did not use the name. But most others on TV, the Internet and in print did. So is there a difference in how the alleged victim is treated between a criminal and civil case for sexual assault?
We asked Mark Milliere, vice-president of production at TSN, which did use McNulty's name. "Our practice is, of course, to comply with publication bans when they are in place. Publication bans are more common in criminal cases and alleged sexual assault victims in such cases are generally not named.
"In this case, we are dealing with a civil suit that is a public document in which the alleged victim initiated this matter and could have sought a publication ban to prevent the publication of her name - but didn't."
"Also, it is newsworthy that the defendant chose to name her in a press conference. This quote was reported in lots of media including AP and ESPN.com. Also - even before the press conference - other media reported her name in the U.S."
In short, McNulty chose a more public profile in this case when she opted against a criminal charge and for a civil suit - with its lowered burdens of proof under U.S. law.
Ben There, Done That: The Roethlisberger case is raising waves for more than just naming names. ESPN has been criticized for delaying reporting the case for two days. African-American groups have said that, in cases involving black athletes, ESPN had never hesitated to report the cases immediately. They point to ESPN reporting immediately on a civil suit against black NFL star Marvin Harrison - who has been sued for allegedly shooting a man in 2008 - and to other civil suits involving Shannon Brown and Adam (Pacman) Jones, both African-American.
In an America that was supposed to be post-racial with the election of Barrack Obama, the Roethlisberger case (and the highly publicized domestic arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates) are reminders that race issues are far from settled in the U.S.
Complicating matters was the fact that Roethlisberger was about to film a TV segment for Shaquille O'Neal's new reality show on ABC, ESPN's sister network, when the story broke. Then ESPN's Dallas host Dale Hansen quit last week when, after mentioning the case on air, he was told the network had issued a "do not report" memo on the story.
John Walsh, the executive vice-president and executive editor of ESPN, Inc., explained the network's position on The Dan Patrick Show.
"What happens here, is that we have had a history of civil lawsuits … where there have been athletes who have been involved and charged in civil lawsuits, and the civil lawsuits have been dropped, and the reputation of the athlete for a period of time has been, to a certain extent, sullied. And so what we've done is say that we would like to have more of a position on this where there is a news hook or some acknowledgment - a news event that prompts us to cover it."
Clearly ESPN's hook on Roethlisberger arrived a little late to please many people.
Open And Shut: So could the RBC Canadian Open have gone any worse from a TV perspective? The two most important rounds weren't televised on Monday (The Golf Channel showed replays of the Nationwide event), nor was the action early on Sunday - when marquee guy Mike Weir aced the third hole. On Saturday and Sunday, Bill Macatee and CBS's "B Team" had to rag the puck for hours as rain pelted waterlogged Glen Abbey. Poor old David Feherty looked like a stressed-out social convener interviewing the Jason Dufners of the world.
Even when there was live action, the national open was jammed into three-hour windows each day - like trying to squeeze O.J.'s hands into those tiny gloves. If you got a sense of a significant golf occasion, you're one of the few. We know the PGA created this when it 1) sold The Golf Channel the exclusive rights to early round coverage of every regular PGA Tour event, and every round at 13 PGA Tour tournaments 2) shoehorned the Canadian stop into the week following the British Open. The RCGA made it worse by sticking the event at uninspired tracks such as Glen Abbey and Angus Glen.
But could a Canadian network pony up a little money to convince The Golf Channel, at least, to show more than three hours of the national championship each day? Partner so we can have early-day coverage leading into rounds three and four? Make it like the Canadian Open tennis where we can see extensive coverage of Canadians and stars alike?
As Dana Carvey said, channelling his best George Bush I - "Not gonna happen." Sources tell Usual Suspects that it can cost as much as $1-million to produce a four-day tournament - money you'll never recoup in advertising. Factor in Global - which has rights to Saturday/Sunday coverage in Canada. Then consider the zealots at the PGA Tour who have sold everything down to the blades of grass for a tournament. Result: Your Canadian Open has been marginalized for the time being.
Show Shuffles: The Score is cancelling Score Tonight and Hard Core Hockey Talk and its hosts will be reassigned. In addition, five or six staffers will lose their jobs. CEO John Levy says the network is moving to more "short-form, fast-paced, frequent originally created programming" such as Cabbie, Gerry Dee, Steve Kouleas and others across all their platforms. "It's a message both internally and externally that we want to capitalize on what's working for us," Levy told Usual Suspects on Tuesday.
At Rogers Sportsnet, anchor Brad Fay is moving to the network's more influential night anchor position with Sean McCormick taking over hosting duties on suppertime Connected - which will now be folded into Prime Time Sports in the Eastern and Ontario regions. Traditionally, Sportsnet has not competed successfully against TSN in the earlier slot; having McCown on twice as long is an attempt to counter-program with something other than highlights. Although it does put an end to the McCormick & Wife dilemma - watch McCormick or wife Jennifer Hedger on TSN at 10 p.m. EDT?
Pierre McGuire Lives: Not often that hockey's a pioneer, but ESPN acknowledged the NHL when it chose to place its analysts beside the dugouts on Monday Night Baseball. Imitating McGuire and others who now broadcast from ice level, the American sports giant was hoping for the live effect in the Dodgers/ St. Louis game. Usual Suspects likes it but thinks it can't be considered a success until Steve Phillips takes a foul ball off his dome.
The J In Sports Journalism: A final thought on the debate about women v. men sports broadcasters. Sportsnet's Mike Toth has made the argument that the job requires extensive sports knowledge for men or women to succeed. Many have agreed with his stance, but the truth is that sports journalism should be 25 per cent sports and 75 per cent journalism. The job is less knowing Don Cherry's hat size or how many Stanley Cups the Habs have won than it is recognizing a good story and knowing how to chase it and report it. Many enter the biz because they - like Toth - love sports. But those who survive do so because they are proficient at the journalism part. Whether that's a man or woman is becoming increasingly moot to the new generations of fans. Erin Andrews - who precipitated the debate - will eventually be remembered less for having her privacy invaded than for whether she does the job with dignity and professionalism. To that end, ESPN could help her by giving her significant assignments in the booth and off the field when she returns this fall for college football.