Wednesday afternoon, William Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse-area district attorney, retook center stage at the Bernie Fine Media Circus, calling a news conference to filibuster about what the public already knew.
The statute of limitations ran out long ago on the molestation allegations made by accuser Bobby Davis and his stepbrother Michael Lang and therefore there will be no state charges against Fine, the former Syracuse assistant basketball coach.
According to Davis, the Syracuse police informed him of this fact in 2002. The impossibility of state charges was hammered home again two weeks ago when federal authorities took over the Fine investigation.
So why the news conference?
Because from the outset, the Bernie Fine investigation has never been a search for the truth. It has been an ESPN-generated, reality-TV sequel to the real-life Jerry Sandusky-Penn State tragedy.
That is not to be interpreted as a statement about Fine’s guilt or innocence. I don’t have a credible, informed opinion about what may or may not have happened between Fine and Davis when Davis was a child. The much-celebrated, Laurie Fine-Bobby Davis secretly recorded audio tape leads me to believe there is reason to suspect Bernie Fine of wrongdoing, but it does not cause me to believe.
A preponderance of evidence causes me to believe in someone’s guilt. There has been little of that offered in the Bernie Fine Media Circus. And even if it is offered, the media can choose to ignore it and focus on whatever narrative furthers our agenda.
When Fitzpatrick wasn’t grandstanding Wednesday, he shared that he turned over actual evidence to Fine’s attorneys that apparently reveals Fine’s third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, fabricated his story about being molested by Fine inside a Pittsburgh hotel room.
That admission is major news. Yet somehow it is being treated as minor news in comparison to the “revelation” that Fitzpatrick won’t be pressing state charges against Fine, and Fitzpatrick’s opinion that Davis and Lang are credible accusers.
My opinion of and interest in the Fine case revolve around fairness. Despite the grotesqueness of the allegations against Fine and the child-abuse awareness raised by the Sandusky case, it’s highly important that Fine be treated fairly by the police, government investigators and the media.
It’s not happening. Fine’s constitutionally protected rights are being trampled upon, and the media (ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard) are leading a public lynching of Fine’s reputation before there’s ever been anything remotely resembling a fair airing of the facts.
On Wednesday, with dozens of TV cameras rolling and ESPN broadcasting his words live, Fitzpatrick in one breath said, “it’s not my place to pronounce Bernie Fine guilty of anything,” and then in another breath said, “hasn’t Bernie Fine caused enough pain in this community?”
Bernie Fine is innocent until the moment Fitzpatrick says Fine is guilty.
The Bernie Fine Media Circus is a really bad TV show. But it’s a show that airs on a 24-hour loop in poor inner-city and rural communities or wherever power is wielded without the Fourth Estate offering consistent objection.
I care about the Bernie Fine case because I know poor people — regardless of color — constantly get railroaded in our criminal justice system and by the media. Fine is lucky he has the financial resources to hire competent attorneys and private investigators to defend him. But despite his resources, he’s still getting unfairly killed in the court of public opinion by the media and government officials.
His third accuser being destroyed by evidence unearthed by the prosecutor is somehow secondary to stale news about the prosecutor admitting New York’s statute of limitations ran out. Really?
Tomaselli’s alleged fraudulence damages the entire case against Bernie Fine. Tomaselli (who spoke with me on my “Real Talk” podcast on Dec. 2) has repeatedly claimed that he and Bobby Davis chatted multiple times before Tomaselli contacted police and told them what Fitzpatrick claims to be a bogus story. ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz has admitted that he put Tomaselli and Davis together, which is a clear violation of journalistic ethics.
Two weeks ago, the Post-Standard ran Tomaselli’s accusations against Fine, and ESPN editor Vince Doria said Tomaselli’s story was the reason ESPN aired the Laurie Fine-Davis audio tape. Did the Post-Standard make any attempt at vetting Tomaselli’s story before running it or in the two weeks since it ran? Did ESPN try to vet Tomaselli’s story?
Is there a search for the truth by the media organizations with the deepest investments in the Bernie Fine Media Circus? I don’t think so.
It has been reported by the Post-Standard and ESPN that Tomaselli’s accusations were used by the Feds to obtain search warrants into Fine’s home and office. If that’s true, whatever evidence the Feds collected from those searches might be ruled inadmissible by a judge. Tomaselli is a poisoned tree. He can’t bear fruit. He also poisons Davis. What did Davis share with Tomaselli that made investigators initially believe Tomaselli’s story?
I know it’s politically incorrect to question molestation accusers, but Davis is 39 and Lang is 45 and there are holes in their story. Lang initially denied being abused by Fine. Lang’s timeline about when he was abused by Fine is inconsistent and problematic. During a television interview, Lang indicated Laurie Fine was in the home when Bernie touched him inappropriately when Lang was in fifth or sixth grade. Bernie and Laurie started dating around 1980-81 and were married in 1985. Lang was in fifth or sixth grade in the 1970s. Davis admitted his own sexual relationship with Laurie Fine. Davis said he was molested by Bernie Fine from childhood until age 27. Davis admits a shady financial history with Bernie Fine.
Fitzpatrick swears Davis and Lang are credible accusers about things that happened 25 or 30 years ago. All because of a somewhat vague telephone conversation a wife had with her former teenage lover who was also, according to Davis, involved in a sexual relationship with her husband.
Fitzpatrick’s confidence in Davis and Lang must be based on things he can’t share with us. Or, he was simply grandstanding, milking the cameras for the last time before the curtains fall on the Bernie Fine Media Circus.
Years ago, I watched damn near every drop of the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial. Shortly after the opening arguments, I concluded there was no way prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were in the same league as Johnnie Cochran. A couple of weeks into the trial, I realized Simpson was going to be found not guilty.
I kept following the trial and the O.J. TV shows it spawned. The media, particularly Geraldo Rivera, lied to the public. We never informed the public of the one-sidedness of the court proceedings and the incompetence of Clark and Darden. It was better business to maintain the illusion that the case was close and that O.J. might be convicted. If we (media) had told you the truth, you might’ve flipped the channel and watched something else or quit reading our accounts.
When it was over and O.J. walked, we misinformed again, blaming the verdict on a stupid, racist jury. Clark and Darden were media sources. We didn’t dare tell the truth about their mishandling of the trial and risk losing them as television and radio guests.