Some supporters of Penn State and former football Joe Paterno have complained about bias by ESPN and other news organizations since the Jerry Sandusky scandal first broke in November 2011.
Those folks believe, and in some cases rightfully, that the media failed in its job while covering the scandal -- easily following hype without much balance in their reports. It was a rush to judgement, they have said loudly and repeatedly, and the media played a major role.
At the same time, some fans and news consumers continually generalize about the media, including ESPN. They see one report, or more than a handful in this case, where a news organization offers negative information about something they feel differently about and they believe that means the organization is biased. The possibility that the organization is just doing its job never becomes a consideration.
As a result, any opportunity for gray areas, nuance or perspective is lost. Only yes and no, right and wrong, them and us remain. For many supporters of the late Penn State coach, that has been the case with ESPN for the past 15 months.
With that backdrop, it was interesting that the Paterno family worked with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" to reveal their own report, which can be found at Paterno.com online, Sunday. Perhaps the family, in its dealings, had a different perspective. Or perhaps they felt the best outlet for sports journalism on TV, "Outside the Lines," was just the proper place for their side of the story to get its first airing.
Not surprisingly, the family-issued report finds abundant flaws with the Freeh Report, which was commissioned by the Penn State board of trustees and subsequently became the basis for the NCAA's historic punishment of the university's athletic program. Along with a record fine and scholarship reduction, that report led the NCAA to impugn Paterno's legacy and strip him of 111 coaching victories.
With veteran sports journalist Bob Ley at the helm Sunday, "OTL" provided a forum and perspective for the Paterno family's formal rebuttal to the situation.
To his credit, Ley allowed room for the Paterno family's advisers and investigators to state their case while asking appropriate, balanced questions about their efforts and ultimate goals. The responses were a mix of generalities (a query about legal eventual action was nicely sidestepped) and somewhat specifics specifics (as a member of Team Paterno said the person at fault should be Jerry Sandusky, not Penn State or other individuals).
Overall, the report offered no smoking guns or surprise answers, just an elongated and formal response that had been months in the making -- proving experts such as Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and governor of Pennsylvania, the opportunity to reach the same conclusion that many laypeople had formulated months earlier.
Thanks largely to Ley, the coverage on 'OTL' was balanced and fair. It's only the beginning of another wave of action and reaction in the emotionally charged ongoing story, but -- from a media perspective, at least how it does its job, not the sure-fire reaction -- it was done well.