Examining the Larry Nassar scandal, journalists wonder: Will America believe victims now?

October 24, 2018
Category: Newsletters

'Believed' launches; journalist seeks to stop deportation

At the center of Michigan Radio’s eight-part podcast about Larry Nassar and the sexual abuse of America’s top gymnasts for decades sits one seven-word question:

“How did somebody get away with it?”

The quick answer: “Larry manipulated people, institutions failed, people were fooled — and you could have been, too,” Lindsey Smith told me.

Smith and Kate Wells put together the NPR-distributed podcast "Believed," which debuted Tuesday. Both young moms, Smith and Wells worried that they, too, could have trusted the goofy, nerdy, un-smooth athletic trainer who promised parents he could help their children.

“There’s a definite element of being conned,” Wells said. “We all think we’re smarter than that. You picture somebody you loved, like your spouse, and someone says, ‘Something weird happened here.’ Your initial response was, ‘There’s got to be an misunderstanding.’

“When it’s somebody you love and trust, you’re blind.”

They interviewed survivors, including Kyle Stephens, whose parents did not believe her when she told them at age 12, and Rachael Denhollander, who spent 15 years collecting evidence against her abuser. Even with Nassar convicted and in prison for the rest of his life, some of the strongest former athletes reacted with uncertainty as they told their stories. “You believe me, don’t you?” one pleaded to the interviewers.

The podcasters questioned whether those voices would be enough, even today, to topple a powerful official.

Part of the momentum against Nassar turned on the discovery of 37,000 images of child pornography, some of it he made, on three hard drives labeled “Property of Larry Nassar.” That really changed the narrative, Smith said.

Wells and Smith began thinking of the project last December as more of an accountability story focused on the slow-to-change institutions — Michigan State and the USA Gymnastics — that defended Nassar for years. Then officials began resigning.

The reporters turned to the parent angle, and credited the “quiet heroism” of the much-maligned parents of the gymnasts, who put their names and their children’s out there in hopes that other children might not be abused.

Some of the interviews with the gymnasts coincided with the athletes becoming new moms themselves. The distrust of medical officials lingered for some as they had to make regular doctor's office visits.

“Going to the doctor itself is triggering,” Smith said. So, too, were the hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. “It sort of reopens these wounds,” she said.

Here’s more on “Believed.”
 

Quick hits

JUSTICE FOR ALL: A U.S. immigration judge asked a former New York Times reporter and NPR executive if she needed a translator in an English-speaking immigration court. A prosecutor asked if she were paid to speak. No, answered the University of Michigan’s Lynette Clemetson, the only outside witness allowed to speak at El Paso deportation hearing for Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, the award-winning journalist now on a prestigious Knight-Wallace fellowship at Michigan.

SPARE MY SON: Gutiérrez Soto, seeking asylum, faces death threats from Mexico’s military if he is deported to his homeland, and a public outcry contributed to his release last summer after months of U.S. imprisonment. Gutiérrez Soto pleaded with the judge that if he must deport the journalist to a violent end in Mexico for his reporting, please spare the life of his son, also in the United States. “He has been the victim of the work of an honest journalist," Gutiérrez Soto told the judge, shifting his gaze to his son, now 25. Here’s more background.

YOUNGER AMERICANS FTW: Younger Americans are better at telling facts from opinion than those 50 or over, a Pew study shows. The study shows readers who distrust national media are susceptible to mistaking opinion for fact, Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt writes.

KHASHOGGI: Turkey's president said Saudi Arabia planned the killing of The Washington Post contributor and proposed a trial in Istanbul. The United States revoked visas for the Saudi men accused of killing Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Despite the killing, American businesspeople showed up at the Saudis "Davos in the Desert" conference — and some gave a standing ovation to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, believed to be the mastermind of the Khashoggi murder.

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS?: An executive there from Boston-based P/E Investments called the journalist's murder "horrendous," but not worth sacrificing his company's bottom line. “One year from now, somebody is going to ask where the revenue is,” Henry Biner told The New York Times. “We’re not going to put our relationships on the line for this.” Another executive agreed. “It’s just noise to me,” said Michael Slater, who runs the Middle East and Africa investment business for Northern Trust and is based in Riyadh. “The people I need to see are here, and that’s what I care about.” Chicago-based Northern Trust distanced itself from Slater's remarks in a tweet later Tuesday: "Northern Trust has been deeply concerned by recent reports regarding Jamal Khashoggi, and we regret comments attributed to one Saudi-based staff member on this matter. The comments, if accurately reported, do not reflect the views of Northern Trust."

A SCOOP?: Questions mount over Bloomberg’s unmatched story about the purported Chinese hacking of Apple. The company has demanded a retraction. By Erik Wemple.

REPORTER GETS RESULTS: A senior VA official offended colleagues by showcasing "No Surrender," a portrait of the KKK's first leader, in his government office. The official took down the painting, which he had purchased, after the Washington Post's Lisa Rein told him of the subject's background. 

SENDING A MESSAGE: It's tough enough being one of Russia's last remaining independent news outlets. Then someone delivers a severed goat head and a funeral wreath to Moscow's Novaya Gazeta, with a message to one of its reporters: You are a traitor to our country. The Committee to Protect Journalists requested Russia "take immediate action to ensure the safety of the brave journalists of Novaya Gazeta and its offices."

MOVES: New York Public Radio named media and TV executive Depelsha McGruder as its new COO, responsible for digital, operations and strategic planning for the publishing group, which includes WNYC, the Gothamist and WNYC Studios. At Viacom, McGruder launched MTV’s VOD and mobile businesses as well as its TR3S and Centric channels. She also oversaw culture transformation at BET and founded Moms of Black Boys United Inc. and M.O.B.B. United for Social Change Inc., which are dedicated to positively influencing how black boys and men are perceived and treated by law enforcement and in society. … Dodai Stewart, formerly editor-in-chief of Splinter and a founding editor of Jezebel, is heading to The New York Times. Stewart, who will become a deputy in Metro, starts Monday, Metro Editor Clifford Levy announced.

FIXING THAT FREELANCE PITCH: The NYT's Tim Herrera reminds us that a bad pitch is not a bad story. In a Nieman Lab article, he urges journalists not to make one of these six mistakes: 

  1. You didn't know what your story is.
  2. You didn't check the archives.
  3. You pitched the wrong editor or section (easy to do).
  4. You're too aggressive with followup (See "Just checking in").
  5. Your story is too low-stakes or narrow.
  6. You don't disclose conflicts of interest.

All that said, Herrera closes with three words: "Don't overthink it."

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Have a good Wednesday. See you tomorrow.