Guest column/Media malpractice runs rampant on rape story

As a documentary filmmaker who specializes in media criticism and a former WTOV-TV sportscaster who once wrote a book about a year in the life of the Steubenville Big Red (and who has communicated extensively with Big Red coach Reno Saccoccia about the case), I have been appalled by the grossly inaccurate “football” narrative, which has been created by the national media in its coverage of the “Steubenville Rape Case.”

But as bad as the reporting has been on the case, even I was shocked by how pathetic and off base the news media was regarding Monday’s announcement of four new indictments supposedly connected to the matter.

The national media gleefully reported that the indictments were part of a “football cover-up” of the crime which rocked Steubenville in August 2012. While we can’t possibly know for sure at this point, it appears that this assessment of what happened on Monday is completely misleading if not totally false.

First of all, while the media likes to strongly imply that the two “coaches” who were indicted were “football” coaches, the reality is that no current football coaches (one was a wrestling coach) were named and the former volunteer football assistant is not even accused of anything having directly to do with the rape.

But the biggest blunder the media made on Monday was somehow not even realizing that it appears that most of the key indictments have nothing at all to do with the case, which resulted in guilty verdicts for two “football players” who never played an official down of varsity football before or after their crimes.

When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the indictments, he stated, quite clearly, that the dates of the administrative allegations began in April 2012. Even members of the mostly moronic media should have immediately realized that something else was going on here because it is quite impossible to facilitate a cover-up of an event which had not yet happened.

Obviously DeWine was telegraphing that an entirely new episode had been discovered during the course of the grand jury investigation and this led to a significant portion of the indictments and perhaps all (we just don’t know right now) of the most serious accusations. And yet almost no one in the media picked up on these signals and the narrative, especially nationally, was that all of this was somehow proof of a “football cover-up,” when in reality it is quite possible that there are no indictments at all directly related to “covering up” the infamous rape case and no evidence at all that they had anything at all to do with football.

Importantly (this was also beyond the feeble mental grasp of most media members) there wasn’t even one “conspiracy” charge, which means that no one is even alleging that anyone worked in conjunction with another person in this “cover up” we currently know nothing about.

The reality is that nothing about this case has ever been remotely consistent with a “football cover-up.” Not only did the players directly involved never play in an official game, but the key evidence in the case (the phones) were obtained in the football locker room at the direction of the football coach. Also, those players, including two starters, who witnessed but who did not properly report the crime, were all suspended from the football team right before last year’s playoffs and were declared eligible to play other sports almost immediately after that. None of these facts are remotely consistent with any sort of “football cover-up.”

The saddest part of the media coverage of Monday’s announcement is that it should have been a vindication for Steubenville Big Red football and a coaching staff, which has endured an enormous amount of unfair and hateful media coverage. Instead, because the news media is dumb and motivated only by whatever the easiest and most profitable narrative is, it was somehow perceived as further “proof” that the lie the media has been peddling for a year now was somehow actually true.

The media likes to claim that they are on the side of the kids, and yet those most harmed by last week’s media malpractice were the kids of the Steubenville Big Red football team. They have worked incredibly hard under nearly impossible circumstances to somehow, against all odds, make it to the state final four, only to see this incredible accomplishment overshadowed and further burdened by the failings of a once proud industry, which no longer remotely cares about the truth.

There is a lot of shame to go around in this entire sad affair, but the news media deserves a lot more than they are ever likely to get.

(Ziegler, a resident of Los Angeles, can been reached through