by Irvin Muchnick
For what is now closing in on a year, the campus of San Diego State University has been roiled by the story of an alleged gang rape of a woman by five football players – one senior and four freshmen – at a party last October 16.
A good piece in the Los Angeles Times on June 3, under the headline “Claims that SDSU football players raped a girl were followed by months of silence,” https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-03/sdsu-san-diego-state-football-players-claim-rape-girl, has much of the background.
This article is about something following publication of the Times story: I received what I consider a highly reliable tip about the identity of one of the accused football players. I want to summarize the newspaper’s report before discussing that tip and how I am choosing to process it.
The gist from the Times is that the university has not told the campus community about the incident, with the claim that too much disclosure would compromise a San Diego police department investigation. The police, in turn, said the investigation “is ongoing but refused to provide basic details,” including date, location, and whether suspects have been questioned. Title IX and legal experts told reporters Robert J. Lopez and Colleen Shalby that the long delay in public notification was troubling on several levels – one of them obviously being campus safety.
Through public records requests, the Times exposed an October 26 message by an anonymous informant, through an online reporting system, identifying the five alleged rapists as football players and their years at the school. One accused player, the story added, has graduated and can no longer be compelled to participate in an internal investigation.
Here’s where Concussion Inc.’s information starts. It is largely redundant but has a key, targeted difference.
SDSU athletic department insiders are buzzing about the incident. Specifically, they are naming the senior football player, now departed. The name would be important to fans of the Aztecs team and throughout the NCAA Mountain West Conference in which they compete.
I’ve spoken on the phone with one of these insiders. I can’t go into the specifics of his university affiliations without fingerprinting him, but I can say that his bona fides checked out and his information seemed authentic. With a second source, I confirmed the existence of a widespread rumor of the senior football player’s name.
Generally speaking, I tend to be more aggressive than the mainstream media in naming accused perpetrators of rape, as well as other forms of sexual assault and harassment. For example, after finding that a 1998 Irish government report said police-held details “vindicated” the accusers of former Irish Olympic swim coach George Gibney – who has been living in the U.S. for nearly 30 years under dubious immigration protocols – I dropped the cant adjective “alleged” and persistently labeled Gibney the most notorious at-large sex criminal in global sports history. I don’t make it a point of emphasis that Gibney has never been convicted in court; rather, I emphasize the manipulations of the Irish and American legal and immigration machinery that have robbed Gibney’s dozens or scores of survivors of their day in court.
Twice I have fended off defamation lawsuits, with the support of First Amendment law offices representing me pro bono. The first suit was resolved with a consent decree. The second was withdrawn when my attorneys made it clear to the plaintiff that he would face a counterclaim under the California statute sanctioning “SLAPP’s”: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. (California is where I live and where the case had been filed; that state’s anti-SLAPP law is among the nation’s strongest.)
And no, I am not going to generate undue attention to those old cases by elaborating. The archives of this site are complete and transparent.
Despite my inclinations, the San Diego State information so far is not, in my estimation, mature enough for publication. It is not my practice just to throw stuff out there willy-nilly.
What I did decide to do was to contact the Los Angeles Times reporters. My reasoning was that the San Diego football gang rape story was principally Lopez and Shalby’s – or in any case, vanity aside, that the Times has an astronomically larger footprint than my own modest website. I was confident these reporters have been hearing the same rumors and fielding similar tips – and likely more. I thought sharing what I knew, in confidence, might empower the newspaper in its continuing interactions with police and university officials, and empower the reporters with their editors.
Now we get to the last part of what I have to write today, which is awkward. I emailed Lopez and Shalby with an offer to compare notes “off the record.” Lopez’ responded in such a peculiar way that I believe it disqualified any restriction of my discussing our exchange in this article.
Lopez, in his email reply, thanked me for reaching out and asked for my phone number. Actually, I had already given him my number, and I pointed this out. But I gave it to him again.
Then Lopez proceeded to ghost me. He didn’t call and he didn’t respond to a follow-up email.
What happened here is anyone’s guess. My theory is that, first and foremost, either Lopez and his colleague, or their editors, simply can’t abide acknowledging the existence of a mere independent author, journalist, and blogger, no matter how self-effacing he is and how legitimate and important is his overture. Yech. Can’t have that.
Organs such as the Los Angeles Times prefer “putting themselves over” – as they say in show business – with lengthy, broad-brush investigations that nibble effectively enough at the edges of scandals to justify submission to panels handing out journalism awards – while not seriously jeopardizing their relationships with and access to powerful players and institutions. Right now, as the Times noted, SDSU is building Snapdragon Stadium, a new 35,000-seat campus facility.
For all we know, the Times feels it has done something about the gang rape story and is “one and done” with it, until and unless there’s an arrest.
Something similar happened in 2016, when I was highly critical of the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage of the 2014 conditioning drill death of University of California-Berkeley football player Ted Agu. The Chron’s reporters had had access to the same leaked deposition testimony in the Agu family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the university that I eventually got my hands on. (The parties wound up settling for $4.75 million, long after the university’s meddling in the coroner’s investigation and withholding of key documents from the Alameda County sheriff’s office had succeeded in tamping down public perception of the true narrative of Agu’s demise, from an exertional attack associated with sickle cell trait.)
Unlike Concussion Inc., the newspaper cherry-picked the depositions for a single front-page story, on circulation-thin Saturday, that said some critical things but, crucially, nothing about the testimony of football team doctor Casey Batten’s unsolicited phone call to county medical examiner Dr. Thomas Beaver, in which Batten asserted that Agu’s death looked like a slam-dunk heart attack; about Cal’s not sharing with Beaver the known information that Agu was a sickle cell trait carrier; and about a sheriff’s lieutenant’s concession that dozens of pages seemed to be missing from a university fax containing the campus police investigation.
(I won a California Public Records Act lawsuit against the University of California for catalyzing the release of hundreds of additional pages of internal documents daylighting the Agu death cover-up and the contemporaneous PR strategy. The university appealed. Briefs have been filed with the Court of Appeal — including an amicus curiae on my behalf by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — and oral arguments are upcoming.)
Michael Gray, the Chronicle’s managing editor for enterprise and investigations (he now has a different title there), explained.
“It doesn’t appear that you are suggesting there was any error in the Ted Agu story,” Gray emailed me, in part, “just that you believe it did not contain certain information you believe might be pertinent.”
Uh, yes. One might put it that way.