The Baltimore Sun today published a story on the allegations of sexual abuse at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, home base of Michael Phelps. See http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-10-05/news/bs-md-north-baltimore-aquatic-club-abuse-20121005_1_allegation-of-inappropriate-conduct-sexual-misconduct-aquatic-club-coach.
The good news here is that the major newspaper in that town has shattered the local media embargo on reports of yet another cell of sick behavior at a prominent youth swimming program. This will help blow open the disgrace that this sport has become under the reign of terror and cover-up at USA Swimming.
The bad news? Reporters Yvonne Wenger and Jean Marbella produced a one-sided introductory account, which comforts the powerful and seeks to bury the anonymous alleged victim. (More below on my own conversation with Wenger yesterday.)
The Sun doesn’t mention that this story was broken earlier in the week by Tim Joyce, then with WBAL Radio before station management abruptly, and in incoherent installments, “disappeared” him. (See my post last night about Hearst Radio’s cowardice.) The issue isn’t so much credit to Joyce — though, as a fellow freelance writer and a friend of Joyce’s, I think that would be nice — as professional thoroughness by the Sun and context for its readers.
I still don’t know the identity of the alleged victim of the North Baltimore Aquatic coach, but I know details about her allegations that haven’t yet been published. I also am familiar both with Joyce’s excellent body of reporting and with the national pattern of cover-up of sex crimes against girl swimmers. It is dead wrong for the Sun to treat the anonymous source in a story of this sort with third-degree suspicion. She is not a government official leaking a memo for self-serving purposes, but almost certainly a genuine victim of a heinous act that will cast a shadow over the rest of her life, and whose disclosures can help protect future victims and set in motion overdue reforms. Nor is Joyce an expedient rhetorical bomb-thrower on the order of, say, the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Central to the Sun report is this regrettable paragraph:
“USA Swimming said it first received information about the alleged 1975 incident in August 2010, when a woman described the incident in a voice mail message. But the alleged victim did not follow up with an investigator.”
The second sentence is not attributed, but the antecedent source is clearly USA Swimming. A couple of things here:
* “The alleged 1975 incident” is not the beginning and end of the North Baltimore Aquatic experience in this area.
* The alleged victim vehemently denies not following up with “an investigator.” Recall that USA Swimming put out the story that Kelley Davies Currin, who had been serially raped starting at age 13 by the now-banned coaching legend Rick Curl, “didn’t cooperate” with the organization’s crack investigator — who had taken two years to find her, or approximately 100 times as much time as a Washington Post reporter in the wake of ABC’s 20/20 investigation in 2010.
There’s no turning back on this story, for the Baltimore Sun or anyone else, and I hope that in its future reports the newspaper treats sex abuse like the clear and present danger it is, rather than like a corporate inconvenience for one of its city’s famous institutions and the national band of liars overseeing it.
On Monday the name of the accused coach will be revealed — on this blog at least, and perhaps in other news accounts as well.
Now for the background of my contacts with the Sun. On Thursday I spoke with the newspaper’s police beat reporter, Justin Fenton. I was seeking Fenton’s help in acquiring a document said to be in the files of Precinct 1 of the Baltimore County Police Department: a report of what USA Swimming (in the course of its rambling attack on Joyce’s reporting) claims it provided the police in 2011 regarding the alleged victim’s complaint and information.
I told Fenton that I wanted that report, and I asked him to use his superior resources in expediting such a public information request. This could be either as a favor for me or as the basis of the Sun‘s own journalism on this scenario.
Yesterday Fenton’s colleague Yvonne Wenger called me and we talked at length. According to Wenger, Baltimore PD said it didn’t have such a document on file. I added the name of the alleged perpetrator-coach. Wenger said she already had the coach’s name; still no dice with Baltimore PD.
So I suggested that one aspect of this story is a conflict between USA Swimming’s account and Baltimore PD’s. That didn’t make it into today’s Sun story.
On Monday I will personally ask the Baltimore police chief to release the 2011 report in alignment with both public information law and public safety principles.