Why Did Vice Sports Ice Our Story on Federal Investigations of USA Swimming Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up? An Intriguing Inside-the-Media Tale

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by Irvin Muchnick



Two days ago Concussion Inc. published the 6,000-word investigative piece by Tim Joyce and me on the background of Congressional and FBI investigations of the generation-long cover-up of widespread sexual abuse at USA Swimming. The story is real and serious. So are the current behind-the-scenes probes of this explosive scandal both on Capitol Hill and in the Department of Justice.

In my interview yesterday with Marc Daniels of Orlando’s 740 The Game, I spoke only in general terms about the culture of self-censorship in major media with respect to the swimming scandals. I didn’t want to distract from the story itself, which has a different focus: that something is finally happening in the area of oversight and accountability in the most heinous ring of authority-figure rape outside the Catholic Church.

But yesterday, after my kindred spirit journalist and author – and fellow Show Me Stater – Matt Chaney passed along to me allegations of corruption in the operations of Vice Media, the hottest new thing on today’s tepid journalism landscape, I knew I had to share with our readers the story behind the story.

Here’s the headline: Concussion Inc.’s article was originally commissioned by Vice Sports – which accepted it, edited it, scheduled it for Monday, October 6, then backed off, without explanation and without rescheduling.

Let’s not make too little of what went down at Vice. Let’s not make too much of it, either. Tim and I deliberately offered them the swimming piece “on spec.” And having been jerked around in the past by other major outlets that feigned interest in our material before sitting on it indefinitely, out of garden-variety cowardice, we demanded a finite window of consideration, and we ultimately made good on that demand.

The full chronology:

* On September 29, Vice Sports editor Tomas Rios emailed me, “We hope to have a final cut in the next couple days and run it either this Thursday or next Monday.”

* Later that day: “Rounding the corner on a full edit. We’ll have some suggestions and points of clarification, but nothing drastic.”

* September 30: “We’re gonna go for Monday [October 6]. I know that’s not your ideal, but the benefit is that it gives our in-house media/comms people more lead time to push it out there through their channels. This is a story that we’re putting our full weight behind.”

* Later that day: “Attached is an edited google doc with some requests/comments. Please review and get back to us. We plan on running this Monday. In addition, for the purposes of pushing it out there via our media/comms people to more outlets, could you please provide a separate breakdown of what reporting in here is new and previously unknown to the public? Thanks. Great work on this, by the way, we’re really rounding the corner.”

* On October 3, Rios walked it back: “It’s a work in progress. This is a big piece that has to be given a lot of time and work prior to publication. When we have a new draft, you’ll get it immediately.”

* Later that day: “I can’t promise it’ll go up on Monday. A piece of this magnitude is subject to serious fact checking and editing, both of which take time and we can’t forsake our day-to-day operations for that.”

* Then: “No promise has been made that it would run on Monday. The plan was Thursday or Monday, but that’s a plan and not a formal promise. I can’t alter our process in the interest of satisfying your understandable desire to get the story out there ASAP.”

* In response to my question as to whether there was a new “plan” for a pub date: “I can’t alter our editorial process to accommodate your wants. There is a world of difference between you running this story on your platform and VICE staking its reputation on the same story on its own platform.”

To the last sentence there, I think we’d all say “fair enough.” Yesterday, however, brother Chaney passed along critical articles about Vice Media suggesting that it might be less than the fearless force of its self-portrayal and venture-capital hype, and much more like the flavor of the month.

Last week, fired Vice editor Charles Davis pushed a story that articles he’d written had been killed because of potential conflicts with advertisers and “brand partners.” See http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2014/10/8553826/former-vice-media-editor-says-company-killed-stories-over-brand-partne.

Four months ago, Gawker, the snarky and indispensable gossip fence of new media, published a story headlined “Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems.” See http://gawker.com/working-at-vice-media-is-not-as-cool-as-it-seems-1579711577.

Vice Sports editor Rios did not respond to an email requesting comment.



How the USA Swimming Sexual Abuse Scandals Became a Federal Case

Published October 7th, 2014


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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick