With Bernie Fine accuser recanting, it’s time for transparency at ESPN

There will be no ESPN “Outside the Lines” shows with Bob Ley. Mark Schwarz will not be camped outside the Carmelo Anthony Center. Bernie Fine’s face will not grace the front page of ESPN.

No, when Zach Tomaselli, better known as the third Fine accuser, recanted Thursday night to CNY Central, there was little fanfare, and even fewer fuss.

Tomaselli said in an email that he never met Bernie Fine. Not in Connecticut. Not in Pittsburgh. In fact, he said that Bobby Davis, Fine’s first accuser, helped him fabricate the story. “Bobby Davis told me what to tell detectives and it pretty much took off from there.”

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This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

Back in January, the Onondaga District Attorney’s Office investigated Tomaselli’s story. They went over his accusations piece by piece. And when they finished, and attempted to corroborate his story, the pieces didn’t fit.

Tomaselli reportedly changed his story and District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said as much.

So with a little bit of fact checking, Tomaselli’s story was rebutted.

The question remains, did Mark Schwarz do the same?

It seems like with the same kind of follow up on ESPN’s part, Tomaselli’s story could’ve been stopped.

When Tomaselli approached Schwarz with his accusations, Schwarz put Tomaselli in touch with Bobby Davis, the first accuser.

Let me say that again. Mark Schwarz put Tomaselli in touch with Davis.

That leads to Tomaselli’s quote to CNY Central being somewhat credible, for a man whose word carries very little of it.

Now, there are more questions to be asked. Not of any of the accusers, but of the man who gave them the microphone to do it.

Did Schwarz make calls to Pittsburgh or Connecticut to corroborate some of Tomaselli’s claims? Did he speak with Tomaselli’s father, who said that his son had outright lied?

In other words, did Schwarz attempt to vet Tomaselli’s story beforehand?

Perhaps Schwarz really did do his homework. Maybe Tomaselli’s story checked out. If that’s true, Schwarz would be on more steady ground to put Davis and Tomaselli together.

It could very well be that ESPN had exercised responsibile journalism, and if they did, I applaud that.

But there is an alternate reality that is a distinct possibility – did Schwarz simply go ahead with the story once Tomaselli called him?

It’s not particularly far-fetched.

But let’s get to the bottom of it. Let’s find out what happened.

I’m asking for transparency now.

I would like to know the thought process behind running with Tomaselli’s story. I would like to know what legwork, what research, what interviews were done to exercise responsible and ethical journalism.

I want to see how Tomaselli could’ve tricked Schwarz into thinking that his story was true, and how ESPN couldn’t do the same kind of investigating that the Onondaga District Attorney’s Office did.

Now, don’t mistake the point of my column. I’m not asking for Schwarz to be disciplined – yet.

I don’t know enough about what happened and I’m not rushing to conclusions, which is exactly the kind of judgment I hope that Schwarz and the rest of his colleagues at ESPN exercised in running Tomaselli’s story.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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