How MSU Resisted ESPN on Sex-Abuse Records

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Michigan State University officials, who are under heavy fire for their handling of the Larry Nassar sex harassment case, frustrated ESPN for more than three years by refusing to turn over records in other sex abuse cases, ESPN’s Paula Lavigne tells the Poynter Institute. The university even redacted names readily disclosed to the network by the East Lansing, Mi., Police Department. Its conduct was deemed so egregious that it was ordered to pay ESPN’s attorney fees. The university proactively sued ESPN last year on another records request. The ESPN investigation, which began in 2014, targeted basketball and football players at ten. The network reported that at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women.

“The East Lansing Police Department responded faster and more comprehensively than any department we worked with on the story,” Lavigne said. “It was amazing. But MSU charged us thousands of dollars and, when we got the records, had redacted all the names, regardless of whether the cases had been disposed of.” Poynter’s James Warren said that Michigan State is a casebook study in a media strategy known all too well to lots of institutions, public and private, and their communications officials, as well as Freedom of Information Act officials. Delay. Delay. Delay. Then delay some more. And, just to be even more belligerent, and waste more taxpayer funds on outside lawyers, delay even more. Many media organizations don’t have the money to pay expensive. outside attorneys. There are honorable nonprofits, like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, but they can’t assist everybody.

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