Covering the Bill Conlin case

Most of you have probably heard by now that longtime columnist Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News is alleged to have molested four children in the 1970s, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. From ESPN.com news services:

… The four alleged victims told the Inquirer they were molested by Conlin in the 1970s, when they were between the ages of 7 and 12. The Inquirer reported that prosecutors took statements from the four last year but could not act on the allegations because they are beyond the statute of limitations. The law in New Jersey does not allow for cases to be prosecuted that occurred and were not reported prior to 1996.

… Conlin, who is 77, retired from the Daily News on Tuesday. His attorney, George Bochetto, issued a statement to the Inquirer, saying: “Mr. Conlin is obviously floored by these accusations, which supposedly happened 40 years ago. He has engaged me to do everything possible to bring the facts forward to vindicate his name.”

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk discusses how the Baseball Writers Association of America found it important to reiterate that Conlin’s 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award is not affected, without acknowledging the gravity of the charges, and how some of the BBWAA members felt that was, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News wrote, a “tone-deaf” statement, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case.

Here’s what Philadelphia Daily News editor Larry Platt wrote:

… I first found out the Inquirer was working on a piece about Bill Monday. I read a draft of the piece this afternoon. It bears repeating all the necessary caveats, of course: at present, these are allegations. Bill has not been proven guilty or even charged with anything.

That said, I have to say the story made my stomach turn. I can’t shake the disgust and rage I felt after reading the allegations in the piece, nor can I stop thinking about the victims.

I have known Bill Conlin since 1990, and before that, I knew him as a legendary voice on the page. I simply do not know how to reconcile what I’ve read with the man I know. I spoke to him today. He offered to retire and I immediately accepted. I knew I’d never be comfortable running his byline again.

For a long time today, we struggled with how to best acknowledge this story without knowing the facts or reporting on it ourselves. It is a strange and sad time in the newsroom, and we will do our best to cover this as if it were any other high-profile figure in Philadelphia. But of course it is not just another high-profile figure in Philadelphia.

Conlin has been synonymous with this paper for five decades, and to pretend that we know how to approach a story like this is to insult your intelligence. All I can promise you is that we will attempt to be as thorough and fair as we can possibly be – not just to the facts of the story – but also to you, our readers. And that means being as open and transparent as we can be.

Since this is such uncharted territory, I don’t know precisely what that will look like. I do know this: This is a tragedy. It’s tragic for the victims, for Conlin’s family, for the family of the Daily News, but also for the familial relationship we have with our readers. Like me, you’ve grown up with and trusted Conlin’s bellowing voice. Now that trust is compromised by horrific allegations.

When I spoke with my stunned staff today, I found myself uncharacteristically at a loss for words. But then the reporters and editors among us started speaking up. They wanted to report this story. It was, for me, an oddly inspiring moment.

They reminded me: This is what we do. We hold people accountable, and we’ve done that with everyone from mayors to Jerry Sandusky. Now we just may have to do it with one of our own.

Update: Via Hardball Talk, here’s a new statement from the BBWAA:

“We were shocked and saddened to learn of the allegations involving Bill Conlin and we extend our sympathies to everyone involved. This is a matter far more serious than baseball and, at this point, a matter best left to the proper authorities.”

– Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times
BBWAA President
Dec. 21, 2011

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