On Tuesday, USA Today offered an aggressive takedown of the Big Ten Network's coverage of the Penn State child abuse scandal, writing that the network (which is owned by The Big Ten Conference along with Fox Networks) "seems to be tiptoeing around the scandal." It further stated the Big Ten Network had provided "no coverage of the young boys allegedly victimized, no debates about what should happen next, no analysis of the impact on PSU and the surrounding community." SI.com spoke with Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman on his network's coverage:
SI.com: Have you been told by any league partners, any Big Ten officials, any Penn State officials, to go soft on this story or mitigate your coverage?
Silverman: No, and we have never gotten a call on any topic we have covered.
SI.com: Should the Big Ten Network be judged by the same standards as an ESPN, or Sports Illustrated or Yahoo! Sports on this story? Or should the standards for covering a story like this be different for a league-owned network?
Silverman: That's a really good question. I think we are a different network than ESPN and others. We obviously are branded. What I think is a fair evaluation of us is less about how much of it are you doing, and what is it we are doing. I think you look at what we are doing and what our announcers are saying and whether or not you feel people like [host] Dave Revsine or [analyst] Gerry DiNardo are being limited or guided. I think that should be our barometer. And I think you will see our guys are giving fully candid, true views that frankly are not often times making the conference look the way we would prefer to make them look.
But we are going to cover this and do it fairly and from a credible standpoint. From the quantity standpoint, we are just not set up. We are not CNN. We are not ESPN. We are not able to go to that length. But if you look at what we have out there and how often we are trying to re-air our content, I think most people would find it relevant and appropriate for who we are.
SI.com: Is there anything within this story that would be too explicit for the Big Ten Network to cover?
Silverman: I think the specifics of the sexual abuse is beyond what I'm comfortable with our network covering. That would be the only exclusion. I believe we are giving our analysts the opportunity to provide as much of a variety of opinions as possible. I think a lot of this is people see gavel-to-gavel coverage on an ESPN -- which comes up as news and a lot of it is not -- over and over again. Then you flip to us and we have programming. So you may miss our ticker that is running that showed Paterno's statement ormiss our "Big Ten Blast" which runs at the top of the hour. I understand how it appears but the reality is there is content on there that I think is appropriate and that I think properly reflects what is going on from our standpoint.
SI.com: How would you assess your coverage, so far, of the Penn State story?
Silverman: Our overall strategy when covering these events is we have to report the information, and that we report the good and the bad. We don't try to be overly speculative in our coverage because I think there's a lot of times what's fact and what is not yet fact sometimes gets muddied. We have a heightened responsibility to make sure what we are reporting is accurate. We try to be fair, we try to be balanced and we try to be measured about what we are reporting. We know we are branded Big Ten and we know people are looking at us thinking "How are they going to cover certain events?" We go about our business knowing that's the way people will be looking at us.
As I look at our coverage the past few days, I am very pleased with what we have been able to do. It's as difficult a subject matter as you can probably imagine. It is hard to imagine a more difficult story for a branded network to cover, and I think given that incredible sensitivity around this type of story, I am really proud of the fact of how we covered it.
We have covered [the story] since it launched in all of our shows. We have not shied away from it. Our challenge is we don't have a 24-hour operation. We are rarely live. Most of our programming is taped programming. So we have come on live in the morning and aired what we call a "Big Ten Blast" and repeated it throughout the day. We had a special program on the subject last night. I don't see us as being the ones that just regurgitate interviews all day long to try to come up with what appears to be 24-hour coverage when it really is not ... We've interviewed Penn State student-athletes -- Silas Redd and a couple of other students. One of our main talents, Rick Pizzo, hopped on a plane and got there and is doing interviews. His content will be part of our ongoing coverage. I am very comfortable. I think it is appropriate given our brand. We are obviously in a different position than ESPN and others.
SI.com: You are certainly aware that USA Today took you to task in a web post under the headline "Is the Big Ten Network avoiding the Penn State sex scandal." Two of the things they cited were "no coverage of the young boys allegedly victimized, and no debates about what should happen next." What is your response?
Silverman: On the subject of the boys, I'm not really sure what that means. In terms of what happened to them specifically I think we have been respectful in our coverage of that topic. I don't think we have shied away from the nature of what it is. I think the specifics of the abuse that the boys encountered, frankly, is somewhat outside the scope of what I am comfortable with us covering. But on your second item, if you watch what we did Tuesday and today, our talent is giving their thoughts and they are being quite candid and giving their opinions ... No one is coaching them. No one is telling them what to do.
SI.com: How would you assess your coverage plans going forward?
Silverman: We have a production crew at State College who is ready to cover any kind of press conference and conduct interviews. I believe we have had more interviews with Penn State student-athletes than any other network has had. We are extending our football "Big Ten and Beyond" show to 90 minutes and we will give it an additional airing. We have our BTM Live show Thursday that will cover this as well. I think part of this is early in the week we typically have more taped type of shows than the kind of shows that are coming on now...We are looking at doing regular updates and we will continue, for the most part, with our regular programming, breaking in with updates as we think they are relevant to our audience. I think that is the appropriate way to cover it.