Journalists Speak Out About Investigation Into Convicted Child Molester
A sudden step into the limelight was not what the reporters at the IndyStar were looking for when they began investigating Larry Nassar. But it was exactly what they got.
Tim Evans and Robert Scheer were two members of the team of journalists at the IndyStar that investigated accusations of sexual assault against Larry Nassar, the former doctor at USA Gymnastics and convicted serial child molester. On July 10, speaking to a crowd of students at the High School Journalism Institute about the investigation, Evans said that the inquiry started out as an investigation into allegations of Indiana teachers covering up sexual misconduct with students. After receiving a tip that implicated USA Gymnastics in a Georgia court case, the investigation took a turn that eventually led the team to Nassar
“When we started the investigation, we had some ideas of what we were looking for and we kept pulling string on different avenues,” Evans said. “At the end, one of those lines was Larry Nassar. It was a huge story, but we had no idea how big it was going to be.”
Evans explained that this case had several serious ethical concerns, particularly given the heavy topic. Nassar was a well-respected doctor with a stellar record, an unusual target for the charges levied at him.
“Typically, when you write about someone who’s accused of molesting (children), it’s after they get charged,” said Evans. “We were at the point that we were making these accusations against a doctor.”
This degree of uncertainty in the Nassar case affected not only the journalists but also the women coming forward with their stories. Scheer explained that the lack of a definite conclusion to Nassar’s case meant it was more difficult for his victims to share their experiences.
“In some cases, we were talking to women (when) the person who had done something to them was already in jail,” Scheer said. “So they didn’t have that worry, that stress that they were going to be falsely accusing someone. With the Nassar incident, it was different — they were in some ways going out on more of a limb.”
The team had to balance their responsibilities to portray Nassar in a fair light with the responsibility to ensure the women being interviewed were treated well. Evans explained that he gave the survivors multiple opportunities to back out and made sure they were always fully aware of the risks of coming forward. Although this may have made it more difficult to get the quotes they needed, Evans said he believed the trust he gained because of his actions was well worth the trade-off.
“What leaves a mark is a body of work,” Evans said. “There’s no story good enough to get rid of your credibility and your reputation, because that’s all you’ve got.”