To be fair, the hometown Democrat covered this investigation extensively until it ended. When news of the investigation first broke, before Winston had won the Heisman or FSU had won the BCS national championship, the Democrat was among the first outlets on the news. (The Tampa Bay Times was on it from the start as well, but for whatever reason, this has never been the Herald’s story.) That coverage is behind a paywall now, but Gabordi’s blog post explaining how the paper struggled with how to report the story is here.
The Democrat reported that prosecutor Willie Meggs, the woman’s family, and the woman’s attorneys repeatedly criticized police handling of the case. A few days after the case was closed, the prosecutor released recordings of interviews done with witnesses and friends of the woman who accused Winston. “Additional details of the delayed investigation into a year-old rape allegation against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston were released Wednesday by the office of State Attorney Willie Meggs,” the Democrat reported. But the paper didn’t fully explore those delays, as Bogdanich did.
The federal government is investigating whether FSU violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. USA Today broke that news two weeks ago, and the Democrat picked up USA Today’s story. On Friday, the Democrat published another story about the Title IX investigation.
When I asked more specifically what stories the Democrat had done that laid out the flaws in the Tallahassee Police Department investigation, Gabordi referred me to a Nov. 29 article headlined, “TPD defends handling of Jameis Winston case.”
That story, done shortly before the prosecutor decided not to file charges, questions whether the department followed its own policies in the investigation, which is a reasonable question to ask. It notes the Tallahassee police were criticized for sharing information with defense attorneys. It also notes that attorneys swirling around the high-profile case had accused the police of not interviewing witnesses.
So why not test their claims once the investigation was closed? As soon as the prosecutor decided not to charge Winston, many of the records in the case became public.
The difference between the coverage in the Democrat or other Florida papers and the New York Times account is the difference between raising questions or noting inconsistencies and delivering a searing, well-documented indictment. Even without a new “bombshell,” the Times marshaled the evidence, and turned over some new stones, to deliver a tale of shoddy policing that was more powerful than anything else that had been written.
In criticizing the Times piece, Stossel, the Democrat’s sports editor, wrote on Twitter that Meggs, the prosecutor, “has been ripping the TPD investigation from day one.” Yes—but Bogdanich showed just how right Meggs was.
I spoke with Grimes, the Herald columnist, on Friday. He said he hadn’t seen anything nearly as penetrating as the New York Times account in any Florida paper.
“They did some decent stuff,” Grimm told me, referring to the Democrat’s reporting. “But they made no effort to put it together and they didn’t press the cops.”
“There was a time when that would have been our story,” he added. “I think the Tallahassee Democrat deserves to be embarrassed, and we deserve to be embarrassed too.”
Even if you’re not inclined to be so critical of the Florida press, I’ve seen nothing here that offers the context, depth, comprehensive narrative, and overall impact of Bogdanich’s reporting. The lagging Herald, at least, served its readers by picking up the Times article.
The Democrat made a different choice, which I don’t entirely understand—but if the Tallahassee paper believes the New York Times didn’t get the story right, I’d love to see it take its own crack at the definitive coverage of this story.
Correction: The original version of this post overlooked the fact that The Tampa Bay Times ran a condensed version of Bogdanich’s piece. The post has been updated. CJR regrets the error.