The media today: At Nassar sentencing, ‘Thank God we had these journalists’

The sentencing of Dr. Larry Nassar was carried live on cable news and led all three nightly newscasts. The story appears this morning on front pages across the country. And it all began with the work of a team of investigative journalists

The focus of the past week has largely, and rightly, been on the brave women who have come forward to confront Nassar in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom. But on Wednesday, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis also took time to praise the impact of reporters who pursued the case and brought it to light. “Thank God we had these journalists. And that they exposed this truth and that they continued to cover this story,” she said.

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Nassar’s downfall began on the morning of August 4, 2016, when The Indianapolis Star published an investigation into the failure of USA Gymnastics to alert authorities about allegations of sexual abuse by its coaches. Star reporters Mark Alesia, Marisa Kwiatkowski, and Tim Evans recounted yesterday how they received an email from Rachael Denhollander that morning. She wrote, “I recently read the article titled ‘Out of Balance’ published by the IndyStar. My experience may not be relevant to your investigation, but I am emailing to report an incident that may be. I was not molested by my coach, but I was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USAG. I was fifteen years old, and it was under the guise of medical treatment for my back.”

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The Star would go on to publish several stories about Nassar, and outlets like the Detroit News, The Athletic, and The Orange County Register, among others, dedicated resources to pushing the story of abuse in gymnastics forward. Nassar’s horrific abuse, the complicity of the power structures that enabled him, and the courage of those whose voices were finally heard are all important threads of the story that will continue to be covered. But, as Povilaitis said yesterday, “The final takeaway is that we as a society need investigative journalists more than ever. What finally started this reckoning and ended this decadeslong cycle of abuse was investigative reporting. Without that first Indianapolis Star story in August of 2016, without the story where Rachael came forward publicly shortly thereafter, he would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes, and abusing kids.”

Below, more on the coverage of Nassar’s sentencing and the fallout surrounding his actions.

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  • A powerful front page: Against a blank white backdrop, the Detroit Free Press printed the names of every woman who came forward to speak out at Nassar’s sentencing hearing.
  • In their own words: The New York Times’s Carla Correa and Meghan Louttit record the survivors’ statements in a stark, brutal presentation.
  • The fallout: Facing pressure following reports that she should have done more about Nassar’s actions, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned Earlier this week, three top officials from USA gymnastics also stepped down.
  • Institutional complicity: For Sports Illustrated, Charles P. Pierce offers a scathing take on the repercussions that should spread from revelations about Nassar’s enablers. “Burn it all down,” he writes. “Nobody employed in the upper echelons at USA Gymnastics, or at the United States Olympic Committee, or at Michigan State University should still have a job.”


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.