I have said it already, and I still believe it. I think Rick Pitino made a mistake in firing back in a news conference Wednesday. I think he took a development that wasn’t on the national radar — the release of video tapes of Karen Sypher’s interviews with police — and wound up injecting the story into the national scene again.
I think he hurt himself legally. If I were Sypher’s attorney, I’d be pointing at this news conference, noting that the most famous man in the city of Louisville called told the city of Louisville — in a news conference that was carried live — that my client was a liar. I’d ask for an immediate change of venue. Pitino provided grounds for that today, and did it knowingly.
I think his tone wasn’t always right. He was defiant on points in which he should have been deferential. His mentioning of Ted Kennedy was awkward.
I say all this up front, just so it’s clear.
But I also want to say this. I understand a little more about where Pitino was coming from after watching the 11 o’clock news.
Particularly on WHAS, I watched video of Sypher talking about Pitino in very descriptive terms describing a rape that neither local police nor the FBI found any evidence of having happened. And I have to ask the question — why was it there? It was tucked into a story that was supposed to have been about local reaction the press conference.
It was needless. Two weeks ago, when police released the transcripts of Sypher’s interviews, the same details were available. Why, if they were worthy of broadcast, did WHAS not air them then?
I’ll tell you why. In television, it’s the video that matters. In the eyes of TV news, Sypher’s claims weren’t aired until they could be aired in her voice on their newscasts.
But the fact of the matter is, some of the video that was aired was gratuitous. They aired it because they had it.
Now, it’s true, The C-J was the first to publish Sypher’s claims. But it did so without the most sensational or off-the-wall allegations. And though the full report was published elsewhere, it was not published by the paper because so much of it is, frankly, not credible.
After that, I was surprised that the AP published the ludicrous Sypher charge that Pitino paid her husband to marry her. I was even more surprised that the Lexington Herald-Leader stripped it across its front page.
So some of what Pitino said was right. It is sad that these things that have been investigated and dismissed still get aired as breaking news. I’ll give him that. But that is always the way local TV news has worked. Two weeks after the news broke, they treated the release of this video as some kind of revelation, and rushed to be the first out with it. It’s typical.
Watching these things, I understood Pitino’s mindset better. But in in the end, how many people are going to see what few mintues of these tapes some local stations in Louisville aired? Nobody nationally had any interest in them. They were a pretty small-time phenomenon.
Pitino is media savvy enough to know this. But I suppose he was too angry to worry about that.
He’s also angry, apparently, that the media aren’t going after Sypher harder. He made this rather cryptic statement: “All I did was stand up to a long laundry list of people who passed way today, who couldn’t stand up because what was done was wrong.”
He’s alluding, I think, to other men Sypher may have been involved with, may have gotten money from. The Louisville Eccentric Observer recently documented some of these.
And this might well be something that comes out in trial. But in the court of public opinion, all that really matters is that his name is on that list.
Where Pitino went out of bounds is this comment: “It’s a lie. It’s a 100 percent lie. You’ve known it’s a lie. You haven’t printed it, you haven’t said it, you know the background, but you haven’t said it.”
Maybe Sypher’s background is the background he’s talking about. Maybe he’s angry that nobody in the media is going to bat for him hard enough. But it is not the job of the media to proclaim Sypher a liar. That’s what we have trials for. And it is not the media’s job to absolve Pitino of whatever the public might hold against him. It is the media’s job, however, to be fair and accurate.
All of these “lies,” of course, we’re left to guess about. He offered no specifics.
Anyway, I get it. I get his anger. There are some things, perhaps, he has a right to be angry about.
But these are discussions he’d have been better off to have with individual news executives, not in front of the nation. When you tell the public that everything in a story has been a lie except what you have said about it, they’re never going to believe you. To set yourself up as the only source of truth is a losing proposition.
And to lecture the media on right and wrong is, well, not useful in his position. And while he is the victim of an alleged extortion attempt, to paint himself as a victim in totality is, as well, a dog that won’t hunt with the public.
Pitino did accomplish something. He undoubtedly cut the number of minutes of Sypher video that appeared on the news tonight. And, in his trademark way, he put his mark on the news that was reported. But it came at great price. It came at the price of awakening the nation to this situation, when it largely had died down.
I’m betting Pitino feels better tonight. But while he got some things off his chest, he paid a price for it.