Smith article: Nassar coverage followed familiar framing patterns
Media coverage of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University followed framing patterns commonly seen in child sex abuse scandals, including the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University, according to an article published by assistant professor Lauren Smith. But unlike the Sandusky case, the Nassar story failed to ignite public moral panic for over a year.
“Media Framing of Larry Nassar and the USA Gymnastics Child Sex Abuse Scandal,” by Smith and Ann Pegoraro of Laurentian University, appears in the Journal of Child Sex Abuse.
The authors found that both local and national coverage of the Nassar scandal was mostly episodic, framing the story to be about one responsible individual and ignoring broader themes of societal impacts and prevention. They wrote that this is typical for coverage of child sex abuse, and it “reinforces the notion that (child sex abuse) ‘just happens’ and is a problem too big and complicated to address.”
The allegations against Nassar were first reported by The Indianapolis Star in August 2016, and the authors noted that the story failed to draw much attention until December 2017 when well-known figures started to speak out. They suggested this could be because women’s sports receive substantially less coverage than men’s sports and/or because abuse of women and girls (compared to men and boys) is normalized.