Journalist who led investigation into Larry Nassar tells story at media ethics lecture

Steve+Berta%2C+investigative+reporter+and+editor+from+the+IndyStar%2C+shared+is+experience+with+the+Larry+Nassar+case+at+the+media+ethics+Burleigh+Lecture.+

Photo by Kate Holstein

Steve Berta, investigative reporter and editor from the IndyStar, shared is experience with the Larry Nassar case at the media ethics Burleigh Lecture.

The annual Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture featured Steve Berta, investigations editor for the Indianapolis Star, and was held in the Alumni Memorial Union Oct. 11 at 4 p.m. 

The Indianapolis Star was the newspaper that confirmed allegations about the history of sexual assault within USA Gymnastics by doctor Larry Nassar in 2016.

Kimo Ah Yun, dean of the College of Communication, said Berta was a good choice for this year’s lecture.

“Our goal is to get Marquette and our students to hear his story and to understand his commitment to the story and the truth,” Ah Yun said.  

Berta said a simple tip turned into an explosive story.

“There was apparently a secret deposition of 57 coaches withholding information of abuse down in Georgia,” he said. 

Berta, along with his team of writers, spent over 18 months researching the story.

“We were working day and night, traveling across 12 states, all while U.S. Gymnastics was pushing back from us,” Berta said.

The publishing of the story and Nassar’s arrest were reliant on crucial information and events falling into place, Berta said, adding that at times they were close to losing evidence.

“Police searched Nassar’s belongings and found a hard drive containing child pornography,” Berta said. “If it weren’t for the trash pick-up being a day late, we may never have found that information.”

One of Berta’s reporters ended up traveling to meet with Nassar, who tried to convince the reporter of his innocence.

“Although I’ve never met Nassar, I can say I know him pretty well,” Berta said. 

Berta said the aftermath of researching and reporting such a sensitive issue caused him to seek counseling.

He said there is a broader ethical concern with his work on stories such as this.

“Your life doesn’t stop. If it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong,” Berta said. 

Berta said the team of reporters avoided bias and getting overly emotional in their news gathering.

“This wasn’t a political story-no one wants to see kids getting molested. It was a matter of doing our jobs,” he said. 

Dave Umhoefer, director of the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism in the College of Communication, said he was amazed by how the reporters managed to stay calm while reporting on such a personal issue.

“Without their work, the voices of the victims would never have been heard,” Umhoefer said.

Umhoefer said the way the reporters handled these allegations is important to him. Umhoefer spent three decades at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as an investigative reporter. 

“By hitting an ethical standard and relating to journalism, this issue is a perfect fit for the lecture,” Umhoefer said.

Ah Yun said Berta had important lessons to teach everyone.

“All of us need to be vigilant every day, seeing what’s going on around us and making a difference,” he said.