David Zurawik

WBAL-TV stands behind Sandusky report on Flanagan and reasons for suicide

WBAL-TV is standing behind its Wednesday-night report by sportscaster Gerry Sandusky linking the suicide of former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and executive Mike Flanagan to him being "despondent" over being perceived as having failed the team and fans during his time in the O's front office.

But police investigators Thursday unequivocally attributed Flanagan's action to "financial difficulties." That attribution, police said, is based on an interview with Flanagan's widow, Alex. There was no suicide note.

Michelle Butt, news director for Channel 11, said Thursday that "multiple sources" told Sandusky Wednesday night that Flanagan had been "depressed since his departure from the Orioles."

According to Butt, the sources allegedly also said that Flanagan "was depressed at how the community perceived how he had done his job" with the Orioles. As Flanagan allegedly saw it, "Some felt he had let down this community that he really cared about."

When asked about the discrepancy between what Sandusky reported and what police said Thursday, Butt replied that the station's position had not changed.

"What we reported last night, we still stand by," she said Thursday. "There were many other things that the sources told us. We were not surprised by what we heard today in the press conference."


The most controversial part of Sandusky's report involved the linkage between the suicide and Flanagan's relationship with and performance as an executive with the Oriole.

"Multiple sources tonight confirm," Sandusky told viewers, "that Mike Flanagan -- former Orioles player, executive and broadcaster -- took his life despondent over what he considered a false perception from a community he loved of his role in the team's prolonged failure."


"... From 2002 to 2008," the sportscaster continued, "Mike Flanagan either shared or held the top baseball executive position with the club. During that time, Flanagan, according to those closest to him, struggled with not being able to the job as he wanted to do it."

Sandusky goes on to say that he has further "confirmed" that "Flanagan has wrestled for some time now with the perception of fans and colleagues alike of his role in the team's failure."

There has been much discussion online and on talk radio about Sandusky's report, which was widely quoted Wednesday night and early Thursday. WBAL was the largest Baltimore mainstream news organization to report the death as a suicide and offer an explanation for the act Wednesday.

Journalistically, questions have been raised about Sandusky's report because police had not yet officially even confirmed that Flanagan had taken his own life when Sandusky went on-air with his explanation as to the cause.

Traditional mainstream media standards dictate caution in reporting matters of suicide, particularly when it comes to speculating about motivation, because of the pain that can be inflicted on family members -- and the reputation of the deceased. The Sun, along with the majority of other media outlets, refrained from such discussions in its stories Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

"First of all, we didn't report speculation," Butt said. "Our sources were of a nature that it was not speculative. I've thought a lot about this in the last 24 hours, and suicide often leads to a lot of rumor mongering, and Mike Flanagan didn't deserve that."

Butt says WBAL reported the suicide as it did in part  to try and provide "context" for the shocking news.

"And context is never a bad thing," she said.