The Second Captains/BBC Sounds podcast Where Is George Gibney? managed to stretch its title question, the answer to which was already widely published, across eight episodes, via a contrived stakeout that seems to have been recorded more than a year ago in and around Altamonte Springs, Florida.
The resulting stagily hushed passages had the redundancy of a hat rack in a moose’s den. They then were inserted between interviews with Gibney’s sexual abuse survivors and others – who, in turn and understandably, made the least institutionally connective or radioactive observations. George Gibney, molester and rapist. Very bad guy. Discuss.
The mechanisms of the max scandal, which widened the pool of victims and enabled its temporal length and geographic sustainability, were the cover-ups or lookaway passes by official law enforcement agencies and organized sports.
On the podcast, these villains remained “implied” at best. Most notably, there was not a word about the intricacies of the Irish Supreme Court decision or baffling moves by the Gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Lending narrative shape and meaning to the roles of those who refused to be interviewed was eschewed. Practitioners of investigative journalism will tell you that it is basic to call out no-commenters. Producer-narrator Mark Horgan didn’t even name them. He seemed to have time only for hermetically sealed infotainment.
Thus, the podcast exposed only a couple of old fools, Swim Ireland board member John Mullins and Irish-American coach Peter Banks. By innuendo-laced reference, there were also digs at a familiar bogeyman, the Knights of Columbus.
It was not noted that Banks had been an executive of the American Swimming Coaches’ Association at the time when, he all but admitted, he arranged a coaching job offer letter to support Gibney’s visa application under the US government’s Donnelly diversity lottery program.
In what is a medium of sound, Gibney’s contemporary voice contributed only expected silence. Yet Horgan, assured listeners, in retrospective voiceovers, that he was “seeing” how his confrontation with the former Irish Olympic swimming coach, in the parking lot of a shopping centre, played out as dramatic and consequential, both elevating the interviewer’s heart rate and causing his target palpable karmic consternation. The former was irrelevant. As for the latter, we have to take Horgan’s word for it.
Where Is George Gibney? will wrap up with two in-studio episodes, either live or live-to-tape, on December 3 and December 10. Many of the most important questions remain not only intriguingly open but shamefully unaddressed…
Where are the American media?
“It is a key ambition of the BBC to get this series on the radar in the US,” Maria Horgan, Mark’s sister and associate producer, told me in January 2019. This goal does not seem to be anywhere near achieved.
That is not entirely the fault of the podcast. When it comes to abuses in youth swimming, the major American media don’t think about what they don’t think about, and also don’t think about what they do think about.
USA Swimming, the national sport governing body under the US Olympic Committee, is under a federal grand jury investigation for financial crimes and abuse cover-ups. But only a handful of American newspapers have reported as much, without follow-through.
No one at all has picked up on the reporting by Concussion Inc. that myriad American government investigations of the swimming establishment, involving multiple Federal Bureau of Investigation field offices, include a live probe of failed citizenship applicant yet rollover green card holder George Gibney. Jane Khodarkovsky, human trafficking finance specialist for the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, heads up the Gibney investigation.
The Horgan team can’t control what the US media do. However, Horgan alone is responsible for non-existent product on the most serious aspects of Gibney’s American peregrinations, which would have taken global coverage to another level.
Horgan failed to mention, let alone cover in depth, Gibney’s age-group swim club coaching stint in suburban Denver, and disturbing dead-end reports from two local police departments coming out of his more than five years in Colorado.
There, Gibney’s chairmanship of a church charity’s children’s eye clinic mission in Peru – coinciding with the expansion into the Archdiocese of Denver by the abuse-plagued Peruvian Catholic sect Sodalitium Christianae Vitae was not explored.
Where is the full 1991 Florida rape story?
In my listen, the most unseemly failure of the podcast was the half-disclosure of the 1991 incident, during a training trip by the Trojans swimming team to Tampa, Florida, in which Gibney raped a 17-year-old swimmer called “Susan.”
In 2006, RTÉ television’s Prime Time gave Susan what is also, generally, the greatest strength of Where Is George Gibney?: an opportunity for survivors to speak in their own voices. (Watch Susan at around the 6:00 mark in the video here)
Unfortunately, by the time the BBC podcast was being produced, Susan was back in a psychiatric hospital and in no condition to be interviewed. Horgan could have chosen to play the 14-year-old clip of her; podcasts are driven by archival TV and radio nuggets, as well as by fresh content.
It gets worse. The podcast related the full background of Susan’s swimming career, including Gibney’s serial abuse, which also occurred on another trip abroad, in Holland, months prior to the Tampa incident.
But for unknown reasons, BBC / Second Captains omitted the back end of the story. Upon her return to Ireland from the US, Susan discovered she was pregnant. An Irish swimming official plied her with narcotic drugs and accompanied her on a trip to England, where she got an abortion.
We know the back end of the story because Justine McCarthy of The Sunday Times reported all this in 2015. McCarthy called the swimming official “a professional person”. McCarthy called the swimming official “a professional person”. They were a shockingly unethical fixer, whoever they were.
And by the way, where is Justine McCarthy — and everything that flowed from her groundbreaking work?
Where Is George Gibney? featured Irish journalists Johnny Watterson and Paul Kimmage, and without a doubt they were vital chroniclers of the decades-long story. Watterson, an alumnus of Newpark Comprehensive School, where Gibney taught and coached, was haunted by hearing about the horrors suffered by his contemporaries there. Watterson put the resources of his newspaper at the time, the Tribune, on the line to lift the story into credibility and wide circulation.
For her part, McCarthy wrote the definitive book, Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals, which would be cited by a federal judge in the US, Charles R. Breyer, when he ruled in my favour in 2016 in a Freedom of Information Act case to force release by the Department of Homeland Security of records from Gibney’s immigration file.
McCarthy’s reporting, both for her newspaper outlets over the years and in the Deep Deception book, is chock full of the sort of hard information the podcast simply ignored. To wit:
In 1996, “Susan” was one of four women who made fresh allegations against Gibney, including the Florida rape, that were investigated by police in Blackrock. Bizarrely and unfairly, Horgan’s podcast tosses off the line that Susan’s case went nowhere for lack of jurisdiction.
In 1997, Susan reported the incident to the Irish Amateur Swimming Association and the Olympic Council of Ireland, and filed a civil lawsuit against Gibney (by then he was two years into his American odyssey).
In 1998, Susan’s account was part of the Irish government’s Murphy Inquiry into widespread abuses in the country’s swimming programs. The Murphy report was yet another data point the podcast completely blew off.
Some years after that, journalist McCarthy got involved, ultimately prevailing upon her husband, a lawyer, to help represent Susan.
In 2011, Susan lost High Court proceedings against Irish sports bodies, but came to a complicated monetary out-of-court settlement.
In a truly disgusting development in 2012, the Olympic Council and Swim Ireland (successor to the Irish Amateur Swimming Association), claiming reimbursement of costs for defending litigation, clawed back almost all the money for Susan.
In the recent bonus episode, Mark Horgan made what I believe was the series’ only reference to the work of Justine McCarthy.
My last word on the whole disappointing enterprise is the same as my first: I am spectacularly unimpressed by all the bells and whistles. The world didn’t need a BBC-funded podcast reframing the story in a way that truncated accountability, vacuumed up credit, and served the podcaster’s ambition to be behind the wheel of a cheesy production.
Where Is George Gibney? just needed to tell the damn story, straight. It failed.
Irvin writes at Concussion Inc.
Previously: Irvin Muchnick on Broadsheet