Irvin Muchnick: No There There

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From top: The Making Of ‘Where is George Gibney?’ at the NCH tomorrow evening; irvin Muchnick

“[T]here are no other proceedings before the Irish courts relating to Gibney.[…] The more I learn about what went on in Irish swimming, the more inclined I am to believe that there was a pedophile ring in operation. As I say in the book, this did not operate a membership list and monthly meetings but worked on a nod-and-wink basis with coaches recognising each other’s abusive instincts and tipping each other off in coded language about vulnerable prey.”

Justine McCarthy author of Deep Deception: Ireland’s Swimming Scandals, in an interview, “Irish Sex Abuse Chronicler Justine McCarthy: Concern That Swim Officials Who Participated in Cover-Up Remain in Power,” October 31, 2012.

“it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.”

Gertrude Stein

In 2020, the sports media company Second Captains, in association with the BBC, released a lengthy podcast series entitled ‘Where Is George Gibney?’

This production pleased the crowd and it won awards. Its most salient feature was giving victims of the most notorious at-large sex criminal in the history of global sports the catharsis of an open-ended platform. After decades of their isolation and marginalisation, the concept had value, no matter what reservations some of us harbored with respect to the execution.

Two years later, the question ‘Where Is George Gibney?’ has morphed, and in my opinion, not for the better. As we’ll see, it was a peculiar question in the first place, giving way to a misleading title and contrived drama. But anyway, the question today is more like “Where is Where Is George Gibney?”

By this I mean: Have series creator Mark Horgan and crew told the story most centrally in the public interest – one of heinous official cronyism and corruption? Fully and in the round? Or have they just pulled off something flabbier and oh so postmodern – infotainment as a seemingly never-ending promotional feedback loop?

Tomorrow, Second Captains will be staging an event at Dublin’s National Concert Hall called ‘The Making of Where Is George Gibney?’ The designated beneficiary for “all proceeds” is One in Four, an anti-abuse group.

So, more consciousness-raising is at hand. Also, we can be sure, gardai, will be standing by their phones for fresh Gibney tips. Of course, they’ve been doing that ever since Charles Haughey was the prime minister – seven “taoisigh ago. In Irish: Ná coinnigh do anáil. In English: Don’t hold your breath.

I can’t make it across the pond to attend the National Concert Hall event. But in case the panelists for The Making of, etc. will be fielding real questions, instead of simply glad-handing, I have a few.

What drove the decision to take down a couple of small fish with “gotcha” segments – while demonstrating no appetite for confronting officials of sport bodies and governments on two continents?

Where Is George Gibney? was replete with warnings that the material we were about to hear about sexual abuse might be disturbing. They should have added another disclaimer: “No institution or powerful figure was discomfited in the making of this podcast.”

Specifically:

* Was there an interview with the current head of Swim Ireland (per Justine McCarthy’s observation, in other parts of the 2012 interview linked above, to the effect that the former Irish Amateur Swimming Association, the IASA, merely rearranged the chairs on the deck of the Titanic)? No. Rather, the podcasters settled for throwing under the bus a single hapless board member who was caught having explicitly and wrongly supported Gibney back in the day. They didn’t lay a glove on any of Gibney’s other many enablers, who were fluent at turning the page, lessons unlearned.

* How about Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions? That office has made more starts and stops on a Gibney bust do-over than a sputtering turbine. Has the DPP ever even shared the accumulated evidence – which includes sworn affidavits – with the state attorney of Hillsborough County, Florida, the jurisdiction of Gibney’s rape and impregnation of a teen swimmer during a 1991 training trip?

* In 1998 Justice Roderick Murphy got tapped to author a government report on the widespread problem of coach abuse in Irish youth swimming programs. Seven years earlier Murphy had been on the governing board of a club in the Leinster branch of the IASA, center of the era’s scandals, and hence a decision maker at the time of that club’s coach’s dismissal in the wake of abuse allegations. Journalist McCarthy wrote that Murphy’s choice to lead the government commission despite his own “extensive involvement in swimming” was “a conundrum which is still puzzling many lawyers.” The Murphy Commission would conclude that Gibney’s accusers were “vindicated,” four years after Gibney fled the country following the Supreme Court’s ruling, in turn leading to the vacating of his prosecution on technical grounds – a classic in the annals of closing the barn door once the horses had already escaped. Where Is George Gibney? was silent on both the conflicted backdrop and the milquetoast output of the Murphy Commission.

* Oh, and about that Supreme Court decision … Broadsheet remains the one and only Irish media outlet, pre- or post-podcast, with the temerity to point out that a sitting justice for that fateful argument, Susan Denham, is the sister of Patrick Gageby, Gibney’s barrister.

* Then there’s USA Swimming, which allowed Gibney to briefly resume his coaching career in America, before the local community caught wind of his Irish past. (“Sounds like an Irish – is he an Irish coach? Yeah, I think I’ve heard the name.” That’s what the late, disgraced CEO of USA Swimming, Chuck Wielgus, testified in one of his organisation’s own scores of abuse lawsuits.)

* And the American Swimming Coaches Association. In 2016 a U.S. federal court judge, Charles R. Breyer, noted that ASCA – which has actively advertised visa trouble-shooting for its members – was suspected of having “greased the wheels for Gibney’s relocation.” In one of the podcast’s best moments, Horgan cornered Gibney’s one-time assistant coach Peter Banks, whose career has been a shuttle between Ireland and the U.S., into all but admitting that he had helped engineer a coaching job offer letter to support Gibney’s diversity lottery visa application in the early 1990s. But Horgan, curiously, just landed that single personal punch on Banks and moved on. The podcasters didn’t share that Banks was, at the time of the visa issuance, the top staff assistant to long-time ASCA chief John Leonard. Nor did they follow up with ASCA.

* A federal grand jury in New York has been investigating USA Swimming for insurance fraud, asset hiding, and abuse cover-up, and as an offshoot, an official named Jane Khodarkovsky, the human trafficking finance specialist for the Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, has been investigating Gibney. Did Where Is George Gibney? go there? Dream on.

What about the crucial Gibney angles in Colorado and Peru?

The state of Colorado, Gibney’s first U.S. stop, was the belt buckle of the nomadic American part of his story. Published reports by two separate local police departments there ensued. Where Is George Gibney? miserably failed on informing its listeners about both of them.

In the first, police in the Denver suburb of Arvada probed an allegation that Gibney had, at minimum, sexually harassed a girl swimmer on the pool deck. Gibney was quietly separated from the North Jeffco swim team coaching staff, but there were no consequences for his visa and green card. The podcast withheld the known detail that officers of the Arvada police, who investigated the incident and issued a vague report after Gibney was disappeared from the premises, were conflicted by virtue of the fact that some of their own kids were on the team.

Several years later Gibney was still in the Greater Denver area but employed outside the swimming industry, when his employer learned about the old Irish criminal charges against him and informed on him to the police of another suburb, Wheat Ridge. (And this generated what was actually the second police report on him in that town.)

A spokesperson for the BBC has admitted that Where Is George Gibney? did interview Lila Adams, a local child therapist who, as Wheat Ridge police detective Lila Cohen back in 2000, had written the report flowing from the informant’s information. For reasons Mark Horgan has not shared either on or off the podcast, that interview was left on the cutting-room floor.

Unequivocally, the public needs to know why Wheat Ridge failed to follow up on information about Gibney’s travel to Peru, with a contingent from his area Catholic parish, for a children’s medical mission of the “International Peru Eye Clinic Foundation,” which he claimed to chair.

That mission occurred during the same period as the Denver archdiocese’s new welcome of a Peruvian sect, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (“Fellowship of Christian Life”), whose founders were accused of violence, abuse, and kidnapping. (The original leader eventually would flee to haven in Rome, and the Sodalitium would issue a report confirming the veracity of the allegations and compelling the group to write the founders out of their official history.)

The way Horgan handled all this was to broadcast exactly nothing about it.

Finally, what gives with the title?

Using the magic of audio post-production, which manipulated listeners’ sense of timeline; plus a music soundtrack hovering between ominous and maudlin; plus a dash of innuendo, the podcast parceled out hours of pointless ear candy telling of a search and a stakeout. Without presenting bald untruths, Mark Horgan hyped his shoe leather in tracking down George Gibney and pouncing on him.

Nonsense on stilts. Sophomoric. Embarrassing.

Gibney’s whereabouts have been no secret. He has been living with “Brother Pedro” (probably a fellow traveler of the Knights of Columbus, known in Ireland as the Knights of Saint Columbanus) at 882 Breakwater Drive, Altamonte Springs, Florida.

In 2006, with the camera rolling, Clare Murphy of RTÉ television’s Prime Time had confronted Gibney at a parking lot in California and stuck a microphone in his face. She was rewarded with a powerful visual and no comment, as Gibney drove off. Before long, he was moving yet again, to Florida.

With neither credit to nor mention of his more substantive forerunner in Irish broadcast journalism, Horgan sought to replicate the Clare Murphy moment. Toward this end, he consulted Evin Daly, the Irish native who runs the Florida-based group One Child International – and in that capacity has himself, at intervals, sought to talk to Gibney.

Daly advised Horgan that if he and his sound technician wanted to spy on Gibney’s house from an alien van parked on a residential street late at night, then they should notify the local police and explain their project. The podcasters rejected Daly’s advice. The upshot was that a bewildered neighbour, quite understandably, went up to the van to ask them what the hell they were doing. On the podcast, Horgan would spin this exchange as part of a broader insinuation that well-placed Florida civilians seemed to be mysteriously protecting Gibney.

After a bunch of meandering audio – which added up to shadowing a reclusive old man doing mundane things in plain sight – Horgan one day summoned the moxie to approach Gibney while he was out shopping. For listeners, the entirety of the aural payoff from this serial exercise in smoke and mirrors was a report of the intrepid interviewer’s own sweaty palms and heavy breathing. As expected, Gibney again said nothing. But the podcasters assured us the target’s face had flashed anguish and the encounter had been profound. Enough so, evidently, for a ten-episode drumroll.

***

Thanks to Where Is George Gibney? (why, he’s right here!), more and mostly younger Irish news consumers have been educated in certain sensational details of one of the country’s many historical sagas of abuse in high places.

Unfortunately, once again, they also have been mesmerised into doing nothing about it, except gawk and cluck.

Since my first conversation with Justine McCarthy ten years ago, and the beginnings of my own intensive Gibney investigations seven years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of making many new friends on the Emerald Isle. One thing friends do for friends is to check them when they lapse into blarney.

In my country, we have a different word. It, too, starts with the letter “b.”

Irvin writes at Concussion Inc.

Previously: Irvin Muchnick on Broadsheet

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10 thoughts on “Irvin Muchnick: No There There

    1. Ian - oG

      First proper post on almost any subject outside music in at least several days.

      Well done Irvin for this.

      1. Tarfton Clax

        Absolutely. A soul shivering story of utter horror, ineptitude and cover ups. It really does seem there was a network of degenerate evildoers preying upon the innocent, and this network, if such it was, seems to have been facilitated, protected or at the very least ignored by all the powers that be/that were. Not just in Ireland but in the USA and it appears, Canada.

        Why this was (or worse still is) is the $64,000 dollar question. How could crimes of such a hideous nature be routinely ignored/minimised/obfuscated across continents and administrations?

        Great work Irvin. (and in fairness great work by broadsheet in publicising/publishing it, as nowhere else seems to)

  1. Broadbag

    Good stuff Irvin.

    Also curious about Gibney’s links with another infamous swim coach, a certain F Mc C who murdered his wife and would-be adopted baby (also his niece!), by staging a house fire, all to hide his involvement with a 17 year old with an intellectual disability with whom he fathered a child, details of which might emerge if delays in the adoption process were investigated too strenuously (the parents of the 17 year old had got wind of the adoption and raised concerns to the adoption board, if I recall correctly). Relatives remember him, Gibney and another disgraced coach frequently meeting for tea at Mc C’s house, given Mc C’s penchant for younger girls you’d have to wonder if there was indeed a ring.

  2. Irvin Muchnick

    Thank you, Broadbag and others, for your kind comments. The most recent coverage at my site on the murderer Frank McCann (citing the Irish Independent three years ago) is at https://concussioninc.net/?p=13875. Additionally, Irish readers should know that George Gibney’s old Irish school faculty colleague John Furlong, now a Canadian superpatriot who directed the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, is part of the newly risen story of the abuse of indigenous children at missionary schools there. Mass graves have even been uncovered from past generations, and the Pope recently issued an apology and a promise to visit Canada to deliver the apology directly to First Peoples communities. See https://concussioninc.net/?p=14988.

    1. Broadbag

      Thanks Irvin – Derry O’Rourke, couldn’t remember his name, interesting and troublesome stuff, really makes you wonder what was going on in swimming ‘circles’ back then and just how many may have been involved.

  3. Andrew

    Having read you work years ago and also Justine’s I can’t help but cringe a bit at the Second Captains congratulating themselves at every opportunity for what was ultimately a lightweight and not particularly revealing podcast.
    I thought it was cowardly to be honest, the ‘confrontation’ when it finally came reminded me of Charlie Bird’s timid interaction with David Drumm.
    Thanks Irvin for your great journalistic work over the years, sadly the Second Captain’s podcast flatters to deceive.

  4. Fergalito

    Huge respect for your dogged, careful, patient and clinical pursuit of the truth Irvin. You embody the essence of what it means to be a journalist where others have dragged the profession into the gutter and would have the neck to stand shoulder to shoulder to you.

    I wish you the very best in your continued pursuit of the truth in this and future stories that pique your interest and drive you both personally and professionally.

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