Firm bills MSU $500K to track Nassar coverage

Associated Press

East Lansing — Michigan State University spent roughly $500,000 for a public relations firm in January to track media coverage and social media activity related to the case of disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar, a newspaper reported Wednesday.

New York-based Weber Shandwick billed the university $517,343 for 1,440 hours of work done by 18 employees, according to documents obtained by the Lansing State Journal through a public records request.

The firm outlined and evaluated related news coverage and engagement on social media posts. The work previously had been done by university employees, though some of that continued alongside the outside firm’s work.

A Michigan State spokeswoman said the university no longer works with Weber Shandwick. She didn’t provide a reason.

The firm recapped media reports about the university’s then-president, Lou Anna Simon, attending the second day of Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Ingham County as scores of girls and women said he’d sexually abused them under the guide of medical treatment, including while he worked with the school and USA Gymnastics.

The firm also tracked speculation about Simon’s possible resignation and, days later, submitted a resignation letter just hours after Nassar was sentenced.

Roughly 200 women eventually confronted Nassar in court, including Olympic gymnasts. Nassar is now serving a decades-long prison sentence for molesting patients and possessing child pornography.

John Manly, a California-based attorney who said he represents more than 150 victims of Nassar, said spying on social media accounts of victims and their families is part of MSU’s “continuing campaign to punish and revictimize these brave young women and girls.”

“We were already aware that MSU has hired private investigators to dig up dirt on Nassar’s victims and this is one more indication that John Engler and the MSU Board of Trustees continues to treat survivors as the enemy,” Manly said in a statement. “They need to be replaced by educators who are ready to reform the culture of sexual abuse at MSU, treat survivors with compassion and rebuild the tarnished reputation of this great university.”

The sexual abuse scandal widened Tuesday when authorities charged a former dean with failing to protect patients from Nassar. William Strampel also is accused of sexually harassing female students and pressuring them for nude selfies.

Strampel, 70, was the first person charged since an investigation was launched in January into how Michigan State handled complaints against Nassar, who for years sexually violated girls and young women, many of them gymnasts, during examinations.

Authorities allege that Strampel, who as dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine oversaw the clinic where Nassar worked, neglected his duty to enforce examining-room restrictions imposed on Nassar after a patient accused the doctor in 2014.

Nassar was fired in 2016 for violating the chaperone rules. Strampel announced his leave of absence — citing medical reasons — in December. In February, interim Michigan State President John Engler announced plans to fire Strampel, who still has tenure that protects his employment as a faculty member.

The charges against Strampel were announced the same day that lawyers for the university and more than 200 girls and women said they would restart talks that could lead to a settlement in lawsuits related to Nassar’s abuse. The mediator will be Layn Phillips, a former federal judge in Oklahoma.

Detroit News staff writer Nicquel Terry contributed.