The news media aren’t the “enemy of the people.” Don’t believe it, whether you hear it from Washington, D.C., or the Washington Huskies.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about investigative reporters from New York or beat writers covering Tennessee football, most reporters — like most electricians and insurance agents and people who mow lawns for a living — are honorable people trying to do an honest day’s work.
It was heartening members of the Senate voted 100-0 to pass a resolution confirming that the media are not the enemy of the people, but disappointing such a vote of confidence was needed.
Still, there’s no question mistakes are made by members of the media, and those deserve to be pointed out for what they are.
A perfect example occurred last week, when CBSSports.com published its latest installment of its “Candid Coaches” series. When coaches are granted anonymity, the answers can be both entertaining and unfair.
Which coach does the most with the least? What do coaches think is the most desirable job in the country? Which opposing quarterback scares them the most? These are all questions that may produce more interesting answers if coaches know they won’t be identified.
But having a cute title for a series like “Candid Coaches” does not equate to a license to abandon principles of journalism.
That’s what CBSSports.com did when it published the following quote from an anonymous coach, who was explaining why he believes Alabama’s Nick Saban is the most overrated coach in college football.
“If you had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every year [you’d win like Nick Saban]. He shows up at every single game with a better roster than the teams he’s playing … If you count cheating and getting the best players in the country as part of running a program, he’s the best in the country. It’s like saying an NFL coach is the best coach in the league if he gets 25 first-round picks every year.”
In a normal interview setting, if a source said off the record that Saban was overrated, that would be great for background but not necessarily something that deserved to be published. If the same source anonymously called Saban a cheater, the quote wouldn’t see the light of day until the reporter followed up and tried to confirm the accusations.
But the folks at CBSSports.com couldn’t help themselves, and the result was an unfair and lazy criticism devoid of the kind of standards that separate real journalists from random people on a message board.
That kind of reporting makes it harder to fight back when public figures — coaches included — unfairly mischaracterize the media.
That was the case last week at the University of Georgia, where Kirby Smart is doing everything in his power to be the next Nick Saban.
Potential star running back Zamir White seriously injured his knee in a practice that was closed to the media but open to big-money boosters and former players. Almost immediately after the injury occurred, social media was abuzz with the news.
In his post-practice news conference, Smart ripped the media for reporting the news before White’s family could be properly notified.
The problem with Smart’s rant is that not one single reporter wrote a story or even posted to social media about White’s injury until after Smart confirmed it. Those journalists were following professional guidelines in not reporting something until they had the story confirmed.
Smart later apologized in private to the reporter who asked the question about White and was on the receiving end of the coach’s blistering.
But the damage was done.
Smart’s behavior was just another example of powerful people believing that blaming the media is the solution for avoiding any difficult situation or question.
That’s certainly what happened with Urban Meyer at Big 10 Media Days, when he told reporter Brett McMurphy he didn’t know why McMurphy was asking about a made-up story about the actions of one of his coaches. Of course, we have since learned that McMurphy was asking legitimate questions, and Meyer is now serving a three-game suspension as a result of his handling of the situation over the years and his lying about it.
Many Ohio State fans got great joy from their hero sticking it to McMurphy, who they were conditioned to view as the enemy of the Buckeyes.
Of course, McMurphy wasn’t the problem. His work has resulted in suspensions for Meyer and Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith, and the firing of Zach Smith. The punishment may not be severe enough, but there’s no denying that McMurphy’s work benefited the public.
That’s one of the major goals of journalism. Every time an outlet such as CBSSports.com forgets the standards journalists must live by, it makes it easier for powerful people to discredit the important work most journalists are doing, even if it only concerns the world of sports.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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