After reading through the Free Press “investigation” last night, I, like most of you (judging by various blog posts, comments, and message board posts) was irate at what appeared to be a couple anonymous quotes from “current or former players” (emphasis mine) and two quotes from freshmen with no context provided (the Stokes and Hawthorne quotes) blown up into a national news story that had ‘agenda’ written all over it. I even screwed around with Photoshop and had this ready to go for this morning:
I was very close to not posting that after reading various, level-headed reactions from Michigan fans (as well as Joe Schad’s corroboration of the report at ESPN.com) that pushed homerism aside and believed the accusations to be both serious and difficult (or, in the WLA’s case, “nearly impossible”) to refute. However, I’m very stuck on a few things:
- The timing. There is just no freaking way that putting out the story on the Saturday before the first game of the season, just in time for maximum exposure (as well as the Sunday edition of the paper) was a total coincidence. It’s tough not to think of this as a grasp for attention when the timing of the report is so obviously calculated
- The tone behind the report. Your soap box, Rivalry, Esq.:
I mean, have you looked at the Freep website? The Freep brought down the hammer, article wise, with an armada of supplemental articles to the major breaking story. “MSU plays by the rules, say ex-players,” A look inside Rodriguez’s rigorous program,” and my personal favorite, “National voices provide context on issue.”The last one is my favorite because they ask a 70 year old about what weight training was like in his playing days. Shockingly enough, things were different when he played in late 1950’s.
The Detroit Free Press decided they had landed a big Michigan story and have attacked on all fronts. After bringing the story to the University of Michigan’s attention, they dropped this huge stack of articles and reactions. These are not, I repeat, these are not two-sided articles. Take a look at the “rigorous program” article. As Rosenberg goes on about the hard-ass qualities of Barwis and RichRod’s workout programs, one heading reads “Wow, this is absurd.” WOAH, you say, caught off-guard by this bold heading, Barwis and RichRod must have done something horrendous to inspire such a reaction from someone. Of course you quickly find out that a) the quote was taken out of context and b) the quote was never actually said by anyone. It was simply Barwis stating what he thought former NFL players would think of his workout. As Dave from Maize and Brew would say, “SEE! See what I did there??!!” Tricky writing/reporting from Rosenberg.
- The precedent set by the Freep. There was a whole lot of hubbub over the Justin Feagin dismissal, and rightfully so. Cocaine is a big deal, no matter how you spin it (although I was pleased with how quickly RichRod dealt with the matter). However, remember Glenn Winston, convicted assailant of MSU hockey player A.J. Sturges, being immediately let back onto the team right around the same time? And then one day later Drew Sharp pens the article “Michigan State glad to take boredom anytime“? That’s hitting Fox News levels of “fair and balanced”.
- The vagueness of the anonymous sources. The amount of times quotes pick up in the middle of a sentence (or even just quote one word) while Rosenberg gives the context gives me pause. Call me crazy, but I know the NCAA, if/when they investigate, will want a lot more than some choice quotes hand-picked from interviews where the subjects are (1) anonymous and (2) may or may not have known what they were being interviewed about. I want the same thing. (For a great breakdown of the journalism tactics used for the investigation, check out this post on The Fort by Chuck Jaffe, former Michigan Daily sports editor and current columnist for MarketWatch, who, like me, wants more concrete proof.)
While I will still wait to pass total judgment until the NCAA investigates (and, according to MGoBrian, any potential repercussions should be minor if any penalties are levied at all, based on NCAA precedent), I still find this to be (1) irresponsible journalism and (2) therefore totally overblown until someone can actually prove to me that these accusations are true. Unless something bigger (like in-context quotes taken from current players or an NCAA investigation) comes down, consider this the last time I pay any attention to Rosenberg and the Freep.