Ace Anbender contributed to this report.
A few weeks ago, one of our users posted a fuzzy picture of an email purporting to be from one David Brandon:
We were already trying to confirm or dis-confirm the authenticity of this when Keith Olbermann's show presented it as a fact we're reporting. At that point we had to either confirm it or repudiate it. We've done our best to do so.
We are now reporting this is authentic.
This kind of thing is of course forgeable, but I let it stand because it felt like something Brandon would do. I know this because over the past few years about two dozen people have forwarded me conversations with Brandon ranging from polite enough to the above.
While the message board thread had a number of details off due to the hand-me-down nature of the information, Ace tracked down the original source of the emails, confirmed his identity over the phone and on Facebook, and got the original. I believe this to be real.
I asked the hivemind for help with confirming that the email was genuine. What followed was a primer on spoofing that led to one inescapable conclusion: nothing is 100% guaranteed. However, you can look at email headers and GMail histories and rule out all but extremely sophisticated forgeries.
This is where a second emailer comes in. Around the same time Brandon is alleged to have fired off the email above, he shot off another after receiving a short rant about how Al Borges was bad and should feel bad:
This woman's husband forwarded a much longer exchange with Brandon he had afterward. This ended with the assertion that "you may need more luck than our football team" to deal with his wife.
It also provided a larger body of information to evaluate. I ran it by a couple people intimately familiar with not just email in general but GMail specifically. The results:
The short of it is that the headers check out but there's no way to be 100% sure unless you know for sure the assumptions below are true. The smoking gun is indeed the back and forth GMail thread, that's just not possible unless fabricated by the recipient which we don't think it is (details on why below).
- Dave Brandon uses a GMail/Google Apps web client (versus say, a desktop client)
- [email protected] was not hacked and being accessed by an unauthorized third party
- Neither a 3rd party or the recipients know the specific Google Apps servers for umich.edu's domain
- The document with the thread between Dave Brandon and the sender was not fabricated
- The sender's headers appear consistent and indicate authenticity—however, a single email header is insufficient to prove authenticity
- GMail automatically detects spoofed Gmails and Google Apps addresses—user(s) would have received a warning
- Replies to spoofed email addresses will go to the real email address—the sender's emails were getting to [email protected] and being responded to.
- GMail uses signatures in headers to group threads together. Spoofed emails with the same subject aren't put into threads—the back and forth thread is the strongest proof that the emails are authentic.
- The back-and-forth thread does not appear to be a forgery—the spacing, elements, and little details (such as "mgoblog.com" being in purple because it's a previously visited address for the user) all seem to check out.
The longer thread looks authentic beyond reasonable doubt.
Since the original email is discussed repeatedly in the longer thread, that seems certainly true.
A second opinion from a professional in the field links the two emails together:
We have two separate emails that claim to be sent from DB with the same mail server in the header and the same SMTP address. I'm wholly convinced that neither are forged if these are indeed from 2 different people that couldn't have colluded.
The independent reports I've gotten over the last two years rules out a hack. Dave Brandon has on many, many occasions sent out emails of this nature in his tenure. People have forwarded me nice notes and not-nice notes; it is beyond a reasonable doubt these are authentic.
Here are more interactions between fans and Dave Brandon provided to me.
"Quit Drinking And Go To Bed"
Another exchange around the time of Brandon's blog in support of Brady Hoke, featuring "quit drinking," class assertions, more ticket threatening.
We are sick of all the talk, excuses, and most importantly the losses. You throwing Coach Rodriguez under the bus like you have this week was an embarrassment to the University and more importantly a big cheap shot on all of the players from his classes. Would you classify the game today as "big-boy football?" Would you consider Urban Meyer's offense "big-boy football?" Was that poor excuse of a defense today playing "big-boy football?" Not only was this season an embarrassment to this University, but your conduct over this past week puts a further black eye on this season and has no place at Michigan. Michigan is now truly a middle of the road Big Ten team and we have you (not Rich Rodriguez) to thank for that.
BRANDON: Quit drinking and go to bed.
Thanks for the classy response. You may have just lost another season ticket holder.
BRANDON: Getting advice from you on what constitutes a classy email is really a joke.
With all due respect, please explain to me what was wrong with my original email? Did I say anything that offended you or that wasn't true? All I did was reference points that you used in your media tour last week. When you go out into the public like you did, do you not expect some backlash? To accuse me of drinking is laughable coming from someone in your position. As I have been reading from various writers, I hope you have extreme concern that the 100,000 attendance streak is in real jeopardy. We just want to win and us fans don't necessarily appreciate seeing you on tv and in the newspapers every other day.
BRANDON: I don't believe you know what "due respect" is....
You sent a snarky, negative article at 11:58 PM the night of a very disappointing loss....telling me what "we" are sick of! I didn't know you had been elected to represent anyone. I don't know who you are....and I really don't care about your views based on "what you read." And, I don't accept you as a representative of anyone other than yourself.
For you to point out that "we just want to win" is really profound. Do you think our kids and coaches don't want to win? Do you think I don't want to win? Really????
I don't know what you do for a living...but if you want to be an athletic director....go for it. If you want to be a coach...go for it.
As it relates to seeing me on TV or in newspapers....I have no idea what you are talking about. I don't know or care about that stuff....apparently, you do. You really should get a different hobby!
I will let the ticket office know of your decision to give up your seats. I am sure we can use your email address to locate your file. I am sure you will be much happier....because clearly your anger and frustration over our disappointing season has gotten the best of you.
It's too bad...if you got to know our kids and coaches, you would likely enjoy supporting them even when times are tough. They are quality people who care a lot about Michigan. Their efforts, sacrifices and commitment goes beyond putting go blue in their email address and pretending to be a loyal fan - they stay positive and continue to fight even when people like you attack them and the outcome of their efforts.
I wish you well....and I hope you find a team to support that wins every game and every season is a complete success.
"I Am Sorry You Are 'Upset'"
This was posted as a diary in September by the emailer himself over a year after he'd emailed me and asked me to keep the exchange private. This is the key section and is verbatim from the email he provided me in 2013:
[My first name],
I received your message and I am sorry you are "upset" over a noodle.
Clearly, this is a very troubling matter for you.
Perhaps the lesson here is for you to be careful not to believe everything you read. There was an event at the Stadium Friday and this promotional piece was included. It was removed at the conclusion of the event.
I suggest you relax and enjoy the football game today!
Dear Mr. Brandon,
Thank you for your timely response. I am not upset about a noodle, however, but about the possibility of advertising in Michigan Stadium on game days now and in the future.
I suggest that you drop the condescending tone.
Thanks for your very helpful input!!
"Thank you so very much… incredible insight"
In response to a guy advocating against Les Miles for breaking oversigning rules, eating grass, and clapping annoyingly, ending with
Mr. Brandon likes to refer to Michigan football as a "brand." Though I would strongly suggest he stop using this term immediately (academia is not Corporate America, nor is UM football a pizza that tastes like cardboard), I'd also implore him to compare Les Miles' behavior with the "brand" he's trying to protect.
As you are helping define the difference between academia and Corporate America for President Coleman and me (thank you so very much….incredible insight!) you inaccurately stated my reference to branding at the University. I have never referred to Michigan Football is a “brand”….because it is not. I have referred to the “Block M” as a brand….because it is!
Michigan Football is one of the many ways we build our brand at Michigan…as do the rest of our athletic programs, our health system, our academic units, and just about everything else we do at the University.
If this troubles you….I am sorry. However, it won’t change the fact that our Block M is one of the most recognized global brands in higher education…and I would think anyone with an email address of “UM Alum” would understand the power of that!
Go Blue! And, thanks for providing your deep research on Coach Miles.
What about FOIA?
I have been informed that Michigan erases Brandon's email regularly to prevent responsive requests by a person who worked in the athletic department for three years.
A FOIA request for an email sent or received by Dave Brandon would end up going to his secretary. If the date of the email is given, his secretary would not even need to look to see if the email exists. All of Dave Brandon's emails are manually deleted from his university email once they are about one month old. They have been since he started. Since it is done manually, sometimes it's actually a little later, sometimes it is a little sooner, especially if the email is something that may be FOIAed.
But it was explained to me that the whole point is to avoid responding to a FOIA request (like this one). I've been following this email/FOIA issue, and after I spoke with one of my friends in the athletic department, we agreed that we would be shocked if that email still existed in his email, even if it did exist at one time.
This is why a specific request filed by an MGoBlog member turned up nothing. I have two FOIAs in with the department currently, one for six days of mail to and from two email addresses, the other for [email protected] and [email protected] dating back to January 1st of 2013. The department wants to charge me $385 for the first request and $1215 for the second—if those are at all proportional than there's approximately three weeks of email sitting there.
Is this legal? Our local law-talker BISB weighs in:
If a state employee (such as, for random example, a University Athletic Director) deleted email exchanges, he was probably in violation of Michigan's FOIA law. Emails sent by an employee in the course of his official function are considered public records. The University of Michigan, and its employees, have an affirmative obligation to maintain public records:
MCL 15.233(3): "A public body shall protect public records from loss, unauthorized alteration, mutilation, or destruction."
That duty extends to the individual employees. Intentionally deleting emails as a means of preventing them from being FOIAed would be a violation of MCL 15.240(7):
"If the circuit court determines... that the public body has arbitrarily and capriciously violated this Act by refusal or delay in disclosing or providing copies of a public record, the court shall award, in addition to any actual or compensatory damages, punitive damages in the amount of $500.00 to the person seeking the right to inspect or receive a copy of a public record."
"Capricious and arbitrary" essentially means without cause and in an abuse of power. The University of Michigan is the one subject to the penalty, but the employee is the one who committed the violation.
Since the punishment is so paltry, Michigan doesn't seem to care.
The recipients of these emails are private citizens who would like to remain such so I've blacked out their email addresses. All else is as received. There are links to the originals in every section; here they are in a group.
"We will be fine without you"
"Have A Happy Life"
Longer exchange 1
Longer exchange 2
Longer exchange 3
Quit Drinking 1
Quit Drinking 2
Quit Drinking 3
I'm sorry you are 'upset'