I've delayed a few days in posting this; I had doubts about whether I would post or not. It is a story (cool story, bro!) that sheds just a little light on the intersection of Dave Brandon, the press and the Michigan alumni/fan base. Anecdotally only, of course.
One year ago, I attended the annual dinner of one of the suburban Detroit alumni groups. The alumni members of that group do an amazing job of raising money for scholarships; there are a handful of kids getting degrees right now, who wouldn't be there without this group of loyal interested alums. They have an annual fundraising dinner at a golf club, and last year, December of 2009, the invited dinner speaker was Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press, who was ostensibly there to talk about his book, "War As They Knew It."
The audience was, in the parlance of this blog, pure "blue-hair." Most attendees were in their 60's, 70's and 80's. If that makes some younger fans think less of them, so be it. They are donors; loyal alums; many are season ticket holders; a number are former lettermen. They mostly all read the Free Press, and if they don't like the Free Press it is probably because they are Republicans, not because they care about sportswriting. And, as I already mentioned, they are making it possible for some great, worthy kids to go to Michigan.
There was the usual Q-and-A session after Rosenberg's short talk about his book. And there were the usual questions about the history of Bo and Woody, and before that Bump Elliott, and some timid questions about whether the football team was going to start winning soon and how Mike Rosenberg thought that might happen.
I waited to the end of the general questions, then rose, and proceeded to ask Rosenberg a series of pointed questions about the Free Press story of August 30, 2009:
- Q - Why didn't you ever talk to any of the people who actually understood Compliance Services operations and CARA reporting details? A - That wasn't Rosenberg's story, he said.
- Q - Why did you wait until the Friday before going to print on Saturday, to drop this bombshell on Martin, Rodriguez and Bruce Madej? A - That was enough time for them to answer, and if they had something to say, we might have delayed publication, but they didn't.
- Q - How do you justify the anonymity afforded to the unnamed "former" players, but meanwhile you named (and substantially traumatized) Je'Ron Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne, both of whom say they were misqoted and their commets were misused? A - We gave anonymity to players who asked for it, and the two freshmen did not ask for it.
- Q - What about Toney Clemons; he says he never asked for anonymity, and he admits that you interviewed him? A - How do you know he was one of the sources we used for the story?
- Q - What about Justin Boren; a guy who was so unconcerned about "retaliation" that he dressed up as Rich Rod for Halloween, with his girlfriend as a "Bunny/stripper" Rita? A - No comment on Boren as a source, and as for the justification of anonymitiy, it would have been better to cite "general retribution" instead of "retribution from coaches."
At one point, Rosenberg asked, "Am I being cross-examined?" The mood in the dining room was a bit tense. It was not what a lot of the guests might have anticipated for a holiday-season dinner. Rosenberg had no good answers, and the audience, not particularly well-attuned to the issues of what Jon Chait called "journalistic malpractice," probably didn't know quite what to think. At that time, December of 2009, little was publicly known about the NCAA investigation. The University had not yet responded to anything. Bill Martin was the AD, and there was not much thought about David Brandon at that time, other than that he was a former Regent, was now at Domino's, he had made a lot of money, and some thought he might someday run for governor.
Fast-forward to December, 2010; last week, the night before the Football Bust. The annual dinner takes place at the same golf club dining room. The speaker, this year, is David Brandon.
Brandon speaks for about 35 minutes, without a note, about his lifelong connections with Michigan, and it was so organized, so cogent and so well-crafted, that a transcript of the talk would look like it had been pre-written, carefully edited over a week or so, and then delivered with a TelePrompTer.
Brandon then answered questions. Everyone pretty much knew what he would and would not answer. At one point a lady mischeivously asked Brandon what criteria he will grade his football coaches on; a cute way of asking about Rich Rodriguez. People were laughing as she tried to ask the question from the back of the room. Instead of fouling off the question and giving a nothing response, Brandon asked the lady to repeat the question, because the laughter drowned her out just a bit. She rephrased the question, over more giggles and whispers. Again, Brandon asked her to repeat a part of it, so that he had her exact question. He was not going to dodge a single word, and he was going to answer the exact question, directly.
When all of the routine questions were done, I rose to let Brandon know who last year's speaker was, and relate what had happened. As soon as I mentioned the name of Michael Rosenberg, there were scattered of boos and hisses from throughout the room. What a difference a year makes, even to a group of older, conservative Free Press readers. I let Brandon know what had happened last year, and aksed what was his feeling about the Free Press story of August 30, 2009.
Brandon said he was proud of the way that everyone had responded. The investigation had been solid. Naturally, it uncovered some problems and the University had to take full responsibility for what the investigation had found. They did so, and they did it without whining to the media about how it had all gotten started.
Brandon said that he had spent more of his time and energy with the lawyers on the Michigan/NCAA football investigation, than he had on the biggest deal of his life in the corporate world, which was a 1.2 billion-dollar series of transactions.
Then Brandon opened up about the press. He said that the newspaper story that had led to NCAA investigation had been "crap." He said that he had taken a yellow highlighter to the printed story, and had highlighted all of the parts that were unfounded, untrue, exaggerated or eroneous. He ended up with a story that was more yellow than not. If there had been any doubt in the room about Rosenberg and the Free Press, the two December meetings, in 2009 and 2010, had erased it.
He thanked me for my question.