Never Bet Against Yahoo When Death Is On The Line

Submitted by Brian on March 9th, 2011 at 2:14 PM


Left: Yahoo's Charles Robinson. Right: Death.

The Colonel Klink scandal unfolding at Ohio State is interesting from a hur-hur rival perspective, obviously, but I'm also fascinated by the responses across the blogosphere in the 23 hours between Yahoo posting their story and Ohio State's ham-handed press conference*.

This includes mine, essentially "I'm not sure if there's any paper but Yahoo is serious business." Eleven Warriors echoed:

it is highly unlikely that either Charles Robinson or Dan Wetzel would risk their reputations on a piece of investigative journalism that they didn't believe was accurate and authentic. Yahoo! Sports is a legitimate reporting organization, and whatever you think about either Wetzel or Robinson, no editor with a shred of sanity or professionalism would allow such a damning story to go live without at least something behind it. Some OSU fans have pointed out that the story cites only one anonymous source, which is fair criticism, and if that source continues to be unnamed and the only supplier of information to this story, then its credibility should be put in doubt. But keep in mind that Yahoo's track record with regard to investigative sports journalism is anything but shaky, and that it is probable that Wetzel and Robinson have not played every card in their hand.

Dr. Saturday was in the same boat:

Presumably – considering we're working on the word of respected reporters with a pretty good track record when it comes to NCAA scandal – that's a solid source, and presumably there are others leading the reporters to the same conclusion without saying as much outright. Presumably, too, there's more evidence (circumstantial or otherwise) on the way.

EDSBS went farther, into open hostility to anyone who would point at the single anonymous source as a reason to discount the story:

The story by Dan Wetzel uses a single anonymous source, the red flag for stupid people who like to point and say "HURP WHY ANONAMOOSE MEDIA FURRP." An anonymous source is fine, especially because this is Wetzel, who knows his shit and has a long track record of solid reportage. Don't rely on this as a critique unless you're dumb, and if you are please, feel free to get your dumbness all over the place somewhere else.

Wetzel and Robinson's one anonymous source is the moment when the blogosphere's trust in the Yahoo military-investigative complex went from implicit to explicit**. Anywhere else, even most newspapers, and the skepticism would be between substantial and total. Here it was minor, mostly limited to the question of paper. Slow States FTW:

So the winner here is clearly Yahoo! and Wetzel, not only for getting their name all over this one but doing the impossible: proving to the Internet (!) that you can in fact trust them next time they come out with a report based on what would at any Kansas City radio station be hardly worth a retweet.

Yahoo has accomplished what the set out to when they hired Wetzel and Robinson and a few other guys and told them "be NCAA enforcement." Q: is it working financially? We've seen Fanhouse go the wide-and-shallow route and eventually give up, leaving TSN to fire everyone except some overpaid columnists. We've seen Deadspin's mix of terrific and awful work. Lord, have we heard the complaints from newspaper folk about how no one cares about quality and no one pays for investigative work. Yahoo seems to be an encouraging counterpoint to the narrative that says in ten years all newspapers will be TMZ and all restaurants Taco Bell.

I know two things:

  1. I'll be just as depressed as anyone at a newspaper if it turns out Wetzel and Robinson almost singlehandedly causing Bruce Feldman to title a post "Is College Football Falling Apart?"($) does not work financially. If you can't get paid doing what Yahoo is doing you can't get paid doing any substantive reporting.
  2. The reasonable response to a Yahoo article linking your school to NCAA wrongdoing is to wet yourself and hide in the corner.

BONUS: Interviewed on Chicago radio, Robinson says Yahoo will break two more stories before football season, one a 6-7 on a ten point scale on which Tressel is an 8, the other a 10. I've got Clemson in the pool.

*[With rhabdogate and the whole Legends/Leaders debacle, this appears to be a Big Ten specialty.]

**[There was one obvious exception of local interest that seemed kinder to ignore, but somehow I find myself called out for not responding to it. So, fine: of late MNB Dave has 1) declared moving The Game was not only not a big deal, but a good thing, 2) declared Michigan's most recent recruiting class "awesome", 3) been the only person on the planet other than Dave Brandon to defend Dave Brandon's process, and 4) called out Robinson and Wetzel as what's wrong with modern-day journalism.

He's either sustained a major brain injury or is—as emailers have taken to suggesting on the regular—started taking idiotic contrarian positions for the attention. Either way I'm past the point where a response would be anything constructive.  If you agree with any of the above points we are speaking a different language and interaction is pointless. Maybe if I was a better person I could gently explain the many specific ways in which the above positions are incorrect, but I'm sure halfway through I'd go HULK SMASH and start talking about how people look like horses and should be quarantined on the moon so their disease does not infect the rest of the planet. Since I prefer to restrict my vicious ad hominem attacks to people I haven't met I'm taking mom's advice and not saying anything at all… except when directly called out. So: MNB, for the love of God either get a coherent editorial position or fan out into a half-dozen different blogs so I can better distinguish which things to ts;dr.

You don't care, I know, which is why this is a footnote.]


Benoit Balls

March 9th, 2011 at 2:27 PM ^

if the lawyer who contacted Tressel was the same lawyer the tattoo parlor owner had contacted for representation, where's the big secret investigation that Tressel was afraid of compromising?

Seems to me if this guy was contacting a lawyer because he knew that the FBI was investigating him then he was farily cognizant of the fact that the FBI was investigating him, and thus, the proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag, right?

Is there a detail I am missing? Am I just simple? Help please

The Squid

March 9th, 2011 at 2:46 PM ^

Tressel's "compromising the investigation" excuse means that he's a) a liar, or b) an idiot. If anyone compromised the investigation, it was the lawyer feeding Tressel the information or whoever was feeding that guy information. I think that Tressel is in a lot of trouble here, but the guy who's really at the center of a serious shitstorm is the lawyer, particularly if he actually was the tattoo guy's lawyer.

Benoit Balls

March 9th, 2011 at 3:08 PM ^

the lawyer had been contacted by Tattoo because Tattoo knew of investigation and needed advice. It is unclear if lawyer was retained by Tattoo for legal services (im guessing no, or you are correct, major shitstorm for lawyer).  

Is the answer then that the lawyer was worried about priviledge issues, and thus Tressell didnt want to expose lawyer had violated priviledge?

is it possible that at the time of the first email he wasnt officiall representing Tattoo, but a couple weeks later, he was official, thus the request for confidentiality at that time?

I just want to make sure my opinion is fully researched before I start needling each and every buckeye fan I come in contact with (starting with the in-laws)


The Squid

March 9th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

The lawyer's relationship with Mr Tattoo doesn't have anything to do with Tressel's responsibilities to OSU and the NCAA. The lawyer's request for confidentiality is asking Tressel to cover the *lawyer's* ass but Tressel isn't legally bound to do that. Quite the opposite, he was contractually bound to advise OSU the minute he initially received the information from the lawyer. This is why Tressel is either a liar or an idiot.

As far as the lawyer violating his privilege, it doesn't matter whether or not he was officially representing Mr. Tattoo. Privilege attaches in any sort of confidential communication between an individual and a lawyer, for example, a tattoo parlor owner explaining his situation to a lawyer who the tattoo parlor owner is interviewing for potential representation. (Note: I have no idea whether or not the lawyer actually violated privilege, but if he did, his disbarment will be faster than Terrelle Pryor's 40 time.)

oriental andrew

March 9th, 2011 at 2:36 PM ^

that I do disagree with MnB Dave's premise from the perspective that using 1 unnamed source is flimsy.  If the source is solid, it's solid.  I do agree with him that it was less than fair to notify osu 3 hours to respond to the story prior to going live with it, but that's a quibble.  osu (or at least tressel) knew about the issues, so he now needs to live with it. 


March 9th, 2011 at 3:11 PM ^

This is like a throw-back to the good ol' days of newspapers when they knew they could be repeat players and use the occasional anonymous source based upon a hard-earned reputation of veracity and proper internal editorial procedures.  I count this whole episode as a win for the direction of New Media.


March 9th, 2011 at 2:39 PM ^

Great job by the Yahoo guys. But the prediction (re two more big stories) is troubling. Why would he know, in March, that a big story will break in August? If he knows this already, it means the story is already in the can. And if it's already in the can, Yahoo is kind of duty-bound to run it sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they're holding a Major Story -- for 5-6 months! -- simply in order to spring a gotcha just before the season starts. Which makes some sense commercially. But it certainly doesn't serve the greater interests, ie the public's need to know. It's sleazy, actually.


March 9th, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

Then touting the story now makes even less sense. If you're still trying to get confirmations, you don't really have the story. I don't know of very many legit publications that announce a story months before it's done. Also, if they're still working on it, why would the guy randomly know that it will done in August?

They're sitting on a story. 


March 9th, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

Probably just have the start of it and know they are going to need time investigate and put their ducks in a row before they break it.  I think most news organizations time their releases a while in advance unless the threat of being scooped or facts on the ground force them to break it early.

D.C. Dave

March 10th, 2011 at 11:21 AM ^

People are forgetting a key factor: Reporters don't decide when a story is ready, editors do. And reporters typically think they have it nailed a good while before an editor signs off. Reporters write stories, editors make them live, but only after challenging the reporting and being certain (if it is a reputable outfit.)

If it was ready, it would run. What the reporter likely means is he is developing some stories. But he can't know when they are going to run because it's not his call.

The head of Yahoo news is Dave Morgan, formerly of the sports department LA Times. He knows what he's doing and that's why you have yet to see one of their investigations get successfully refuted. They take heat when they came out -- they got it from UConn basketball fans, they got it from Ohio State losers -- but they have yet to be wrong. 

That means the editors are satisfied with the sourcing, they have it confirmed in another way, and they turn it loose. But that is where the calls are made at Yahoo. Almost every one of their top people came from the best print sports sections. The reporter advertising future stories is keeping people interested, as he should. That doesn't mean a story is in the can, just waiting. They'd be too worried about getting beat. It only means it's not ready yet.


Pibby Scott

March 9th, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

wonderful take-down of MnB. He does seem kind of insane as of late.

"To Dan Wetzel and Charles Robinson:

My apologies. I was wrong about your source. You were correct that Ohio State and Jim Tressel committed major NCAA infractions by not reporting knowledge of other infractions in April when Tressel learned about it. You were right. I was wrong and I apologize.



March 9th, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

I heard Wetzel on 97.1 out of Cbus.  It didn't sound like he was sitting on a bunch of new info on this story but said he wasn't finished investigating, at least because of the impending NCAA investigation.


March 9th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

Add me to the list of people with brain damage or whatever. Brandon's process was fine. Harbaugh went public a couple weeks ago saying that the newly opened NFL door deflated his interest in the job.  So that obviously changed the December and early January battle plan on the coaching search.  This provided a stay for the prior coach and another chance to improve on the field.  Then you had a bowl effort that left us at a point of no return with the prior coach.

The process was one that was backed into a corner, but through no fault of David Brandon. 

Still waiting for one bit of evidence besides hurt feelings and conspiracy rants that would support a conclusion that Brandon messed up anything.  If the coach ends up being lousy, than you argue his judgment was bad. But there wasn't any process messed up.

On the more current issue Yahoo reporting: you are totally correct and I can't wait to see who else gets shown to be cheating.  I think we aren't done with Oregon.


March 9th, 2011 at 2:56 PM ^

you can't say the wisdom of the process will be determined by how Hoke does as a coach.  That's like saying the wisdom of buying a lottery ticket is determined by whether or not you ended up winning the jackpot.  

Decisions that are subject to randomness can only be judged by the information at the time, not by the result.  



March 9th, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

if you're using 1 bowl game as any sort of determining factor in a coaches success or failure you should probably reevaluate your ability re: decision making.


Just saying. Its absolutely insane to suggest that RR was going to be brought back for another year until the bowl game. That's ludicrous decision making skills that will find you at the bottom of the pile regardless of what sort of competition you're engaging in.  


March 9th, 2011 at 4:09 PM ^

Brian has said he believes Brandon was giving RR the bowl game as a chance to prove himself.  BUT ONLY IF HE HAD HARBAUGH IN HIS POCKET in case it failed.  Does that make sense?  You're going to tell Coach A, "keep coaching your team, win the bowl game", and Coach B "hey, if this guy loses, you're in." 

Putting aside the logistics of getting that done w/out either coach or the public finding out, is that honest either way?  And even putting that aside, Coach B decided he wanted the NFL.  Was there an expectation of coaches C, D, E, and F being verbally signed as well?

RR was out, Harbaugh said no.  What the hell was he supposed to do?  I thought RR deserved the bowl game, and after I thought he should be fired - just like Brian.  From that point I don't see many directions for declaring OMG DB RUINED ME EEEK  

I believe he looked at other guys.  He liked Hoke, and that's it.

STW P. Brabbs

March 9th, 2011 at 7:34 PM ^

Remember when Brian, and the collective MGoBoard, were convinced that Gary Patterson would be a totally wicked awesome hire and what the fuck is wrong with Brandon for not considering him?*

Those were the days.   Turns out, maybe just Googling the coach with the best recent track record of success isn't the best way to conduct a coaching search. 

* Of course, we have no idea exactly who Brandon considered and why


March 9th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

The commentators mentioned by Brian talk about how Yahoo has probably not "played all its cards."  I would also put my money on that.

So what is this August bombshell?  Let me offer my hypothesis.

Yahoo breaks this story a day or two ago.  Around the same time, it sends a FOIA request to OSU for emails.  What gives?  Do you think OSU will give away all their emails without a fight after you slam them in the national media? 

Folks, there's another story on the way.  It's going to be based on an email to or from OSU.  How do I know that?

Let me back up.  Let's talk about libel law.  Yes, libel law. 

In most states, and I'm presuming in Ohio, there is a "qualified privilege" that protects journalists from libel when they publish reports reasonably based on verified public records. 

When juicy government documents are leaked to news organizations, they can't just publish a story on it if they want the qualified privilege.  They need the official version of the document first.  So it's common practice, even though you have a leaked document, to submit a FOIA request asking for, among other things, that document.  My guess is that this process is exactly what is happening now.

OSU may try to hide the incriminating email(s), but it will be to no avail, because Yahoo KNOWS that the email(s) exists.  They will get the email(s) eventually.  Probably by August. 

And then Yahoo Sports drops the bomb.

[Once again, this is a theory. I have no inside info.]


March 9th, 2011 at 3:03 PM ^

stop eating them.  The "August bombshell" is a different program that Yahoo! is investigating.  In addition, Yahoo! didn't really investigate much here, they had a leak from within OSU that told them about the investigation.  OSU supplied the emails in the presser last night. 


March 9th, 2011 at 4:36 PM ^

Yahoo Sports would argue that student names and info can be redacted to comply with the federal law you're referring to, FERPA.  The argument is that OSU should redact and produce, rather than withhold.

If there's a dispute about whether it is possible to comply with FERPA by redacting, it will probably be the judge who reviews the documents and makes a determination (assuming this gets to court). 


March 9th, 2011 at 4:46 PM ^

Some FOIA requests are fishing expeditions, so what I described isn't the case for every FOIA request, or even most FOIA requests. 

My hunch that this is a FOIA request based on a leaked document that Yahoo knows exists is based on:

1. The fact that Yahoo has a connection with an OSU-affiliated leak already;

2. They timed the FOIA request so that the response is after the big story.  Usually you don't want the institution to know you're after something in particular.  So they must be pretty confident they're going to find it.

3.  This is more common with investigative journalism, which is often based on leaks.  In most cases, a news organization files a FOIA request for background info, or just to do general digging into a topic of interest.






March 9th, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

I turn off my adblock when I visit Dr. Saturday and other Yahoo sports-related sites now out of respect for their model.  On the downside, that decision led me to actually click on one of those links and waste a weekend reading 19th century London census records. 


March 9th, 2011 at 3:15 PM ^

I don't agree with everything MNB Dave has said recently. Not by a long shot.

But face it, Cook. His pointing out the utter stupidity of you and some of the more stubborn posters here keeping one foot on Rodriguez Hill needed to be said. Now that he's gone, In Rod We Trusted/Rebellion types have taken on the form of the most despicable Michigan faction around -- Lloyd Loyalists.