First, let's set the scene, and ask a couple of questions:
In covering the appointment of David Brandon, the Free Press has made much of the question of "factions." The press (I presume, until shown otherwise, that Mark Snyder or another Free Press reporter) broached the subject of "factions" with Brandon at the time of his introduction-day press conference. But the Free Press' coverage of any "factionalism" is profoundly strange; the Free Press has not identified any "factionalists" by name; it has not been specific about who might be part of any "anti" faction, or even whether there is an "anti-Rich Rodriguez" faction to speak of at all.
Is it not the job of the Free Press, if there are "factions," to report on who the factionalists are; to ask them why they have any disagreements, and to support their dissenting views under reporters' questioning?
This is the continuing problem with the Free Press -- it started with inexplicably "anonymous" reports of CARA-reporting issues. Now, it contiunes with inexplicably "anonymous" factionalism. Whether you like or hate the Free Press' editorial actions, IS IT NOT THE FUNCTION OF THE PAPER TO REPORT, TO IDENTIFIY, TO ATTRIBUTE, TO EXPLAIN AND TO CHALLENGE ANY 'FACTIONS' IN THE CONTEXT OF PUBLIC DEBATE?
Now, to the details.
When David Brandon was named Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, he naturally recieved front-page coverage. The Free Press' coverage was werid, insofar as it was headlined, "New Michigan AD Doesn't Fear NCAA Probe." That was the first, out-of-the-box headline on the day of the appointment, January 5, 2010. The headline was technically true, but only as a result of a reporter having asked Brandon about that issue. I'd like to find a complete transcript of the press conference, to know who asked the question about the NCAA investigation, and how it was asked. Even in the context of the Free Press' own news story of the day, the single issue was plucked out of a much more wider-ranging statement.
But that's the Free Press for you. It is their absolute right to cover the stories they like, in the way they want to. In this case, however, it is clear; the Free Press is self-sustaining the story that it created in August of 2009, with its still-unexplained use of anonymous "current and former players" to build a story based around a leaked July memorandum from the University's athletic department auditors that said although there was no evidence of any wrongdoing or any NCAA violations, the football team had not submitted its CARA-reporting forms, which are a university policy but not an NCAA requirement.
So then we get to the "News Analysis" part of the Brandon-appointment story. Oh, joy. Just what everybody was holding their breath for. Noted experts Drew Sharp and Michael Rosenberg, pronouncing on the wisdom of, and the significance of, the appointment.
First, Drew Sharp. Sharp said,
"Brandon ... is a Michigan Man with every breath he takes. He might be the only person capable of bringing together the warring internal sects, saying that 'factions and divisiveness are enemies of success.' [Brandon said that, after he was specifically asked about it by a reporter.]
If there has been any fracturing that has occurred as a result of whatever, it’s something that needs immediate attention. It needs to be fixed,” he said. “And, truthfully, it won’t be tolerated.”
It certainly helps Brandon’s cause that he calls himself a graduate of the Bo Schembechler School of Leadership. His acute political instincts will serve him well in a position that basically has become a non-elected political office."
Sharp's thesis was this ridiculous; he proposed that Brandon's yet-to be-determined legacy would be judged on the basis of whether Rich Rodriguez was a success or not. It is the same meme that Drew Sharp has supplied with respect to Bill Martin; that Martin's success or failure will be determined by any success or failure of Rich Rodriguez. And for a certain segment of society -- the casual fan, the general sportstalk radio listener, the badly-informed Free Press readership -- Drew Sharp might be speaking some measure of truth. Drew Sharp is there for people whose only substantive connection to the University of Michigan is via their purchase of logoed merchandise. Drew Sharp is the spiritual leader of "Wal-Mart Wolverines" everywhere. He speaks to people whose only connection with Michgan is watching games on tv, and looking at rankings in the newspaper. People with no other connection to the University, much less the 24 other sports under the managment of the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Sharp on Brandon:
Sharp on Martin (same thesis):
Then, there was our old friend Mike Rosenberg. Rosenberg is probably smarter than Sharp; Rosenberg's recent column on David Brandon said little of substance, sort of like the guy who is sitting in the back of the room, not saying anything, but smirking broadly. Here's Rosenberg, playing all sides at once, and settling on the most noncommittal and self-protective position possible:
"If you want to believe Brandon is 'all in' for Rich Rodriguez you could read his comments about Rodriguez wanting to win more than anybody and reach that conclusion.
If you want to believe Brandon is putting Rodriguez on notice, you could read his comment that "we're a program that likes and needs to win" and reach that conclusion.
Or you could conclude, as I did, that Brandon was wisely answering questions in a way that will not come back to bite him."
Then, came the "factions" discussion. Rosenberg had to go there. Not because anybody at Michigan brought it up; only because a reporter had earlier asked Brandon about it, and Brandon answered the question, and now Rosenberg wanted to riff on the answer, as had Drew Sharp. This isn't a normal two-fer in journalism (two stories for the price of one); this is more than a three-fer. This is a logarithmic expansion of a manufactured story. Ask Brandon about "factions," get his answer, then paste it onto one front-page story, then a larger sports-page story, and then two separate columns on the topic.
Rosenberg finished up this way:
Brandon said he wouldn't tolerate factions. This is an admirable goal, of course, but it's easier to say than do. There are real rifts and hard feelings; telling everybody they have to get along is not going to be enough.Link to Rosenberg:
So the bottom line, the takeaway on this week's wrap-up of Freep depredations aimed at Rich Rodriguez: the biggest story at Michigan these days, is "factionalism," whatever that is.
And then, there are my questions for the Free Press: Freep, you say that there are "factions" at Michigan. Who are the factionalists? Can you put names to them? How large a group are the "factionalists"? What are their complaints? Do they have a good basis for complaints?
Because absent the Free Press (hell, forget the Free Press -- I'd be happier still for someone else at another media outlet to do the kind of reporting that we can now never expect from the Free Press), my presumption is that any "factionalism" at Michigan is VASTLY OVERESTIMATED; that the faction(s) are small, with lilttle to say for themselves. That they have almost nothing to claim for themsleves in terms of rightful influence in the best interests of the University and the Athletic Department, and when and if they were confronted, they'd largely melt away.
That is merely my opinion and my presumption, but here's an example, also taken from the news of the last week:
We had Braylon Edwards, on a huge-ratings Sunday Night NFL football broadcast, cryptically introducing himself as being from "Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan." In less than 24 hours, the Free Press had its headline, "Braylon Edwards takes shot at Rich Rodriguez." Factions, you ask? The Free Press has your factions, right here; his name is Braylon Edwards. But then, people, mostly on the blogosphere (no thanks to the Free Press) asking questions. "What up, Braylon? Is that what you meant? Are you part of a 'faction', Braylon? You can say whatever you want, Braylon, just speak up and be really clear about it." And at that point, Braylon "clarified." He meant no disrespect, no insult to coach Rodriguez, whom he supports. (With Coach Rodriguez fully and wholeheartedly honoring Braylon's #1 jersey scholarship program.)
So there's a very good example of what happens to so-called factionalism, as featured by the Free Press, under the clear light of hard questioning. The Free Press, incidentally, did absolutely nothing at first, to report on the clarification from Braylon Edwards. The Free Press did not edit its story headlined "Braylon Edwards takes a shot at Rich Rodriguez." The Free Press did not, as Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News did, do a story featuring Braylon's statement. The Free Press did nothing, at least at first. Subsequently, after I had e-mailed Rosenberg, Mark Snyder, Paul Anger (Free Press Publisher) and Scott Bell (who authored the original story) the headline was changed to read "Braylon Edwards and Dhani Jones are down on Rich Rodriguez," with a little added quotation, qutie out-of-context, from a radio interview given by Dhani) still with no acknowledgement that Braylon had renounced the very presumption that the Free Press was trying to emphasize.
Then an interesting thing happened. Sometime after 9:00 p.m., I was a caller in to Pat Caputo's sports radio program. I recounted this sequence of events, and I read from Braylon's statement as reported in the Dtroit News, verbatim. I asked Pat and his listeners why the Free Press wouldn't do that basic reporting; why not at least do the same kind of reporting that the Detroit News did? I don't know if the Freep sportswriters listen to 97.1 WTKT, but at about 9:29 p.m., the Freep posted an item bylined to Steve Schader. It was one sentence, followed by two sentences of the Edwards clarification-statement.
Again, this is the question for the Free Press: If you are going to report on "factions," why not really report on those factions. Ask people for their statements on the record, or else don't publish them at all. (Alternatively, supply a bona fide reason for a grant of journalistic privilege; there are ethical guidelines for such privilege and anonymity usages, but the Free Press supplied no legitimate reasons in connection with the August investigation.) Most of all, examine the supposed "factions." Make those people explain themselves, or retract their claims. Much as with Braylon Edwards.