"Factions," David Brandon and the Free Press

Submitted by Section 1 on January 10th, 2010 at 5:14 PM
*Warning:  This diary entry contains links to Freep.com pages.  Do not click on them if you {understandably} oppose any and all forms of support, however tangential, for the Detroit Free Press.

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:
http://www.freep.com/article/20100105/COL08/100105037/1054/SPORTS06/Brandon-must-make-right-call-on-Rodriguez

Sharp on Martin (same thesis):
http://www.freep.com/article/20091022/COL08/910220381/Football-will-make--break-U-M-AD-Martin%5C-s-legacy


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:
http://www.freep.com/article/20100109/COL22/1090347/1054/SPORTS06/David-Brandon-might-be-exactly-what-U-M-needs

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.

Comments

SFBlue

January 11th, 2010 at 5:22 PM ^

Freep = faction.

The sad part is that I think they truly feel that they are giving a "voice" to Michigan fans who feel alienated by the "new approach." I actually knew both of the Freep reporters in question when they were at the Daily. They are both intelligent guys who have sincere love for Michigan, and probably think this is journalistic "objectivity." Actually, it's the opposite, and they are way off base here.

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 10:59 PM ^

There were at least two different press "gaggles."

One was the first press conference, in which the subject was brought up by a reporter.

There was a second, very brief, encounter in which I think Balis asked about it, with specific reference to the earlier questioning. That second questioning can be found on MGoBlue.com, and the voices heard there do not include the voice of Mark Snyder, but it is clearly a second, smaller Q and A by Brandon, if I am not mistaken. There had been an earlier, traditional-form press conference. That is my understanding and interpretation. Yes? I'd be happy to be corrected if I am mistaken.

Again, thank you.

Edit. - Link to "second" Brandon Q-and-A:
http://all-access.cbssports.com/player.html?code=mich&media=160735

VAWolverine

January 10th, 2010 at 5:36 PM ^

should know about factions. When Mitch Albom created his fake byline from the Final Four in St. Louis covering MSU that resulted in a Freep investigation of Albom's actions from an ethical standpoint, the results showed that most everyone in the Freep sports department thought Mitch was a prima donna and almost no one cared for him. It seems that Mitch was given graces that others were not. Now that is factionism at its best.

MGoViso

January 10th, 2010 at 5:47 PM ^

Since this diary sort of switches between reporting (as on the Freep's news coverage) and opinion (as in your interpretations of what's going on), it would be a bit better if you gave us quotes from the Freep and then your reactions. The problem here is that we're told what to think before we read the primary source material, which unnecessarily colors one's opinion. For example, it's hard to read your first Rosenberg quote without agreeing with you because you take two long sentences to set-up what he says; it took me a couple reads to try to see the quote as honest, straight-forward opinion writing and thus form a basis against which to judge your argument. If your interpretation is strong enough, you can still convince readers after they've read the quote and formed their initial opinion.
Other than that, very well-written and executed, great ideas, I appreciate that people like you are out there to catch this sort of thing.

Section 1

January 10th, 2010 at 10:42 PM ^

Who could argue with you? Drew Sharp himself would not argue with you, although "reason" and "informed opinion" are not big features of the Drew Sharp world of commentary.

And yet, what is that message, for the coaches, players and administrators in college sports? The response is, just win. Just win, baby, and everything will be okay. "Just win" was formerly the philosophy I associated with those paragons of college football; Al Davis, Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Mike White...

You get the idea.

Drew Sharp can't even keep his own bullshit straight. He'll write a column criticizing a college coach for a "win at any costs" philosophy, and another column suggesting that the next game is a "must win" for a coach, lest he be fired. It is an insult to our intelligence.

Paraphrasing Drew Sharp: "People ask me how I became so cynical about the writing of Michael Rosenberg and Drew Sharp. I tell them, 'I grew up.'"

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 11:17 PM ^

I was referring to Al Davis specifically because he gave us that quote, which will live in infamy, "Just win, baby."

And yes, I was referrring to him as the embodiment of everything that the NFL is, and which we hope college football isn't and never will be.

I'd expect Al Davis, as the owner of an NFL franchise to say, "Win, or you're fired." It's the NFL, after all.

I don't expect that to be said, ever, to any head football coach at the University of Michigan. Not that I think it is being said by anyone who matters. It is being said by people like Drew Sharp.

Don

January 10th, 2010 at 7:03 PM ^

While the idiots at the Freep certainly are irritating beyond belief, they're symptomatic of the shortcomings that the so-called "professional journalists" in all areas of news and current events exhibit. Thank god for the internet, or at least the part of the internet that includes MGoBlog and the other blogs that link here.

UNCWolverine

January 10th, 2010 at 7:26 PM ^

It's probably a good thing that the Freep's circulation doesn't include talent-rich recruiting hotbeds such as Florida, Texas, and California. Living in California the Freep's BS has very little effect/impact on my life, thank god. I can only assume that the same can be said for other out-of-state recruiting prospects.

go blue.

CCBlue

January 10th, 2010 at 8:18 PM ^

While I will do nothing to defend the Free Press as I believe they have taken an anti-UM bias since RichRod's hiring (to the point of outright ), I will acknowledge that there is definitely a "factioned" UM base these days. I would love to see someone (like Mitch Albom, who seemingly has no agenda)do a deeper investigation to better understand it so that we can heal it. I am regulary around former members of Gittelson's staff under Carr and it is very clear that they are anti-RichRod and Barwis. At this point they won't rest until unfortunately he fails, which makes me question that camps' love for UM. It's one thing to disagree with a hire/person, it's fundamentally another to wish him or her outright failure, especially when it means your team has to suffer as a result.

VictorsValiant09

January 10th, 2010 at 8:25 PM ^

Not saying that Scott Bell is a part of the factions we are confronting, but he is an Alum and former Daily journalist.

I haven't read anything written specifically by him(a la, what he has or has not contributed to the Freep's crusade against UM), but take that information for what you will.

Section 1

January 10th, 2010 at 9:16 PM ^

So, too, are Rosenberg, Snyder and Sharp.

What are we to make of that? Not much, in my view. I mean, if they donate to the University, support the Alumni Association, whatever, it's nice. It's also nice when doctors, lawyers, real estate developers and bond traders support the University.

I don't think being an alumnus places you beyond reproach, if you do something beyond the pale. I don't think being an alumnus makes you more, or less credible, by itself.

And I don't think anyone would care if Drew Sharp had written that Denard Robinson should be starting, or that he needs to work on seeing multiple pass routes, or whatever. But the last I checked, Drew Sharp was suggesting that Denard Robinson would be, or should be, transferring. Leaving Michigan. (Probably because Drew Sharp doesn't understand even half of what Brian Cook understands, or tries earnestly to explore on his blog. Drew Sharp is as lazy a newspaper writer as there is in our town.)

Here's Drew Sharp, in his own words, from his biographical paragraph at WDFN: "People ask me all the time that if I grew up such a big Michigan fan, what happened to me in later years and why I turned so cynical. And I tell them 'I grew up.'"

Back to Scott Bell; all that I wrote about him is what you see. I stand by every word of it. He did the story that was headlined, "Braylon takes a shot at Rich Rodriguez." None of us took issue with the article, at least not me. The headline was a bit over the top, and of course the headline got the Freep's story linked to the Dallas Morning News, the Orlando Sentinel, and about 800 other hits on the 'net. Not so much for the later headline, Braylon denies dissing Rich Rodriguez.

If you know Scott Bell, I think it would be great to ask him about all of this. And get him to answer questions about the Freep's coverage. I expect that he's not allowed to comment on reporting by other Free Press reporters, and particularly no the opinion columns by Sharp and Rosenberg.

Sethgoblue

January 10th, 2010 at 9:13 PM ^

Although I think you have several valid points, picking apart the Free Press' shortcomings on this "faction" thing isn't as simple as you propose. That doesn't mean your wrong, exactly, either.

Reporting on something like factions inside the athletic department, or the community of former players coaches and influential boosters, is tricky in and of itself because of the nature of such factions. They aren't something you can disprove or prove, in most cases. Even if there are factions, and a reporter is able to both identify and interview someone within that faction, in most cases that person or people won't be willing to go on the record. In probably more cases, people in such a faction say exactly the opposite in public, or will recant or clarify any actions or statements that show their true feelings. This could be the case with Braylon's statement. I'm not saying it is, but that's exactly the point, we don't know. It's up to each reader/fan to decide if they believe Braylon is being truthful in his clarification.
And this is what makes reporting on factions both difficult and a slippery slope. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist in the following situation and some of the ethical problems and decisions come to light.

The situation (in broad terms): You're a reporter who has a source within the AD, but one who won't go on the record on all subjects. This person is willing (perhaps with their own agenda) to tell you that there is a faction of people within the department or community and that the source himself/herself belongs to it. Is it then wrong to ask the new athletic director about factions? Maybe, but probably not. What is questionable, like you say, is making (or slanting) the story about the new AD towards factions based solely on his responses at his first press conference.

One obvious way this kind of thing happens, also, is through poor and misleading headlines. Most of this definitely falls on the editors at the Free Press, because they have been absolutely terrible job in creating or letting such headlines through to the final product.

This brings us to the larger issues of what to do with the information provided by such sources on the kind of topic like factions within a department. How this often happens is reporters get info from their sources, which leads them to doing further research, i.e. getting people willing to go on the record to talk about and base the story on that info. Here again, I think the Free Press hasn't been exactly wrong, but certainly hasn't been right either. Making the judgment call on whether to run a story that depends mostly (or all) on unnamed sources can certainly be tricky, but it seems the Freep hasn't been very stringent in its requirements when it comes to many stories on UM football topics. As a journalist, how can you stay objective if you are using information supplied by a source who may have his own agenda in providing said information? You can't, which is why can't use the unnamed sources as the main basis for stories. This may be why the Freep stories FEEL so wrong to many Michigan fans. Chances are if these questions come up a lot in your stories, you're doing something wrong and that something wrong is proving you're subjective.

Finally, back to Brandon and the factions. Do I think they exist? Probably. Do I think they are actively working from the inside to bring Rodriquez down? I have no idea, but they certainly could be. Feeding the Free Press on practice time/CARA/factions etc certainly would be a great way of doing that, but we in the public will likely never know who and how influential the people in these factions are.

Section 1

January 10th, 2010 at 11:09 PM ^

If your sources won't go on the record, it's a problem. It might be the biggest problem in journalsim today, and one that every newsgathering organization has to deal with, on an everyday basis.

Obviously, if a source can't speak for fear of being fired, or prosecuted, and a reporter needs the information, that is the kind of thing that the reporter writes into the story; "the source spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of firing/prosecution/etc."

In the case of the Free Press, one really wonders why it gave anonymity to "former" players, outside of the Michigan program. The original claim, published in the Free Press, was that the players "feared retribution from coaches..." It is an inconceivable claim, when applied to people like Justin Boren, Ryan Mallett and Toney Clemons. (The Freep will not answer whether they were among the "former players.") Incidentally, Rosenberg's story has changed on that anonymity. What he now says is that they granted anonymity in part out of fear of some sort of 'general retribution.' I suppose that is to say that the nutballs at MGoBlog, from which we understand that Drew Sharp "grew up", would somehow threaten any player who spoke out against the Storied Michigan Program. Huh. Doesn't do much to explain why Brandin Hawthorn and Je'Ron Stokes were quoted by name in the August 29/30 story in the Freep. (Other than that those two freshmen had no idea about the kind of interview they were being shanghaied into, and never had any inclination to ask for anonymity, whereas Rosenberg's interviews with the "former" players were shaded and intentional hit-pieces in which Rosenberg said, "Don't worry, I won't use your name.")

But of course, without a name, no one knows how to evaluate the source, right? And that is the biggest problem of all. An anonymously-sourced statement can't be evaluated. (The Freep says that we should believe them, since they had a number of players and they independently told the same story. For my part, after months of seeing how the Free Press is operating, I presume that the players all had similar answers to the way that Mike Rosenberg conducted his interviews, which we will probably never be able to review for ourselves. If the open interviews of Stokes and Hawthorn are any indication, Rosenberg is as suspect as anybody in his story.)

And that brings us right back to how anonymity is rightly used in reporting, and why the Free Press has failed to justify in its Michigan reporting.

In the case of any "factionalists," what are the reasons for any anonymity among people like those mentioned in this thread? Former coaches? Former trainers? Alumni and donors? Tenured faculty? What is the justification for their anonymity? Why?

StephenRKass

January 11th, 2010 at 11:14 AM ^

Brian knows some internal sources, but maintains their anonymity. Why? Because if their cover were blown, the source of information would be gone. There are coaches, parents, and others related to the team who post here anonymously. Why? Various reasons, but basically, as "insiders," they would no longer be able to disclose info if not anonymous.

A different kind of anonymity is that used by most who post here at mgoblog. Because of the anonymity of user names, there sometimes are slanderous or inappropriate things posted. I sometimes wonder how much posters would be willing to say if they weren't anonymous.

Without anonymity, no one would ever blow the whistle on corruption, or reveal factions, or challenge prima donnas.

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 11:14 PM ^

I have no doubt that Brian Cook has occasionally written things in which he mentioned source material from persons the he kept anonymous. I'm not complaining about that; nor about the generic concept of anonymous sources, used according to good, clear, valid standards.

I don't have any hope or expectation of stopping the use of anonymous sources.

Here is what I am asking in the context of the Freep's reporting on Michigan:

1. Why were the sources for the Rosenberg/Snyder story in August kept anonymous? Why were "former" players, no longer in the Michigan program, "fearful of retribution from coaches"? Why grant anonymity to former players, when you quoted Stokes and Hawthorn by name? What is the sense of that, even under the Freep's own guidelines for the use of anonymous sources?

2. Why would any current "factions" be anonymous? If Braylon Edwards is a "factionalist," he has nothing to "fear" in terms of "retribution" from the University or the Rodriguez staff. Indeed, what we saw with Edwards was that he was characterized by the Freep as a critic or a factionalist, and then Edwards promptly backed down, as soon as he was challenged! (Braylon opted for "clarification.")

Would an anti-Rodriguez "factionalist" have a right to, or a need for, anonymity, if he were a Univeristy Regent, at Michigan or elsewhere? How about if the factionalist were another former player, or an alumnus or a donor? What, exactly, is the journalistic basis for offering anonymity to such persons?

Indeed, we haven't even gotten to that point becuase the Free Press has been so out-of-bounds with its coverage. The "factionalism" stories are coming mosthly out of Rosenberg and Sharp columns, not beat reporting. The Free Press hasn't reported, "There is a faction, composed of [fill in the blank; alumni, faculty, former players, whatever] who think that Rich Rodriguez cannot continue as head coach, because of [fill in your reason], however they requested anonymity based on -- BASED ON WHAT?

bjk

January 12th, 2010 at 1:58 AM ^

a man of dubious intentions and methodology such as Rosenberg, you also can't judge the way in which the writer used that source. There is no transparency in the process, and we must take the writer at his word. Just as in the other cases where people are free of accountability, we are assured that there is a secret process in place to insure we don't get mis-informed by anonymous sources or the writers who use them, but the practice-hours story shows us that Freep has no process in place to prevent even errors of fact such as the confusion over countable hours from going into print. At this point, we really don't have any material evidence that Rosenberg even has anonymous sources and that he doesn't just make up what he wants to write himself.

Section 1

January 12th, 2010 at 10:43 AM ^

Just think of this; by his own count, Rosenberg interviewed something like six "current or former" players, and some of their family members. (That last category is a bit confusing; why interview the families of players? There may be a good reason, if they are family members who have a significant and close connection to the football program, such as a Mike Boren. And admittedly, Tate Forcier's own dad spoke up after the August story was published in the Free Press, to basically denounce the story on the basis of his experience as a dad with sons who had been in about five different major-college programs.)

If the group was that small, one wonders how those interviews were conducted. And more than anything, it really raises questions when FORMER players are given anonymity, but CURRENT players, like Stokes and Hawthorn, are not.

One easy conclusion to draw might be that the "former player interviews" were done in a way completely differntly from the way the Stokes and Hawthorn interviews were done. Indeed, I'd bet my life on it. Particularly after Stokes and Hawthorn basically went into shock when they saw how their interviews were being used (or misused, as it appeared to them).

And of course, Rosenberg will provide NO detailed information about his interviews. Even to the point of refusing to say whether Toney Clemons, who has spoken publicly, although not making very much sense, was one of his interview subjects.

http://mgoblog.com/content/jihad-second-journalism-type-substance

http://touchthebanner.blogspot.com/2009/08/toney-clemons-saint.html

Leading, finally, to Clemons' signing off on a press release including this:

QUOTE - “It was not my intention to come to the forefront of any situation dealing with the Michigan football program. I talked to a reporter (Schad) Sunday night, but did not answer any questions. Nor did I contribute any information. I don’t have any ties to the original allegations and my involvement in the matter doesn’t go any further than reading the (Detroit Free Press) article and confirming the allegations made by anonymous sources.

“If I am asked to answer questions by any official party, be it the University of Michigan, the Big Ten or the NCAA, I will be honest about my schedule while at Michigan. But for right now, I am a Colorado Buffalo and no longer associated with Michigan or its football program. It’s time for me to concentrate on my classes and my teammates here at Colorado.”

This is not the kind of clear and credible basis for reporting a major story; it is a soup of confusion, misunderstanding, and mixed agendas. The kind of transparency that Free Press political reporters would routinely demand from public institutions is lacking in their own reporting.

4roses

January 11th, 2010 at 12:56 PM ^

I think you are off in left field on this one. If your sources won't go on record, it's not a problem - its a fundamental aspect of investigative journalism. The whole idea is that by not revealing the identity of a source, the journalist is allowed to provide us with much more information. If a newspaper required all sources to be named, we would be much less informed and worse off because of it.

In the specific case of excess practice at U of M, the "anonymous source angle" has become a complete red herring. The best defense is not that the sources are unidentified, its that the info the sources provided is being misinterpreted and is not that newsworthy (i.e. it doesn't indicate rules violations even if it is completely true).

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

You have completely ignored the "balancing" that goes into any calculation as to whether a source gets anonymity.

The reasons to grant anonymity are these: You can't get the information any other way, it is essential information, you can cross-check at least to some extent and, the most important reason of all, there is some OBJECTIVE reason that the source needs to keep his or her name out of the story.

The reason NOT to grant anonymity is simple: People have reason to not trust the source, if they don't know who it is, and cannot tell why the source is singing the tune. People have all sorts of motives for making claims and telling stories. To be good journalism, those sources need to be known and understood, except in rare circumstances, balancing all of the things in these two paragraphs.

So now, back to you, choffman; what OBJECTIVE reason would "former" players have, for demanding anonymity? Remember it is never enough for a source to simply say, "I want to keep my name out of it." It's fine for the source to say that, and the reporter must always honor that request, BUT...

The reporter should not run a story based on anonymous sources, unless all of the foregoing considerations have been balanced in favor of anonymity, and there is some objective reason that the source deserves anonymity.

4roses

January 11th, 2010 at 8:41 PM ^

I'm not sure where to start, so let me just lay out how I think the whole anonymous source thing should work. When a reporter obtains some info from a person the reporter asks the source if they can be quoted. If so, great. The reporter can then write the article with the info in it, quote the source, and if there is any dispute the source can be contacted for further examination. If a source does not wish to be quoted then the reporter cannot simply go with it, as there is no way to go back to the source for further verification. So the reporter now has an obligation to perform the verification themselves by confirming the info with at least a 2nd source. All legitimate newspapers (yes, this includes the Freep) will have a pretty tight policy on how this works. An expert could provide more insight, but there will always be some type of review by the editors when anonymous sources are used.

Notice that I never referred to a reason for requesting anonymity? Thats because ultimately it doesn't come into play. The only thing that matters is the "veracity" of the info. If you think about it, it does make sense. If a reporter can confirm that info from an anonymous source is completely accurate, but the source has no "real reason" to remain anonymous is the reporter supposed to refrain from writing the article?

Section 1

January 12th, 2010 at 12:01 AM ^

You said that you "were not sure where to start."

You could have Googled the phrase, "Use of anonymous sources." About the second or third item on the searched list would have been this nice, neat 2009 column by Clark Hoyt, who is the Public Editor (a/k/a 'ombudsman') of the New York Times, writing intelligently about how even the great Gray Lady's reporters were continually falling into bad habits with their lackadaisical use of anonymous sources. He cites some pretty bad examples; worse even (but far less consequential) than our friends at the Freep.

NYT link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/opinion/22pubed.html

Read it; you'll understand that not only does the reason for any extension of anonymity matter, greatly; but also,reporters, by convention, should be writing into every story exactly why anonymity was requested, and the basis on which any anonymity was granted. IN that article. In the same breath as what it was that was said by the source. And that is indeed what Rosenberg did in the Free Press, saying that "former and current players" were given anonymity out of "fear of retribution... from coaches..." etc. Rosenberg knew that was what he was supposed to be doing.

And yet, the problem with Rosenberg is that his is basically phony claim, unless somebody thinks that a person like a Jim Tressel, or an NFL scout, or an NFL coach, would exact a form of "retribution" on a player like Justin Boren for having given an interview with Rosenberg about CARA-compliance, at Michigan, for God's sake. (Repeated disclaimer; the Free Press has never said if Boren was or was not one of the quoted "former players" from the August investigation story.)

And, as I've said elsewhere, I've challenged Rosenberg on this subject, in front of one of his book-signing audiences, on this very point and he's gone to a fallback position, perhaps the weakest one imaginable; that the "current and former players" were entitled to anonymity because of a fear of some sort of "general... retribution," which I can only guess about. Not particularly any "fear" from "coaches." Does that mean that disapproval from Michigan fans entitles such a player to anonymity? That seems to be the Rosenberg/Freep position, stretched to its illogical conclusion.

And that's complete, unsupportable nonsense. Particularly when it can easily be presumed that of a mere handful of players that Rosenberg interviewed, if they were players like Clemons, Mallett, Boren, Wermers and others, they all might have had private agendas. We are supposed to trust their word. And we are supposed to trust the fair-minded news gathrering investigative talents of Mike Rosenberg. I'll let you complete this one-word sentence: Bull----.

So yes, back to you and your questions about the details of big-time newspaper procedure and ethics; I think that I'm absolutely, clearly, perfectly right about this, and I think that the ethical codes and practice guidelines of just about any big newspaper that you can find will support me. I'll bet on it.

bjk

January 12th, 2010 at 1:35 AM ^

as pretext. When sources are kept confidential, then the actual conversations are also confidential, which allows Freep to keep the details of its journalistic malpractice secret as well.

In the case of Stokes and Hawthorn, their names were out there for follow-up, and when they were asked for clarification, details of how Rosenberg snookered them into offering up the damaging-looking quotations came to light.

But when the sources are a secret, then also are the actual conversations, as well as any editing/spinning process required to manufacture the resulting story. We don't know, for instance, if the anonymous sources were as fuzzy as Rosenberg himself on the subject of countable hours, and we don't know how baldly he manufactured the false premises on which the story is based.

jsquigg

January 10th, 2010 at 9:44 PM ^

I definitely think factions exist, but every program has them and the difference is that the Freep has given voice to the anti-Rodriguez faction(s). There are numerous examples of people who want Rodriguez gone and have picked their replacement as if they had a say in the first place.
I think that Michigan needs to be patient with RR. Ideally they win 8 or more, but I think if he wins 7 you bring him back. I won't make excuses for the last two years, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find another coach who could do much better given all the adversity RR has had to deal with.
I pray to God that Michigan has a great year just to see what happens to the Freep. I'm starting to think their survival is dependent on Rodriguez's failure. I can't see the University letting it go if this investigation doesn't turn up anything.

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 11:10 PM ^

unlike you, I hold the opinion that Mary Sue Coleman and David Brandon would LOVE to have good relations with the Free Press.

For at least a couple of reasons, and maybe more, for the two of them. For President Coleman, the Free Press is a liberal paper politically, and highly-attuned to the same political correctness that dominates the University. The Free Press and the University are, in many ways, natural political allies.

For David Brandon, a very smart marketer and a manager whose whole career has been involved in public relations, making enemies with the press is almost never a good idea; it is like arguing with a force of nature, like gravity. You don't "win"; what you do is negotiate your way to an understanding.

[Edit - btw, I had to really dig to find it, but in 2006, the Free Press Editorial Board actually endorsed Brandon in his unsuccessful bid for re-election as a Michigan regent. He was unseated by Democrat lawyer and former President of the State Bar of Michigan previously with Dickinson Wright, Julia Darlow. Man, 2006 had to be a reeeeaaally bad year for Republicans, for Ms. Darlow to unseat David Brandon for that Regent's seat. The Freep endorses Democrats over Republicans in statewide contests by a margin of about 6 to 1, so it is to Brandon's great credit that he ever got the Freep's endorsement.]

And at the end of the current investigation, it is a given: there will be a declaration of victory on the part of the Free Press. No ifs ands or buts. Guaranteed. It doesn't matter what happens, at least not within reasonable liklihood. If the result is a minor sanction, or an apology for not filing the 2008 CARA reports with the Compliance Services office, or if there are differing, disuputed stories, it is easy for the Free Press. The Free Press will tell everyone how impressed and grateful we should all be that they raised the important national issue of too much practice time for scholarship athletes in the NCAA, and that we've all had a valuable discussion and hopefully Michigan learned its lesson. (Air sickness bags can be found in the seat pocket in front of you.)

bjk

January 12th, 2010 at 1:03 AM ^

Claim credit for it.

For instance, maybe the Sharp-Rosenberg faction will claim that their "courageous," "unpopular" but "ultimately principaled" journalism held UM to its high standards through the RR transition, ensuring continuity of UM's special distinctive status, and establishing a firm foundation for RR's eventual success. Even though **sniff** their good intentions were questioned by vindictive short-sighted-win-at-all-costs/RR-kool-aid-drinking-and-loss-tolerating fans.

If UM gets a clean bill of health from NCAA, what can they/dare they do to call Freep out?

Section 1

January 11th, 2010 at 10:54 AM ^

or dislike, isn't the point at all. What I like, or dislike, is probably important only to me.

The point is the operation of the Free Press itself; it is the region's largest newspaper. Is it operating fairly and ethically on this story? Is it providing useful news and valid commentary? Or is it, with respect to the topic that is of concern to this weblog and discussion board, a kind of a useless and, on occasion, malicious, dinosaur?

For our particular subject of shared interest -- sports at the Univeristy of Michigan (admittedly just one topic; and a topic at that, that only a small minority of the public is concerned with) the Free Press is slow, and backward. The Free Press doesn't do the kind of depth seen here. The Freep rarely embeds videos, never does large in-depth statstical analyses we see supplied by Brian & Co., and the sorts of discussions hosted by the Freep's "Comments" sections are really a low-level joke.

I am asking questions about the Free Press, and its writers. And I am encouraging everyone to read it critically, if they read it at all.

maizenbluenc

January 11th, 2010 at 10:07 AM ^

So, if you are ripping a page from the Bo School of Leadership, you root the few "factionalists" out and fire them (if you can), or move them to where they be monitored, and do no harm (if you can't). There is no way Bo would have put up with the past two years.

By the way, I think Rosenberg believes his audience is the academic elitist UofM alumni and students. The ones who would like to believe in a Utopian world where UofM student-athletes should meet the same academic standards as other UofM students or higher, they should behave like model citizens (not your average UofM student), and in focusing on doing so, they should practice, learn the game, and workout within the intent if the NCAA guidelines. Oh, and they should do all this and remain competitive in the Bowl Championship Subdivision, showing those lesser altruistic universities the light.

Bando Calrissian

January 11th, 2010 at 10:24 AM ^

Why shouldn't they be expected to act like model citizens? Last I checked, the usual U of M student isn't being handed a free education, and isn't in the public eye constantly.

Student athletes are very public representatives of our University. They should be held to a higher standard in terms of behavior and their off-the-field activities.

jlvanals

January 11th, 2010 at 4:02 PM ^

I don't think it's crazy to ask someone getting a free ride to a top 10 public university to refrain from behavior that other students, who are paying to attend the university, might engage in. I also don't think it is crazy to ask them to perform on an academic level that will enable them to have career prospects when over 90% of them do not go to the NFL.

I would rather lose every football game from now until infinity than lower our standards just because USC, Ohio State and the vast majority of the SEC view many of the NCAA rules as recommendations (as opposed to, you know, rules?). A huge part of my love for Michigan is that we, as a fan base, are not willing to compromise academic and social success for cheap wins. This is why I loved Lloyd Carr. This is also why I think it is crazy to throw out Rich Rodriguez. Besides the Kevin Grady wuss out (how that guy got to be a captain and not kicked off the team is beyond me), he's done very well with off field and GPA issues. If I remember correctly, this past year's team (i.e. '08) had one of our highest GPA's of the last decade.

There has to be something more important than winning and, for me, that something is integrity. I'll take that any day over your empty, morally relativistic view of college athletics.

bjk

January 12th, 2010 at 2:42 AM ^

During the transition, one of my fears was that RR, as being portrayed in the boulevard press, would be soft on the dimension of being a Michigan Man that has to do with high ethics and impeccable standards associated with M. Finding out to the contrary has been a pleasant surprise to me. My problem is that these positive stories don't really seem to get the attention I think they deserve.

For instance, a blog search turns up this post by msoccer10 on 7-16-09, with excerpts from a story behind a Rivals paywall:

I know that Rich's football team made really significant strides in their team GPA," noted U-M Athletic Director Bill Martin. "It either is, or is very close to, the highest GPA in the recorded history of the football team. I'm very proud of that."

. . . The article states that the new staff are putting more emphasis on grades than the previous one.

[Emphasis mine]

In other words, RR is putting more emphasis on GPA than Lloyd did.

Other than this, I haven't found very much about this. To me, this is a huge story that blows a very large hole in one of the most pernicious anti-RR myths, and yet, the details (such as what that [2008-9] GPA actually was) are not to be found and the story gets buried under another Freep-faux-scandal about misplaced records concerning GPA, and so on.

Does anyone know a free source to acquire more information about UM football's team GPA, follow-ups for the current year, and so on? And can someone tell me why this isn't treated as a much, much bigger story, at least not here at Mgoblog? After all, one of CF's most ethical and respected programs is becoming even more so, and no-one is hearing about it.

Section 1

January 12th, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

Despite the insufferable Drew Sharp, this interview is worth listening to:

http://wdfn.com/cc-common/mediaplayer/player.html?redir=yes&mps=ShepAnd…

And one good point is raised, and is worth discussing -- Brandon answers the question about "factions" without denying the premise, that indeed there are "factions" at Michigan.

And for my own part, I don't deny that "factions" might be a fact of life in some people's minds. But the question remains; who are they, and why do any factionalists cling to their opposition?

I'd have preferred that Brandon would have given this answer:

"If anyone has a problem with a member of the Michigan Athletic Department, I expect them to come to me with those concerns. If anyone goes to the press with complaints about a Michigan coach or a Michigan athlete, and they won't share those concerns with me, I shall expect that you in the press corps will make those people known to the public. I pledge to you now, and I shall guarantee to any member of the Michigan family, that I will listen to their honest concerns, and I will support everyone's honest aspirations for success at Michigan. But I won't accept any anonymous sniping. Period. And you members of the press are to be advised that I won't tolerate it through your offices, either."

Again, that is my greater point to all of the MGoBlog membership; if there is any discussion of "factions," we must put names to any complaints. We should identify any factions, and any factionalists. People need to make any complaints clear, and they need to support any allegations.

If there are "factions" out there, who won't be named, and won't be identified publicly, they can go stright to hell.