Michigan "cheating"... tailgate material

Submitted by Section 1 on October 7th, 2010 at 1:11 PM

[Ed: (Miso): knocked to board to keep this stuff out of Diaries. Other mods: consensus is Section 1 has earned the right to vent]

There is one thing about a Michigan-Michigan State game scheduled at 3:30 pm on a particularly beautiful October Saturday; there will be an inordinately long tailgating session, and one in which we are in closer proximity to our in-state enemies than any other home game of the season.

Together, the current circumstances of Michigan and Michigan State have been called out, nationally, in a column by Chris Dufresne of the LA Times, that was immediately republished at Freep.com.  (No, I am not supplying that link.  You can find it at the Chicago Tribune website, and in that fashion deny Freep.com your 'click.')

Basically, Dufresne sort of lumps together Michigan and Michigan State as troubled programs; MSU, as a result of its infamous dorm-assault incident at the end of last year, and Michigan, as an NCAA "cheater."  (There was the inevitable MGoBoard-topic, posted and then re-posted, on the Dufresne column.  Insofar as the Free Press has been a subject of particular Message-Board concern to Brian Cook, not without reason, I have made this a Diary topic where, according to the rules of the road here at MGoBlog, "this is [my] own personal section of MGoBlog, to post in as [I] like.") 

The MGoBlog faithful are mostly well-informed about the depredations of Michael Rosenberg, Mark Snyder and the Detroit Free Press in their horrendous and disgraceful concoction of the August '09 Sunday-paper blowout.  But as we all know, it has mostly been only the cognoscenti who have followed the nasty and ugly details of what it was that Rosenberg did.  For the vast majority of casual college football fans, Michigan was somehow caught doing something bad, and there is somethnig not quite right about Rich Rodriguez.  The exact details are fuzzy, but something was wrong.  For our sworn enemies in East Lansing, they saw the whole affair as proof that Rodriguez was evil, and that Michigan's reputation for football purity was a farce.  Even for a large number of Michigan Stadium fans, some of whom you will no doubt visit and converse with at Saturday tailgates in a matter of hours, Rodriguez is a figure of considerable doubt, in no small part because of "that thing with the NCAA."

For anyone in that position, I hope that you might find this, uh, printable ;-) diary entry helpful, as you discuss Michigan "cheating" allegations with those whom you consider to be Michigan fans and Michigan haters alike, during the pre-game festivities.  Here is my open letter to Chris Dufresne of the LA Times, copied to Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder of the Free Press, as well as their publisher, Paul Anger, on the subject of Dufresne's bland reference to Michigan "cheating":

 

Dear Mr. Dufresne;
 
Regarding your recent syndicated column, posted at, among other places, the Chicago Tribune website:
 
 
The allegations of Michigan "cheating" on practice time were a result of a story by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.
 
The Rosenberg story was the product of Rosenberg apparently recieving a copy of an internal memo indicating that the football team had not turned in practice-time forms that are not required by the NCAA, but which exist as part of standard University internal policy to generally protect its squeaky-clean image.  Having that memo (drafted by the Athletic Department's independent auditors, in which they stated that there was no suspicion of any NCAA rules violations) in hand, Rosenberg went out and interviewed a number of "current and former players," to obtain information on how much time they spent on football.  Rosenberg and Snyder sought every one of the interviews.  They self-selected their sources.  Rosenberg's interpretation of his interview-information was that the players and the team were violating, by huge margins, the NCAA rules on allowable practice time.
 
Rosenberg worked up his story for a month, without ever once contacting the University, any of the coaches, or, most importantly, the Compliance Services Office, for more detailed information.  Not until the day before publication, did Rosenberg seek a comment from the University.  It was a hit-piece, in the most classic sense of yellow journalism.
 
Rosenberg has never revealed the identites of his "former player" sources, on the grounds that those players "feared retaliation from coaches."  That assertion is plainly nonsensical -- players who have left the University of Michigan by way of transfer or leaving football altogether have no reason to fear "retaliation from coaches."  Two cases in point were Toney Clemons of Colorado, who said that he was leaving Michigan simply to play in a traditional-set offense, and Justin Boren of Ohio State, who was sufficiently "fearful" of coaches to go to a Columbus Halloween party dressed as Rich Rodriguez, with his girlfriend dressed as a Playboy bunny in a clear attempt to personally and publicly ridicule Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rodriguez.  The Clemons case in particular is interesting insofar as he confirmed that he had been interviewed by Rosenberg, and that he had never considered, and certainly never asked for, any anonymity.
 
Note that Rosenberg's use of anonymous sources is not, in this case, something that is purely an exercise in theoretical journalism.  Rosenberg's entire story was based on anonymous sources.  While the University of Michigan is a public university and is notably subject to the Michigan state freedom of information act, no one from the Free Press ever asked for any documents to support the story as it was being prepared in August of 2009.  Rather, the Free Press waited until it broke the story in a splashy Sunday edition (an edition that was almost totally dedicated to that one story -- a smaller front page story in which the mayor of the city was declaring that the city was broke, appeared below the fold); only then did a Free Press reporter issue a FOIA request.
 
[For you, Mr. Dufresne, in Los Angeles, I note the great difference between the relative ease with which a reporter could use a FOIA to investigate a public university like Michigan, versus a private school like USC.  Have you ever obtianed any information from USC via a FOIA?  I have personally done a FOIA to the University of Michigan, asking for the FOIA requests that free Press reporters have issued to the University.  There is scarcely more than a week or two that ever passes, without such a FOIA.  And assuredly, the Free Press' FOIA requests to the University of Michigan are part and parcel of a generalized, long-term, ongoing fishing expedition, in which the Free Press knows that "Michigan" stories are among the best-selling information that the paper can traffic in.]
 
The import of all of this is that when a newspaper story rests wholly, completely, totally upon anonymous sources, the issue of whether those sources were proper ones is a pretty big deal.  This was a story that rested entirely upon perhaps a dozen sources, all anonymous, all given anonymity under dubious circumstances, and all of them suspect for personal animus toward Michigan.
 
The Rosenberg-Snyder story veered further away from any sense of journalistic ethics.  They apparently misquoted and misused quotes from two current freshman players, who, for completely inexplicable reasons (mostly, it would seem, they were never informed about the story they were being asked to comment on, and therefore had no reason whatsoever to ask for anonymity) were quoted by name.  What a profoundly weird set of journalsitic circumstances; disgruntled former players, with a presumptive animus to the Michigan program were given anonymity to protect them from an inexplicable "fear of retaliation," while two freshman with little understanding of the program in which they had been enrolled for about four or five weeks, were quoted "on the record," with no explanation as to why they did or did not want any similar anonymity.  Essentially, what the Free Press did was to give anonymity protection to the people who least deserved it and for whom motivations were most suspect, and yet did not give anonymity to the people who would have most deserved it, had they had any serious conception of what they were truly being used for.
 
All of this should be a kind of journalism-school case study, in the worst way to go about reporting a contentious investigative story. 
 
The one cogent explanation of all of this is that Michael Rosenberg had an agenda, which was to bootstrap his surreptitiously obtained memo into a big story, one that could bring down Head Coach Rodriguez, on the eve of his second season as head football coach.  Rosenberg's course of action -- never once interviewing any of the main responsible actors in Michigan's Athletic Department -- exposes his personal agenda.
 
What Rosenberg clearly succeeded in, was provoking an NCAA investigation.  But what we know from the investigation is that essentially none of the Rosenberg allegations, vague as they were, were substantiated by Michigan's outside counsel, working in conjunction with the NCAA enforcement counsel.  What the NCAA found is now a matter of record; Michigan's response, also a matter of record, was to essentially punish itself on a 2-for-1 basis for the odd and essentially minor (quite notably termed "Major Violations" by the erstwhile NCAA) violations that were found.  Things like a couple of graduate assistants exceeding their job descritptions, the mistaken failure to count the time (a matter of minutes per week) for pre-practice "stretching," etc.
 
The University's unequivocal response to the NCAA, after a very expensive and comprehensive investigation, was that the media reports that prompted the investigation (read:  Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder in the Detroit Free Press) were "wildly exaggerated if not flatly incorrect."  The University continues to stand by that statement as it faces the NCAA.  Rosenberg and Snyder are no longer offering much detailed commentary on their work of last year.
 
So there you have it.  There really is a "story" with respect to the NCAA investigation of Michigan football; but it isn't really about Michigan.  Rather, it is the story of "journalistic malpractice," so named by Jon Chait of the New Republic:
 
 
and;
 
 
I am copying this open letter to Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, and to the Free Press' editor, Paul Anger.  It will be posted as a "Diary" entry at MGoBlog.com.
 
Sincerely,
[Section 1]
 
 
GO BLUE!

Comments

ManiacalWolverine

October 7th, 2010 at 8:38 PM ^

   I applaud you for your vigor on this matter and think that these things need to be said/done more often. That said I would think that Mr. Dufresne or one of his minions will probably just give it the old TL;DR. Its a shame too because you letter is extremely well researched and worded nicely. Please keep us apprised of any response you recieve.

   Good work and GO BLUE!!!!