Home / Columns / Got 13? Tracing the roots of Harvey Updyke’s supposed plea deal

Got 13? Tracing the roots of Harvey Updyke’s supposed plea deal

Now, if had turned down a death penalty plea bargain, that would have been believable...

It’s a standard rule with a standard concept of “professional respect.”  When one of the so-called “big boys” runs an article, and a smaller outlet provides good information that contradicts, the “big boy” at least acknowledges it.

Not when the “big boy” is ESPN, apparently.  Let’s trace this one.

First, Friday evening, Mark Schlabach of ESPN posted an article that claimed that alleged tree poisoner Harvey Updyke had turned down a plea bargain where he would have served 13 years and agreed never to attend another Alabama sporting event.  The article quoted an anonymous “source close to the case.”

Let’s stop here.  Thirteen years?  Serious?  On a plea bargain?  Updyke would probably get a better deal with a trial.  And as for not attending any Alabama athletic events, um, I suppose that carries some weight anticipating that Updyke would get time off for good behavior.

But wait?  On Saturday morning, in its print edition (remember those?), Ed Enoch of the Opelika-Auburn News quoted Updyke’s defense attorney, Everett Weiss, as saying that prosecutors have offered no such deal.  A named source disputed an anonymous source.

Oh, wait — Schlabach quotes Charles Barkley, who was in town this weekend.  Big name.  Great quote.  But not a central figure in the case.

As I write this, it is Sunday evening.  And Schlabach’s piece remains on ESPN.com, unedited since Friday.  Information from a colleague has not been acknowledged.  Why not?

There is one good explanation, offered by one of my Twitter followers, Lesley (@Mrs_EDO).  She wondered if ESPN were aware of the article, but considered it pregame jockeying by the defense attorney.  It’s a possible scenario, but even in that case, shouldn’t it be up to the reader to determine that?

Two other possible scenarios were offered by Kenny Smith— Samford journalism faculty, frequent blogger, TWER assistant editor and overall smart sports media guy.  One is that it was an honest oversight, though it is a continued honest oversight.  The other is a lack of commitment to the piece.  It’s done, and Schlabach has moved on.  For both Kenny and myself, neither scenario will make it into a “how it’s done” lecture.

And let’s be honest: Schlabach is usually a pretty spot-on reporter.  For all that the AU faithful hate him for it, his early reporting in the Cam Newton scandal was indirectly verified by the ensuing penalties.  Note that pronoun: his reporting.

But whatever the scenario, the result is still the same: ESPN.com has an article on its Web site that lacks credible information.  At some point, the article should be updated.

And at least on this Web site, in this article, let’s give Enoch some credit for doing some good news gathering on this situation.  Schlabach and ESPN.com might be tacitly dismissing a colleague.  I’ll acknowledge it and say “job well done.”

Related: First and Wrong: Read Carvalho’s breakdown of journalism’s breakdown re: Joe Paterno.

John Carvalho, associate professor of journalism at Auburn, blogs about the sports media at johncarvalhoau.tumblr.com. Find him on Twitter at @johncarvalhoau. Read his previous columns here.

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