When the Roopstigo story by Selena Roberts hit on Wednesday, I was busy getting ready for a 6 p.m. Sports, Media, and Culture graduate class. While we did talk about it a little, mainly we talked about research on sports talk radio and social media. Not as exciting, but it’s what the State of Alabama pays me to do.
That being said, and getting beyond my post-class fog (150 minutes of methodologies and hypotheses will do that), I do have some random thoughts on the article and its author:
The Kelly Jolley principle. In discussing the Cam Newton situation on this site a couple years ago, Dr. Jolley, a philosophy professor, uncorked a gem that I’m going to steal. He cited the saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” He corrected it: “Where there’s smoke, there’s smoke.” To infer more than that requires more than smoke. Think about that as you read any such article.
I’m all for reporting fire. I applauded the reporting on Jetgate in 2004, and the sociology independent study scandal in 2006. I am proud of The Plainsman’s reporting on excessive trustee influence in the 1990s. But smoke is just annoying.
Is there a trial coming up? It is not surprising that Roberts would be granted such access to McNeil and his family with his trial coming up. This is a familiar tactic for attorneys: Help the media to make the case right before the trial starts.
The article does point out that the family is seeking a new attorney, because McNeil’s previous attorney, Ben Hand, is also representing one of the alleged victims of the robbery. So the trial might be delayed. That could be decided Thursday (today) at 3:30 p.m. If so, the advantageous timing will be lost.
Knowing that Dakota Mosley is being represented by Davis Whittlesey, an attorney who helped write the book that every trick is found in, you can be sure that he has done the same to create a similar article for his client.
Journalists are supposed to be aware of their sources’ motives. When a source leaks information to you that will sabotage a project he/she opposes, you take that into account. Did Roberts consider the source?
The tapes, please? Both Mike Blanc and Neiko Thorpe allege that Roberts misquoted them. I would encourage her to post the unedited tapes of the interviews online and let the public decide.
Web sites do this all the time with such interviews, so people who want more information can listen. This would be one of those situations.
One thing to keep in mind: In Alabama, it is legal to record a telephone conversation without the other person’s knowledge or consent. Some states require both parties to consent; Alabama is a “one-party” state. The reporter can offer consent, but that is an ethical choice, not a legal one.
So Blanc and Thorpe could have been recorded without their knowledge. They also could have recorded the interview with Roberts’ knowledge. (For future reference: hint, hint.) All we can do is wait to see what turns up.
Contradictions. As has been noted by several folks on Twitter, the information in Roberts’ article seems to be contradictory. Did the coaches control the athletes too much, or not enough? Did Auburn try to stonewall the police or encourage the arrest?
It could be Roberts’ tactic to leave the information out there for the reader to decide. But reading should be a less frustrating process. The writer should help guide the reader through the information.
One common criticism of online articles is that they are published too quickly and lack editing. This article falls into that category. It needed a good, book-style overall edit, for the reader’s sake.
The changed grade. Perhaps the most troublesome accusation McNeil makes is that his grade in one class was changed from an F to a C. He accuses a football counselor of getting the grade changed. If that is true, someone’s in trouble.
This is a serious accusation, but also could be libelous. The academic counselor could be identified by anyone with knowledge, so that is libel per quod. The academic counselor is likely a private individual, not a public figure, so the level of fault is not actual malice (printing something you know to be false), but negligence (departure from the accepted standards of journalism).
In these cases, the reporter is expected to do something to confirm information given by a person facing criminal charges. Contact the counselor, or ask McNeil for specific information. If that was not done in this case, again, someone’s in trouble.
The missing information on Judge Hughes. Judge Chris Hughes (disclosure: a friend) is mistreated by incomplete information. In another “smoke = fire” paragraph, Roberts makes much of his Auburn connections as an alum. (He got his law degree at the University of Alabama, BTW.)
She quotes McNeil on his difficulties getting to play at Livingstone College in North Carolina, but does not mention that it was Hughes who allowed him to go there while he was free on bail. She also does not mention that Hughes allowed Antonio Goodwin to remain out on bail while awaiting his sentencing, despite the severity of the crime he was convicted of. Court observers were surprised at that; many judges wouldn’t do that.
Such details are just as much a part of the picture. And I am glad for a chance to add them.
Selena and Auburn. It’s hard to phrase this clearly, but I’ll try.
Since I have been at Auburn in 2003, Selena has not come to speak to our students, as journalists came and spoke to her when she was a student. I invited her to come by when she was in town for a book signing in 2005, but she declined, saying that because she wrote about college sports, it would be a conflict of interest. I assume that means that she never speaks at a college ever.
To say that Auburn and Selena Roberts have a complicated relationship would imply that there is a relationship. Here are two components of that relationship, on Auburn’s end:
1) She earned a journalism degree from Auburn. I would think that Auburn faculty helped her develop the skills she has employed in the past 25 years.
2) Even after a cutting two-part report in the New York Times before the 2005 Sugar Bowl, Auburn Magazine put her on its cover in Fall 2009 to help her promote her book on Alex Rodriguez.
I’m not saying that Selena should compose odes in praise of Auburn. It is tough for a journalist to maintain a relationship with and objectivity toward a school, but some respected folks have done that — Rheta Grimsley Johnson and Cynthia Tucker come to mind.
Tim Dorsey, 1982-83 Plainsman editor and now popular crime novelist, compares Auburn to that warning on mirrors: “Objects are closer than they appear.” He says that Auburn looms larger in your life the longer you’ve been away.
Maybe Selena has been focusing on what’s ahead for so many years, going from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated to Roopstigo, that she has neglected to take a glance in her rear-view mirror.
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.
Related: The first story Selena Roberts ever wrote about an Auburn player receiving extra benefits.
THE WAR EAGLE READER NEEDS YOUR HELP.
* Here are the first two Auburn coeds to pose for Playboy
* Auburn jersey spotted in titillating music video
* Jackie Sherrill accuses Auburn of inflating footballs with helium
* Barrett Trotter knows when to hold’em
* Bear Bryant’s lost year at Auburn
* Pat Dye is stuck on Golden Flake
* Five Auburn coeds featured in Playboy’s “Girls of the SEC” issue
* John Travolta in an Auburn shirt
Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Want to advertise?
Interesting how none of the contested conversations were recorded. This whole thing is a lot of nothing, and I hope it sends her career even further down the tubes.
This is fantastic. Thanks for your input. War Eagle.
Van P in Southern IL says
Heard her on 97.3 this morning. She was all kinds of evasive. Claims some conversations were recorded but not all. Had no real answer for why players are denying her “quotes” of them, other than “they were courageous” when they spoke to her, but apparently chickened out, in her view, due to the “enormous pressure” on them. Which is very very odd, given that those players *immediately* denied the quotes, long before there could have been any “enormous pressure” on them to recant.
on Gods green Earth.. her interview on ESPN this morning wasfilled with I think and it should be.. When asked what she discovered these were her responses. I think Gene CHis. and even further back I think Pat Dye and the President should have been involved. I think Obama is respos
Not only is her work unprofessional, but it’s downright lazy–isn’t she about 2 years late to the party?
I’d be interested to know why she seems to have an axe to grind with Auburn. Wonder if she got cut out of rush or was a lesbian (in that extremely conservative culture that would have been tough in 1988). Just curious why she seems to hate such a loveable university.
Good work, Dr. C. I’m sick of this garbage.
Should we take into account your motives when reading your article?
It also may be worth noting that roopstigo, a website I had not heard of before yesterday, is owned by Ms. Roberts. While we, as Auburn fans, are tired of the constant “smoke”, as you put it (and I agree), such salacious suspicions about a recent national champion in a league full of recent national champions are a nearly certain way to ensure hits/views/revenue.
Like I said, just worth noting.
I will say one thing. I’m sick of Auburn being seen as a dirty program. I love Auburn and everything about it. If the football program is dirty, then I want to see it cleaned up. I’d rather lose with integrity than win as a cheater. I think most alumni feel the same.
Selena seems desperate. I think this may turn out embarrassing for her.
Ed Lewis Fy'79 says
Much ado about nobody.
As a proud AU journalism graduate, I’m usually not inclined to the shoot-the-messenger approach. But in this case, given the timing of the article, the primary source, and the author, there are too many red flags to ignore. The article reads like a jumbled and often contradictory combination of a pre trial propaganda piece for Mike McNeil and a hatchet job on the AU football program, supported by a lot of innuendo but almost no corroboration. Time will tell, but my guess is that this story’s heading nowhere.
Some Guy says
Most of the good points have already been made, but what I don’t get is ESPN. I don’t get why they had to run with it. The first word is “entertainment”, but if they claim to be a news station, why don’t they have any journalistic ethics?
Fantastic breakdown, though.
You made a point to attack the credibility of everyone in this story who portrayed Auburn in a negative light (except Darvin Adams, but hey, he’s a liar too uh) but not one mention about Trooper Taylor and his questionable ethics and integrity. This is simply an attempt on your part to muddy the water in an effort to make Auburn not look so bad. If you’re going to paint the picture regarding the events surrounding this story then at least paint the whole picture and not just the part you hope you end up seeing when its all said and done. And yes, where this is smoke, there is fire! Forever the optimist you are.
The fact that you admit stealing that idiom from Dr. Jolly PROVES there’s a rampant theft epidemic at Auburn University.