Around the-Ozone Water Cooler - Has the Media Handled the Jim Tressel Scandal Fairly?
By the-Ozone Staff with a guest contribution by Jim Cordle
A product of Lancaster, Jim Cordle was an offensive lineman for the Buckeyes from 2005-09. Despite the fact he fractured his right wrist during the season, Cordle started all 13 games at center as a redshirt sophomore in 2007. He moved over to guard in 2008 after Steve Rehring went down with an injury and started a number of positions as a senior in 2009, including both right and left tackle. After a brief stint with the New York Giants, Cordle has since started a non-profit organization called the Cordle Cares Foundation, which can be found on Facebook.
Tony Gerdeman - When I tell you that the media has absolutely not been fair in their handling of this situation, I have to clarify that it's not all media. In fact, it's a very small subsection.
Whether you like it or not, this is a big story in the world of college athletics, and wrongdoing has definitely gone on. The story needs to be covered, it's just too bad the lunatic fringe has the loudest pipes.
When I read tweets like this from SportsbyBrooks.com, which is essentially the National Enquirer for sports (minus the respect and accountability that the Enquirer enjoys), I have to question the motives of some who are reporting on this story.
From May 7, regarding the Columbus Dispatch story about car sales to Ohio State athletes and family members (one of which was erroneously reported to be $0), Brooks tweeted: "So if Tressel had already been fired/resigned, think this car story would've come up? Longer he stays, more they (NCAA/media) dig."
This makes me wonder whether certain reporters are looking for the truth, or looking for a notch on the handle of their pistol.
He essentially says that if Ohio State got rid of Jim Tressel, then the reporters and the NCAA would stop trying to do it for them.
It bothers me as a member of the media to think that that's how I'm supposed to do my job. Actively seeking somebody's bitter end is a sad life, and I'm not going to pretend to have any desire to make it mine.
I can tell you that he doesn't speak for the vast majority of the media, but he definitely speaks to some of them.
I can understand the NCAA's angle in this. Coaches are sometimes sacrificed to keep penalties from being too high, but I didn't realize the story would cease to exist if Tressel was no longer around.
Does history change if he is let go? Of course not. All of the dirty deeds that are being dug for still exist--or at least the idea of them does. What changes if Tressel is let go?
Nothing changes. Other than the blood lust, apparently.
I don't recall ever saying that Jim Tressel should be retained, nor do I recall saying he should be let go. I know it's probably out of place in today's day, but I'm willing to let the process run its course.
After all, nothing new has been done by Tressel, and we're still talking about the one instance of signing a compliance document while he was out of compliance, right?
Remember when the AP pulled themselves out of the BCS formula because they didn't want to create the news that they covered?
Well, right now some members of the media are creating a lot more news than they're covering where it concerns Ohio State.
You'd think the original infraction would be enough to satiate some, but it's like a salad at a steak house--it only makes them hungrier.
Photo by Dan Harker
James Cordle - Before I could type my first submission to The Water Cooler, I had to complete my usual perusal of Twitter. A retweet caught my attention with the words “shamed vest.” The full tweet from ESPN writer Arash Markazi said, “The shamed vest is on the cover of @ESPNMag this week.” The cover calls the past year the “most scandalous year” in college sports. The sub headline reads, “From Newton to Pearl to Tressel.” Boise State was recently hit with sanctions, and I am sure there have been other teams in trouble with the NCAA. All that being said, the program that adorns the cover and takes a hit on reputation is our beloved Buckeyes. To that I say fair enough. I understand why ESPN chose the vest. The contradiction between the pride and the purity of the vest with the shameful violations the magazine covers is marketing gold, and it will sell on the newsstand. Again I say fair enough.
When I first read the question presented, I immediately thought of the obvious instance where The Columbus Dispatch mishandled the car situation. I wouldn’t call it unethical behavior, just incomplete work. It was an unnecessary punch to the face of an already black eye of the program. The article made the public believe that Tressel runs a fraudulent program where violations are the rule, not the exception. If that is not bad enough, the newspaper ran its correction on page two of the metro section. They punched us in the face and then tried to save their face by not making a big deal of the correction. I will call that unfair. I regard The Columbus Dispatch as a quality newspaper, so I can forgive them for their lack of completeness in this case.
The second I thought of the media being unethical, I thought of the original Yahoo! Sports story that brought the Tressel violations out to the public. When they reported that Tressel knew of the player violations and did not report them, citing an unidentified source, that brought up suspicion in my brain. Who is their source? Did they pay off the source? The way I perceived it was they had a source in the NCAA who they were paying for information. I cannot prove that, but if true, that absolutely qualifies as being unethical. Ethical or not, this report forced the athletic department to rush into a press conference and take actions to defend the program. If the athletic department and compliance had time to self-investigate and report, and then had a press conference, the extra time to prepare would have gone a long way.
I have felt all along that the media, for the most part, has done its job and reported the news. However, I have been frustrated when a headline calls for Tressel to be fired. As a defender of The Vest, I have to think objectively towards the matter, and I say it is fair. Apart from The Dispatch and Yahoo! Sports stories, I feel the media has been fair. When you make a mistake in big time college football, you have to be ready for big time repercussions.
Brandon Castel - For a professional journalist, it is a bit convoluted to write about the media as though I am not a part of the very congregation I am preaching about. It's a bit like an out of body experience. There is a part of me that identifies wholeheartedly with the hard-hitting, headline-grabbing news stories that have become the foundation of journalism in the 21st century.
All writers like to be relevant and all of us want our stories to be read. Otherwise what is the point of all the time and effort we
put into writing? Unfortunately, we live in a world where a polarizing headline or a dissenting viewpoint will draw more attention than a well-written feature story on an inspiring player. Sports writers like Terry Pluto are few and far-between. There are even members of the media like Colin Cowherd and Mark May, whose entire role is to anger people and stir controversy, because, after all, that's what sells.
Most sports writers, especially on the national level, have
become far too reactionary. Everything today is sensationalized; it's either the greatest ever or the worst of all time. All of a sudden LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are better than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen until they lose game one in Chicago and then the series is over. It's as though people in the media are so worried about trying to prove they know something that they don't even bother to worry about whether they actually understand anything.
That is exactly what has happened with the Ohio State
situation. I think very few people have been intentionally unfair or
deliberately misleading with their coverage of Jim Tressel and his mistakes. Certainly there are a few who seem to be on a smear campaign, but I don't believe it was the goal of The Columbus Dispatch to intentionally deceive readers about the cost of Thad Gibson's car.
As much as it enraged Ohio State fans, the original Yahoo!
Sports report was a legitimate piece of investigative journalism. Maybe they could have used more sources, or at least ones with names, but if the altruistic goal of the media is to reveal truth where it might otherwise be lost, then there is no reason to scorn their report.
What has happened in the wake of that story, however, has
been massive overkill. Other members of the media smelled blood in the water and came looking for an easy meal. Right or wrong, Tressel has done very little to earn any currency within the media. He often treats them as hostile enemies, or at the very least spies with ulterior motives. Members of the media are not
provided the same access to Ohio State's football program that many other big-name schools allow, and Tressel has become a master at dodging questions he would rather not answer with long-winded filibusters about a topic of his choosing.
As a result, the media pulled no punches when Tressel lost his foothold on the high ground because it's a lot easier to continue poking fun at his apparent hypocrisy than it is to come up with something original.
John Porentas - Like Brandon, I had a very hard time with this because of the nature of the topic. We are, after all, talking about our colleagues, many of whom we both respect and like. We are also in fact talking about ourselves, so I struggled with this, but then somebody did me a favor.
On a car trip last week I tuned into some national sports talk radio. The radio wonk was talking about Joe Bautista's major league leading home run total of 19 and somehow related that to the recent allegations against cyclist Lance Armstrong that Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs.
This wonk (I really don't know who it was) reported that Bautista has been asked directly if he is using performance enhancing drugs and has denied it. So has Lance Armstrong. The wonk then went on to categorically state that Bautista was telling the truth, and that Armstrong was lying. He, the wonk told us all listening, could tell. I wanted to puke. How the hell could this guy ask me to believe he had this insight and nobody else does?
So what does that have to do with the Jim Tressel issue?
Everything really, because it is a shining example of the type of reporting that is currently in vogue in sports journalism, especially at the national level. Reporters are often more interested in establishing themselves as the arbiters of truth rather than the people who deliver truth, and that is unfair. The radio wonk talking about Bautista and Armstrong has no proof that his position is accurate, yet put it out there categorically for everyone listening to swallow.
I wondered why that was the case. It didn't take long come come up with a theory (n.b. theory, not categorical fact), and I'll relate my theory to the Jim Tressel situation.
Yahoo! broke the Jim Tressel story, and that embarrassed everybody else who wants you to believe they and they alone are the arbiters of truth. The Yahoo! story was appropriate, well done, and definitely scooped the rest of the sports reporting world.
The wannabes then got busy. They couldn't be first, so they had to be the most sensational, and that's when things got out of control. The more outrageous their statements, the more you forgot that they got scooped by Yahoo! If you can get the general public to react viscerally to the latest diatribe, they will forget you are the guys who originally got beat on the story. You can create the illusion that you are actually contributing something to the story and advancing it while actually doing neither. In doing so you may step way over the line of fair reporting, but so what? Fairness doesn't matter. My job (or ratings or notoriety) does.
It is the way that the business of sports reporting is very often done often these days. There are those both in and out of the reporting business that will tell you that that in itself makes it OK. It is simply a style, the expected norm, and beside, that is what generates readers/listeners/viewers.
To that I call "bullshit".
The concept of unbiased reporting without an agenda is fundamental to fair journalism, but it is a concept that has been lost in too many places throughout sports journalism. Reporting factually is now secondary to establishing yourself as arbiter of truth, the expert that will "break it down" for you and tell you what to think.
Has the Jim Tressel issue been reported fairly? Heck no, but the Jim Tressel affair has no corner on that market. Pick a sports story, any story, and really listen to what is being said. There is precious little factual reporting but a whole lot of pontificating, often with an agenda lurking behind the gospel being preached, and most often done by somebody who has done little work to really advance the story.
I'm OK if some Michigan fan posts a comment below that Jim Tressel is a sleaze. That guy, after all, is a fan with a fan's agenda, and he's tired of seeing his team get thumped season after season. It's ok for him to be mad and for his anger to taint his view point.
It's a different story, however, when it is a media member doing the same. When your own agenda taints your story, the inevitable losers are the public that is duped and the people in the news on whom you are reporting. The media are the people trusted by the public to deliver unbiased fact. When Jim Tressel is proven to be a sleaze, go ahead and report it, but until then, report what is known, and no more.
To do otherwise is no fair. Ask any second grader.
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