Much has been made of Sports Illustrated's huge five part investigation into Oklahoma State football. The scale of the piece is broader than most journalistic exposes published by sports outlets with five different articles spanning an entire week. Sports Illustrated even took the step of writing up a press release for the occasion, showing off their depth of reporting. This was a make or break piece for SI. And as the week has progressed, the story has become more about Sports Illustrated and less about Oklahoma State football.
As it turns out, there are now just as many questions about SI and its reporting as there are about Oklahoma State football.
SI did get numerous individuals involved with the football program on the record, which was important for the story and added some credibility at the outset. However, that credibility has quickly evaporated as the stories and quotes on offer in the investigation by Thayer Evans and George Dohrmann have come under fire.
Deadspin has a comprehensive rundown of at least six players who were key parts of the OK State investigation that have refuted quotes, claimed they were taken completely out of context, and blasted the journalistic work by the magazine. Included is this Facebook post from former Cowboys player Rodrick Johnson.
Perhaps the biggest hammer blow to SI has come from ESPN's Brett McMurphy. It's extremely rare to see one major media outlet basically call shenanigans on another major media outlet with follow-up reporting on a case. Nevertheless, McMurphy reported that documents he received refuted much of Fath' Carter's story in the Oklahoma State SI investigation. From McMurphy:
"Some aspects of the story of former Oklahoma State safety Fath' Carter, who was quoted extensively in Sports Illustrated's series about improprieties within the Cowboys' football program, are inconsistent with information obtained by ESPN from a number of university documents. Carter was one of the main sources quoted in SI's five-part series that alleges players were paid by coaches and boosters and had an academic coordinator complete school work for them while at Oklahoma State. Among the claims by Carter that are not supported by university documents were that he graduated from the school and attended classes in 2004 with running back Tatum Bell in which the professor gave them failing grades because their eligibility had expired.
Another discrepancy was from running back Dexter Pratt, who told SI that in his first semester, in 2009, every course he took was online. According to university records, Pratt took three online courses and two actual classes. In Tuesday's SI report, Carter said he graduated from OSU with a degree in education. George Dorhmann, one of two SI reporters who wrote the stories, also said Tuesday on CBS Sports Radio's "The Doug Gottlieb Show" that Carter "has two degrees from Oklahoma State, spoke on the record, recorded. I have no reason to believe he lied. And he's certainly not disgruntled."
Carter didn't have two degrees. Carter attended OSU from 2000 to 2005 but did not graduate, according to the university's office of the registrar. Carter also told SI that he and Bell were in the same class and got A's and then had the same instructor again for a class in 2004 but got F's. "I'd guess that there was pressure [on the instructor] to give us those A's when we were playing, but not when we weren't," Carter told SI. However, Bell wasn't at Oklahoma State in 2004. He withdrew from school after the 2003 fall semester, according to the OSU transcript he provided to ESPN."
Scans of the documents weren't in the article, but I really doubt Brett McMurphy and ESPN would have a reason to lie about these things. This isn't Jason Whitlock pleading with Oklahoma radio stations so he can bash a former colleague. This is a respected journalist raising significant issues with the reporting of SI with his own work.
While none of those developments are truly bombshells, the Sports Illustrated expose is suffering a slow death by a thousand pinpricks. Every time another player comes out and disputes the story, or threatens to sue, or another report calls into question the facts it destroys the credibility of the entire report. The key? McMurphy purportedly has documentation. So far, Sports Illustrated only has words. As Yahoo Sports has proven with their reporting into college athletics (especially this week with their article on 5 SEC players receiving benefits) documentation equals credibility.
The bumpy ride has continued today. After prompt publishing in the early morning hours for Parts I through III, Part IV of the SI piece all about sex was delayed for unknown reasons. As of noon ET, it still hadn't been posted. Are questions about its legitimacy causing its delay? (UPDATE: It was published just before 1 PM ET.)
Additionally, there was a furor online that Sports Illustrated had fired Thayer Evans because his name didn't show up on a list of SI writers. The magazine shot down those rumors and said no editorially changes had been made.
Official Statement: Rumors of any SI editorial staff changes are inaccurate.— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 13, 2013
Still though, how bad does it look for Evans and SI that the magazine even has to address those rumors in the first place? How bad is it for Sports Illustrated to see rumors about Evans being fired and think, "well yea, that probably makes sense."
Perhaps the most enlightening element to emerge from this week is a post from former SI writer John Walters. At his personal site, Walters posted a lengthy blog entry about being a fact checker at Sports Illustrated. The most important revelation? Sports Illustrated now employs just two fact checkers. The end of lengthy investigative journalism is not a desired result from this week because of a dying print magazine industry and smaller resources. A better desired result is reinforcing the importance of making sure these seminal pieces are done right. Hopefully the latter happens and not the former. Walters provides one of the best reflections on what this week has meant to the industry, ambitious investigative journalism, and to Sports Illustrated:
"Magazines in 2013 simply cannot afford to devote the resources to fact-checking that they used to. On the other hand, they cannot afford to have their credibility undermined so swiftly when they endeavor to pursue transcendent investigative pieces. And it doesn’t help when a website releases a more highly praised investigative piece related to the same sport in the same week.
I’m sure everyone at SI will tell you that they fact-checked this story as thoroughly as any story we fact-checked in the 1990s. Perhaps that is true. What is also true is that the commitment to fact-checking, that culture, no longer permeates the halls of SI. They spend a lot less money on red pencils than they used to in the Time-Life Building. That’s just reality."
Just for those who don't read all of the comments here it is again. The enrollment records are NOT FERPA protected. Those were given to Deadspin by the OSU Registrar and included in the Deadspin article. McMurphy got Bell's transcript directly from Bell. Everything I'm saying here is available to you too if you just go read the columns.
I know different cultures have different expectations and understandings of what constitutes good commentary but i am truly stunted that any Americans (im English born but grew up in Australia) have any time or respect for a vendetta driven petulant childish thin skinned (even thinner skin thsn tBill Simmons) arrogant loser like Whitlo. Why does anyone take this man seriously. Hes every white bigots favorite black man, has no empathy for innercity kids from broken homes andhas no ethics but most frustratingly he uses his soapbox to run childish fueds. Can everuone pls ignore that no talent hack
know different cultures have different expectations and understandings of what constitutes good commentary but i am truly stunted that any Americans (im English born but grew up in Australia) have any time or respect for a vendetta driven petulant childish thin skinned (even thinner skin thsn tBill Simmons) arrogant loser like Whitlo
know different cultures have different expectations and understandings of what constitutes good commentary but i am truly stunted that any Americans (im English born but grew up in Australia) have any time or respect for a vendetta driven petulant childish thin skinned (even thinner skin thsn Bill Simmons) arrogant loser like Whitlo
I ck. Why does anyone take this man seriously. Hes every white bigots favorite black man, has no empathy for innercity kids from broken homes andhas no ethics but most frustratingly he uses his soapbox to run childish fueds. Can everuone pls ignore that no talent hack
I have no doubt that there was some sloppiness in the reporting, but the big issue is whether illegal things occurred. To make the story into one about a couple of reporters who made some errors regarding degrees and majors is similar to the way some try to portray the Snowden story as being about him. It is not about him, it is about the NSA. This story should be about OSU, and not about the reporters.
Sorry, but I don't buy it. We've heard the whole "I didn't say that" or "I didn't mean it that way" or "that was taken out of context" line way too much. It means the same as "I've never taken PED's" or "I didn't know what I was injecting into my buttocks". As for McMurphy, student transcripts are as protected as medical records. You can't FOI request those from a school. So, he's either the biggest liar of the bunch, or he obtained the documents illegally and should DEFINITELY not be using them as sources for published material.
How did McMurphy get those documents? The information he got appears to be personal student transcript/registration information, which is protected by FERPA. That could be one reason ESPN won't post them---because it is against federal law.
Read top post I had issuetyping on phone that broke post in two. Ergo potential confusion in below posts
@Franklin Young Because of the source there is no story. I could go to my local community college and find more dirt flying around.
@Charlie Fillenwarth You're as bad as thayer evans. McMichaels and ESPN were approached by a wrongfully accused former student who gave them his official transcript to refute the claims. None of which was supported by any evidence, and the only former athletes who didn't state for the record that their quotes were pieced together to make damning quotes, were the 9 of the 12 that were kicked out of school for either grades, drugs, or violating team rules.
You might want to get your facts straight before making statements that turn out to be as unsubstantiated and ridiculous as sports illustrated's.
@thelowedown My thought as well. ESPN was fed those documents by OSU because those documents from McMurphy are all FERPA protected. Usually, athletes sign away their FERPA rights. Hence, schools can promote their respective athletes' academic good standing.
Wait, doesn't ESPN televise OSU's games? Hmm...
@thelowedown That was my thought. There's just as many holes in McMurphy's story of "oh, we have actual documents, but you can't see them..." That sounds ridiculous.
And really "I don't think ESPN would have reason to lie"?? A major competitor publishes a huge investigative story and ESPN is going to enjoy it? The fact that McMurphy paychecks are signed by one of SI's competitors makes it just as unreliable.
And final point, how many times do we have to see a source claim things were taken "out of context"? This is almost as overplayed as "I didn't know what I was putting into my body...those were PED'S??"
Oh, you're right. I completely forgot that it's that special time of year. You know, where a highly-trusted, highly-proven investigative reporter decides to pick a random school out of a hat, run a completely false story about their recruiting habits, interview former players and then lie about what they told him and generally just try to ruin his reputation and career.
How silly of me. I forgot how believable it is that he took every quote out of context (because no athlete has ever used that excuse before), the players saw that they were "misquoted" and instead of contacting Evans, they ran straight to his biggest competition to claim how "mistreated" he was. No, why would they try to straighten things out with the author and ask for a retraction when they can start a "he said, she said" shitstorm at ESPN, which is known for its high journalistic standard and ethics, and certainly doesn't have any financial stake in making sure the aforementioned college stays relevant in the college football world.
Goodness me. What WAS I thinking???
McMurphy got the transcript from Bell. Deadspin got the enrollment from the Registrar. Simple phone call and fax. Not FERPA protected. Read the Deadspin article. They show the fax ... And facts.
@illinifan1280 Dude! Really? If a guy can't remember that he did NOT get two degrees from a university (as opposed to zero) I don't think I'm going to listen to a lot of the other stuff he says. I know recollection can be fuzzy but wow.