It's not surprising that various big-time coaches have developed long-running feuds with particular media figures, but what's remarkable is when newspaper publishers take the coach's side. That's apparently what's happened at The State, a McClatchy-owned daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has a long-running feud with State sports columnist Ron Morris, going as far as to refuse to talk to reporters while Morris was in the room in 2011 and refusing to take questions from anyone in 2012 on suspicion Morris was planting questions with other reporters. Has Morris' paper gone to bat for him? Nope.
According to Jim Romenesko's sources, publisher Henry Haith III "made his veteran columnist agree in writing that he would never again write about Gamecocks football or talk about the USC program on TV and radio shows." That's not being received well by Morris' colleagues and other journalists. From Romenesko:
Publisher Haitz wasn’t a Morris fan, though; he wanted his columnist fired. Executive editor Mark Lett talked him out of it, though, according to sources. There were no legitimate grounds for dismissal, the publisher was told.
Yeah, none of that looks particularly good for the integrity of journalism. Here are some notable Twitter reactions to the news:
Would advise any young sports journalist who cares about the profession not to work for @thestate. Very clear who runs the sports dept.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) September 12, 2013
Regarding last tweet: I worked with Ron Morris. Standup guy. Hate that the paper is reportedly throwing him under the bus like this.— Kendall Matthews (@ka_matthews) September 12, 2013
@CarterthePower when you see Ron Morris at State demoted for taking on Spurrier hard to blame SEC media for being soft & protecting jobs— Chadd Scott (@ChaddScott) September 12, 2013
No real problem with Spurrier complaining about Ron Morris. Coaches complain. I have a problem with The State's publisher lacking a spine.— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) September 12, 2013
That last point from Staples is crucial. While some of Spurrier's actions with regard to Morris in the past, including refusing to talk while he was in the room, are certainly questionable, a coach is more than free to complain about any media member they like. The problem occurs when the publisher is caving to the coach's demands. Moreover, the story gets even worse when you hear that Haitz then hired a guy who's a proud South Carolina "superfan" partly at Spurrier's recommendation:
Update: The paper has apparently changed its course late Thursday after all the criticism:
After Weds post by @romenesko, The State has been told to lift its ban on Ron Morris, who's now free to write about any topic, incl U of SC.— Kent Babb (@kentbabb) September 12, 2013
Love all these comments from people who have never read a Ron Morris column. The guy is an ass hat of the highest order and he was fired for consistently printing nonsensical articles with no sources which badmouth the entire University of South Carolina. Hopefully he can now go to the National Enquirer where he really belongs.
Agree the paper should not give in to a coach. It is spineless, as Andy said, to remove him from covering USC AND replacing him with a buddy of the coach. What is missing from the numerous articles written this week is what started the rift between Spurrier and Morris. I'm assuming Morris did something wrong due to the lack of information in the articles. It's typical of the media to circle the wagons when one of their own is under attack, even when they did something wrong.