Friday, September 13, 2013

Another Old Media Legend Apparently Gets Burned: The Current Tribulations of Sports Illustrated

It happened to the New Republic.  It even happened to the New York Times.  Reporters high on ambition, but low on effort, or perhaps talent, tried to cheat to get ahead.

And now it may have happened to the "grey lady" of sports journalism.

Sports Illustrated spent 10 months nurturing an investigation into Oklahoma State's football program led by former Fox Sports analyst Thayer Evans. He claimed to have found serious NCAA violations, including academic fraud, player payouts, even sex for recruits.  Seemingly the school over several years delved into every shady practice tried in the Southeastern Conference with a few wrinkles used at Colorado for good measure.

In essence, this could dwarf almost every scandal except for Southern Methodist University's legendary offenses in the 1980s.

Most of the time such a story must start with willing and committed sources. They must be named and be counted on to face whatever backlash may come.  Some sources are trustworthy, others may have their own grudges against the school.  Those with grudges, like prisoners testifying for the prosecution, must be backed by evidence that confirms their stories.

The five part series rolled out by Sports Illustrated unraveled almost from the start because the main pillars of their story turned out to be the interviewed sources.  Even the writer's veracity came under fire.

Jason Whitlock, a former colleague of Evans, blasted the writer himself.  He called Evans "simpleminded" and said that such a "huge, gigantic Oklahoma homer" could not possibly set aside collegiate rivalry angst to report objectively.  Whitlock claimed that although he had no personal animus against Evans, that "It wouldn't shock me if Thayer Evans couldn't spell the word 'cat'."

Former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, now with the Cleveland Browns, commented as well to local Ohio media.  Far from being worried for his alma mater, he called the story "comical" and said that he "laughed through the whole thing."  More importantly, Weeden questioned the credibility of every source, noting that some had been kicked off the team for drugs or other infractions.

Furthermore, most of the named sources backed away from the story and its writers.

Factcheckers looking at the details of the story noted inconsistencies.  Sports Illustrated claimed that one of the sources, former safety Fath Carter, held two degrees from Oklahoma State.  A check with the university registrar's office finds that he did not even earn one.

If the allegations against the writers are true, it remains to be determined whether the reporting resulted from extremely bad methods or intentional "cooking."  Either way, the fallout has spread beyond the story.  West Virginia University initiated an immediate in-house investigation of assistant coach Joe DeForrest after it found that the story named him.

The new age of journalism creates more opportunities than in the past.  It also spurs more competition.  To become a pundit, get on television, spout opinions, and make big money, reporters have to get noticed.  Some get noticed because they are attractive and speak well, others because of personality or athletic experience.  Of course breaking the big story does not hurt.

Increased competition can make journalists better, but also tempt some onto the easy path from the ethical straight and narrow.

Sports journalism, however, has more than its share of sloppiness, attention seeking, and bad reporting.  ESPN's Skip Bayless on the morning program First Take stopped a hairs breadth short of defamation when he insinuated that New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter recovered quickly from injury by using banned substances.  He had also once floated the opinion that former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman was gay.

Many media outlets also noted that network's overly obsessive coverage of nomadic backup quarterback Tim Tebow at the expense of actual sports news coverage.

Sloppy reporting can cost players in many ways.  Nolan Nawrocki's predraft evaluation of current New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith was called racist in some circles, merely "gutless" in others. Nawrocki relied solely on unnamed sources to present Smith as unmotivated and lazy on the eve of the draft.  He related that Smith was texting on his phone while coaches tried to give him direction, when it was more likely that Smith took notes on an electronic device.  West Virginia University sources in particular went on the record to describe in detail Smith's obsession with film study and position education.

That report may have cost Smith draft position.  A far enough drop could have meant the difference in millions of dollars.

Bad reporting pops up all of the time in other fields.  Campaign coverage of Mitt Romney routinely focused on the surface, rarely sought to tell a story in depth.  Buzzfeed offered a mea culpa of sorts with its recent story "Was Mitt Romney Right About Everything?"  But the reporters on the campaign did not make up facts so much as they overemphasized some and ignored others.

Sports reporting has a few major problems.  First, many report and speculate as if inaccuracy or wild accusation has no real consequences.  They fool themselves into thinking that it's just a game after all.  But they must report on individual lives and reputations, as well as business and administration, the same as if they covered politics, diplomacy, or the economy.  The same restraints and rules must apply to reporters all the way up to the editors.  Stakes are high, regardless of the fact that a game lies at the center of many stories.

Sports Illustrated and other outlets, in other words, must take reporting and the effects of it with the same seriousness as the Wall Street Journal.

Many reporters get into sportswriting for the love of the game.  They want to cover the Super Bowl, tell the stories of athletes, and write about teams.  The rise of the sporting industrial complex over the past generation has thrown new worlds into the genre.  Sports news outlets need to aggressively court and hire reporters who specialize in finance, political administration and economics.  Since the worst of the hacks attempt armchair sociology, they may need to dip into that field as well.

Sports media outlets have done a great job moving forward with technology.  But they have not taken seriously the expansion of their purview.  Those who got in to write about the big game along with the ex-jocks and coaches can only cover the material so well.

To regain credibility, the entire field of sports media must rise to meet the same standards as the best examples of other media.  Also, like the New Republic and New York Times, they must disavow the poisoned reporting fruit that will inevitably grow from their branches.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

EPA SWAT Style Raid on Mines Raises Questions About Militarization of Police

Federal agents wearing menacing black uniforms, body armor and carrying automatic weapons went into action recently.  Using commando style tactics, they forced their way onto private property to detain individuals and locate evidence of wrongdoing.

Did agents break up a clique of terrorists?  Did they find the hideout of a dangerous gang?

No.  They were enforcing the Clean Water Act on an Alaska gold mine.  And now United States Senators are demanding answers.

A Daily Caller investigation shows that the EPA did more than simply over equip its agents on a routine investigation.  It also lied when asked why it adopted such extreme measures.

The EPA claimed that it told Alaska State Police that the targets were involved with drugs and human trafficking (mind you, in Chicken, Alaska.)  State Police spokesmen strongly dispute the EPA claims.

John Stossel in Reason points out that SWAT raids have increased from 300 per year to over a hundred per day.  He describes how SWAT teams even descended upon organic farms to end the dire social threat of unpasteurized milk.

Politicians accepted the idea that the war on drugs might mean reduced private property rights.  It ended up in every police department wanting military style equipment.  This resulted in police "terrorizing innocent people, raiding the wrong house and causing violence."

The vast majority of SWAT raids descend upon people suspected of drug possession or trafficking, even if the individual has no history of violence.  Other agencies fear the threat from . . . libertarians.  Concord, New Hampshire police justified the purchase of an armored vehicle to stave off "daily challenges" posed by libertarians.

In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act.  After the Civil War, the Army had been called upon in certain situations to act as law enforcement.  Lawmakers recognized that the mission of the Army, to seek out and destroy foreign enemies, did not make it a viable police force.  Congress forbade the military forces of the United States from doing routine law enforcement.

As a result, police forces emerged in most state and local jurisdictions by the end of World War I.  Sheriff's departments dated back to medieval England, but most states did not create their own police forces until around a century ago.  Cities had done so earlier, around the end of the 19th century.  Interestingly, the colors of police uniforms reflect when they were created.  As the US military went from dark blue to khaki in the 1890s, city police used surplus uniforms.  State trooper dress still resembles that of World War I era soldiers.

They, however, retained the distinction between police technique and military tactics.

In the past generation, police have increasingly adopted military style weapons and tactics.  In selected situations, this is reasonable.  Violent street gangs' illicit acquisition of automatic weapons meant that police have to keep up to keep from being outgunned.  Fair enough.

But police forces need stricter guidelines to govern when they may go into full commando mode.  Raiding a lair of the dangerous MS-13 gang, yes.  Raiding an organic farm selling raw milk (and perhaps a little weed), no.

The Department of Education even has a SWAT team to attack those accused of ducking student loans!

Police serve and protect.  The military defends the nation and destroys its enemies.  All too often in recent years, law enforcement at all levels has chosen to terrify the public rather than to serve it.  Not every situation can be handled in the Sheriff Andy Taylor manner, without use of weapons and trusting in the goodness of the public, but a boundaries must be drawn.

And federal agencies without law enforcement missions must be stripped of enforcement agents.

The spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act relies on the idea of separation between the military and law enforcement.  Police should not be routinely equipped and trained as if they patrol the streets of an Afghan village.  Current practice does not violate the letter of this important act, but it certainly contradicts the spirit.

The militarization of police at all levels is one of the most serious threats to liberty.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remember . . .

Remember the Twin Towers in New York City . . .

Remember the fallen from the Pentagon . . .

Remember those who fought back above a quiet field in Pennsylvania . . .

Remember those left behind in Benghazi . . .

Remember . . .

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Is the EPA Hiding and Why?

Secrecy is essential at some levels of government.  The CIA, NSA, Department of Defense, and other agencies must hide at least some of what they do to effectively promote national security.  The FBI cannot release information about ongoing criminal investigations.  

But why does the Environmental Protection Agency have or need a culture of "secrecy and evasion?"

The Daily Caller examined a blistering report by Senate Republicans that relates several shady practices.  It refused to answer some Freedom of Information Act requests.  When it did, it redacted the necessary information.  EPA officials also used secret email accounts to communicate on policy.  These would be more difficult for journalists and other investigators to uncover.

Courts have slapped down EPA overreach before.  An Obama appointee ruled that the EPA acted improperly when it revoked a Logan County coal operator's permit.  Although an appeals court reversed the ruling, the Supreme Court may likely rule in favor of the operator.  The EPA is currently battling a Hardy County farmer because, among other things, it claims that her farm produces too much dust. It also criticized a judge's ruling to allow the Farm Bureau to join the suit.  Of course without the resources of the Farm Bureau, the farmer might not be able to continue to pay lawyers to keep the fight going.

Even mine workers' union leader Cecil Roberts used colorful language to describe the EPA's intent to kill the coal industry.

The EPA uses intimidation by lawsuit, secretive tactics, and other methods to attack property rights, family farms, and profitable businesses.  This brings negligible benefit to the environment, but expands the control of Washington bureaucrats over lives and jobs.

Time to bring transparency to bureaucracy.  The EPA does not just wage war on coal or family farms, but against the rights of individuals to responsibly make decisions about their property and states to enforce reasonable regulations.