Friday, February 18, 2011

Toomer’s Corner Trees and the PR move that would make Gibbsy blush

While I still think that Harvey Almorn Updyke is a first class dick for his attempted herbicide, I still must tip my hat to the awesomeness of the orchestration of the media conducted by the AU media relations staff. What they have pulled off is a public relations masterpiece that probably has former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs going, “oh, snap!”

Here’s some of the background, courtesy of SPORTSbyBROOKS:

Two days and thousands of media reports later, I still haven’t found a timeline provided by Auburn or law enforcement that definitively rules out that Auburn may have leaked the story to deflect same-day coverage of the NCAA’s Louisiana-based investigation of the Auburn football program.

Wednesday at 1:30pm ET I was first to confirm that NCAA investigators had interviewed four individuals about Auburn football recruiting tactics. Later that afternoon, Auburn University posted this message that, in part, read:

Auburn University today confirmed that an herbicide commonly used to kill trees was deliberately applied in lethal amounts to the soil around the Toomer’s Corner live oaks on campus, and there is little chance to save the trees.

The City of Auburn Police Division is investigating the situation, and the application of this herbicide, known as Spike 80DF, or tebuthiuron, is also governed by state agricultural laws and the Environmental Protection Agency..

So why did Auburn choose to release the news at that time? Especially since we now know that a full-blown investigation by Auburn Police to find Harvey Updyke located the suspect “more than a week” before the Auburn press release.

Yesterday, after expressing appropriate disgust over Updyke’s alleged criminal act, I had a “wait what” moment when I discovered that a respected AU professor of Agronomy and Soils had found no evidence of the herbicide’s dirty work as late as two months after it was allegedly applied to the trees at Toomer’s Corner. You’d think that, as effective as Dow Chemical claims their product to be, there’d be some way of detecting damage to the trees, especially when a credentialed professor examines the specimens using his handy dandy handheld chlorophyll fluorometer. On January 28, the all clear signal was given—the trees were just Fine(baum), as professor McElroy phrased it in the now-deleted blog post referenced in my entry yesterday.

As SPORTSbyBROOKS points out, the day that AU released the press release about their shocking discovery of attempted herbicide, news surfaced that investigators from the NCAA Enforcement staff had been in Thibodaux, Louisiana, interviewing people in connection with allegations of possible recruiting violations.

The timing of AU’s lamentful press release—just hours after the SPORTSbyBROOKS and FOXSports stories hit teh innerwebs, Twitter and RSS feeds—makes for interesting conspiracy theorizing.

But the real story is the mastery of the media displayed by Jay Gouge and his media mouthpieces.  They have placed Auburn in an absolute, lead pipe lock no lose situation.  In poker parlance, they got the nuts.

image As early as 2007, the trees were reported to be in very bad health, with some AU publications indicating that the two Live Oaks were already on their way to an early demise.  They’ve been victims of AU fans’ own stupidity.  After every game, fans mob the intersection, toss hundreds of rolls of toilet paper into the trees and as shown in the image to the right, sometimes light the paper on fire.

Wednesday changed everything.

Now, if the trees die, it’s “bammer’s” fault.  But if the trees somehow manage to survive a few more years, credit will be given to the same crack Agronomy and Soils staff who, just three weeks ago, said the trees were just Fine(baum) and merely suffered from a toilet paper overdose.

Meanwhile, the news of the NCAA investigation into AU’s highly questionable recruiting tactics gets shoved onto page B-18, whilst the fambly basks in the front page glow of sympathy coverage, expressing righteous indignation over the state of college football fandom.

It’s almost as if you’d asked President Obama for his birth certificate, only to have Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accuse you of racism or Islamophobia.

Brilliant, ladies and gentlemen.  Absolutely brilliant.

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