Late last night, Alabama Beat Writer Izzy Gould was grilled on TiderInsider.com for what many football fans perceive as bias in the state’s media coverage of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers. Although Gould covers the Alabama beat, he took withering criticism from Bama fans over the way the media in this state seems willing to pursue any and all potential negative stories on Alabama while letting stories on Auburn go unreported.
While it’s really not fair to go after Gould on al.com’s perception of bias, the denizens of TiderInsider.com have a valid point. Gould and Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky traveled to Tuscaloosa last month to interview Tom Al-Betar, the central figure in a manufactured story of Alabama players and a relationship with a menswear store. The TI posters compared that trip to Tuscaloosa with the media’s lack of coverage on reports that the NCAA was actively investigating alleged Auburn violations in south Florida and Montgomery. Both of the latter reports came from verified, named sources while the menswear story came from anonymous posters on an Auburn message board. The gist of the TI denizens complaint: the media will look into a made up story about Alabama, but will ignore two credible stories about Auburn.
That gives a clear indication of bias, but it’s not Gould’s cross to bear. Again, he’s the Bama beat writer. Covering Auburn is not his job. Traveling to Tuscaloosa and giving Al-Betar a chance to defend himself is good journalism. Letting Scarbinsky tag along may not have been the best decision, but why didn’t Gould’s colleagues in the Auburn bureau follow up on the south Florida or Montgomery reports? Where was Scarbinsky on those?
Another great question to ask the media: Why have the beat writers or columnists spent so little ink on the fact that Auburn refuses to honor open records requests? Jon Solomon indicated that the Birmingham News has had its requests ignored since December. Randy Kennedy of the Mobile Press-Register has also had his requests ignored. Mark Schlabach of ESPN? Ditto.
In April, Auburn hired an Associate AD for compliance who was deeply involved in Georgia a Tech’s disgusting case of cover-up and deceit regarding impermissible benefits. In July, that Associate AD was informed—in writing—of specific sanctions against him and requirements imposed by the Committee on Infractions.
Service of that notice and requirement is clearly a public record, yet there is no indication that the state media was even aware of the hire, his connection to the disgraceful GT case or his sanctions. If the state media wants a way to end the downward fiscal spiral they’re in, they could start by eliminating any perception of bias.
Diligently pursuing open records requests filed with Auburn University would be an excellent start. If that diligent pursuit is met with the same silence of the recent past, then the state’s media has a professional obligation to blast it on the front page of all three of the al.com’s daily newspapers. The media is being stonewalled and they can’t let it continue.
Until you guys get serious about doing your jobs, firestorms like the one last night will continue, and so will the drop in subscriptions and al.com page views. When readers turn to obviously biased sites like this one to get the truth, you’ve got a credibility problem.
Formally and publicly renewing your open records requests is a cheap, easy first step on the path to restored faith. If those requests are ignored or denied, then you have a story for your Sunday editions.
And you’d damned well better print them, or we shall grill Izzy a second time.