Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Credibility Kicked Out

image Late yesterday afternoon, the University of Alabama released a statement on the T-Town Menswear issue, an issue created by Clay Travis’ start-up website, Travis, a Vanderbilt grad and Tennessee fan, is the author of two popular books on the culture of college football in the Southeast and the host of a sports radio talk show in Nashville. Last Friday, the site had breathlessly “reported” on what appeared to be a questionable relationship between the clothing store owner and several former and current Alabama Football Players.

In his zeal to get the story first, he failed to get the story right. In doing so, he kicked his credibility right out of the park.

We now know that the “reporting” consisted of the site’s owner regurgitating a series of photographs sent from members of a popular Auburn University fansite and lifted from the store’s Facebook page by the Auburn board’s membership. While the photographs appeared to raise improper benefit questions of the tenor seen in the recent Ohio State tattoo scandal, all were older photos stemming from the 2009 and 2010 football seasons.

Accompanying the statement released late yesterday, the University of Alabama also released a letter delivered to the store owner on March 31, 2011, disassociating him from the University’s athletics program for a period of three years. The University had previously released a statement and had also said that it had issued a cease and desist order to the store in December 2010. Both statements and both letters indicate that the University independently became aware of potential NCAA compliance issues related to the store’s display of sports memorabilia many months before Travis and his Auburn “sources” did. They investigated the matter and took appropriate corrective action. The University has said that it found no violations, that none of the student-athletes depicted in the photographs had affected their eligibility and had not determined that Al-Betar was a “representative of the athletics program’s interests,” i.e., a “booster.” Yet, out of an abundance of caution, the University disassociated the store owner anyway and said that it was continuing to monitor the situation. Since there were no violations found, no report was transmitted to the Southeastern Conference or the NCAA, but the University has said that it did coordinate with the SEC during its probe.

Barring the most improbable turn of events that would lead to additional information, the professional news organizations are closing the book and moving on.

Travis has said that following an earlier posting that reported on NCAA investigators visiting Montgomery in connection with ongoing probes of Auburn recruiting, Auburn fans had inundated him with emails and twitter messages containing the photographs. The messages included bare allegations that Alabama football players had gotten into trouble through their association with the clothing store’s owner, Tom Al-Betar. According to Travis, he had read the emails in the wee hours of Friday morning following a Thursday night party celebrating the launch of his website.

Instead of taking the time to investigate the facts and instead of contacting the University of Alabama, the former football players and the store owner and interviewing them for a potentially huge story, Travis ran with the unsubstantiated allegations and published the photographs. Developments yesterday now show that to be a monumental failure of judgment.

OKTC is in full meltdown, today. Travis has uploaded shrill ramblings and is accusing the Athletic Department of participating in a massive coverup scheme. When you get to the bottom of a deep hole, it’s usually not a good idea to keep digging. His latest post purports to depict jerseys for sale outside T-Town Menswear at University Mall in Tuscaloosa. The only problem is, that kiosk appears to be just outside of the Bama Fever store at Riverchase Galleria Mall in Birmingham. Unless Travis has the goods on that store too, it looks like judgment has failed him again.

Last month, this blog featured a column on the demise of the local investigative sports journalist. Here’s a snippet from that piece:

Earlier this week, I had a brief conversation with a senior staff member at one of the state’s major daily newspapers. I won’t say which one because frankly, the man is a complete professional and 100% newshound. I don’t want to risk outing or embarrassing him for speaking frankly with a blogger.

One thing was very clear—He’s not any happier than you are about his desk being unable to get the story first, but his professionalism demands that he get the story right.  He’d prefer to get it right and get it first but if he is forced to choose between the two, he’s going with getting it right. I admire that because as a blogger, credibility is lifeblood. I’d love for you to read it here first, but I’m really concerned over your ability to take what you read here to the bank. That’s why you will never see this blog float anything like that Brent Calloway story that’s Jeffery Lee ran with several weeks ago.

You can add the T-Town Menswear story as another example of what you won’t see here. The T-Town Menswear story doesn’t get broken by professional news organizations. Their standards—including double or corroborated sourcing, editorial and policy review and legal review—would simply never permit such bare allegations as those raised Friday to be published. The problem here is that professional news organizations are competing for circulation with people possessing neither the ability nor the willingness to determine fact from fantasy.

I don’t have the resources of a professional news organization. But out of the same abundance of caution exercised by the University of Alabama, I’m going to go as far as I can to find the truth and bring it here.

This blog receives tips on a daily basis. Some of the juicier tidbits turn out to be dead ends. Sometimes, seemingly trivial tips lead to other information being developed and truthfully reported. As a blogger, it’s always satisfying when your shocker ends up being verified by professional news organizations. But that only happens when you are certain of the facts and Travis was certain of nothing.

Some bloggers understand their responsibility to their readers. Some don’t. But sooner or later, both flavors will be judged by the answer to this Exit Question: “Can I really trust this guy?”

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