‘Cardinal rule’ of journalism

Full disclosure, I am a University of Louisville fan and graduate of Indiana University. Since the oft-reported “bombshell” story started circulating late Friday evening, indicting the UofL men’s basketball program of a heinous, illegal scandal, the general consensus seems to be that — one way or another — this is not good for the program. True, it is not good for the program. More importantly, however, this story is a pox on many more houses.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it is still too early to make an educated assessment or determination of what is real. That being said, the entire story is becoming utterly convoluted, and incriminating several other individuals and institutions, not just a basketball team.

Here is how crazy this story is: The NCAA needs to open its own investigation into the athletic department of Indiana University. Yes, I said, “Indiana,” not Louisville.

UofL needs to conduct its own investigation, which has apparently been in progress since word of the book first surfaced in August. Ultimately, my guess is that there is nothing, plenty of smoke but no fire. (Again, I disclosed my fandom for UofL but am striving to remain unbiased in my assessment of this wretched puzzle.) For starters, head coach Rick Pitino would not risk tarnishing his job, Hall of Fame career or millions in future earnings, much less potential jail time for being part of a conspiracy that would include child trafficking. This is an epically monstrous, criminal act. And while Pitino may have his own checkered past, he is no monster.

So I’m going to let the cards fall where they may (pun) in terms of accepting facts and assigning guilt.

In terms of the overall cluster, however, there is plenty of wrongdoing and guilt to be administered.

First, this is a terrible case of journalism malpractice. The “story” of a book being published — accusing the UofL men’s basketball program of paying for strippers and prostitutes to entertain players and recruits —  first “broke” on the Indianapolis equivalent of Business First, the Indiana Business Journal. I will agree that if the book is factually accurate and provable, it would be newsworthy. So far, however, the only “evidence” on which the book is based comprises one-sided allegations from one woman — a self-described “escort queen” — who has changed her story from altruistic motives, to admitting she is telling her story for money.

If this were a trial in court, a first-year law school student would have no trouble getting this case thrown out.

Adding further to the questionable news worthiness is that the owner of the Indiana Business Journal is also the owner of the publishing company who is publishing the book. This would be the equivalent of me owning a publishing company and running promotional stories in LEO about the books we were releasing — and this is one provable fact in this story. It is entirely self-serving, self-promoting and journalistic malpractice. You can not blur the lines of journalistic integrity so blatantly and be taken seriously, especially when the source and legitimacy of the book is already seriously questionable.

Furthermore, the owner of both companies, Mickey Maurer, is an IU graduate and booster, described by IU’s deputy director of athletics as “one of our all-time great IU benefactors.” In a series of emails, Maurer reached out to IU’s athletic department requesting that they contact their counterpart at UofL to ask for their help in identifying a player in a picture for the book. So now, the publisher, who stands to profit most from this book, who is neither journalist, writer or investigator, is actively participating in its production. The real crime here may be Maurer’s libelous involvement in a smear campaign for profit or that a booster is calling in personal favors from high up within IU’s athletic department, and IU acquiescing. (Granted the IU employee admitted in a later email to being “blindsided.”)

So Yahoo Sports — not exactly a bastion of Edward Murrow’s legacy — picks up the story, spreads it to the rest of the world and now it is time to rush to judgement. It’s Twitter time!

This is a failure of media integrity, and a demonstration of pigs climbing over each other to the slop trough. This is bad for UofL’s program one way or the other; but whether the claims of the book are ultimately found to be true or not, the media is either culpable of perpetuating a false, possibly libelous story, or being compromised as a whore itself in one man’s effort to promote and sell books.

The real story will be told when UofL’s investigation is over. However, another story that needs to be told is whether or not the NCAA should be investigating IU and how it works with boosters. Again, I am a graduate of IU, and want nothing but success for their athletic department, but this is awfully dangerous behavior, if not a violation of NCAA rules. And Maurer may want to consider re-enrolling in the IU Ernie Pyle School of Journalism.