Eric Hansen: Notre Dame and North Carolina Comparison “a rookie mistake”

When the flood gates opened this past Friday on the news that Notre Dame had opened up an investigation into academic fraud, perhaps the most damning quote came from the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hasen. In his original article (which has since been edited quite heavily as new information came to light), the ND football beat reporter said the following (which is now gone from the article):

The probe, according to a source, goes back four years.

The source also told the South Bend Tribune the scale of alleged fraud is comparable to the highly publicized case at the University of North Carolina and that a former player or players could be tied in as well.

While the four-year part of the quote is still very much up in the air due to the ongoing investigation, the comparison to North Carolina’s academic scandal raised the most eyebrows.

In a chat yesterday, the transcript of which was posted this morning, Hansen clarified that comment (emphasis mine):

Let me say off the top, I did a very poor job of framing that comparison. It was a rookie mistake that I should not have made. No excuses. The source compared it to Carolina in terms of national scope, the range of people who he/she believed were being investigated and the likely negative publicity that might come from all this, not that the university was complicit in either perpetuating the academic fraud or covering it up.

Firstly, kudos to Eric for owning the mistake. He probably could have just let the edited article sit there and make some excuse about why the quote no longer existed. Secondly, I can understand how a mistake like that can be made and it is one of the reasons why we don’t operateĀ in the realm of breaking news here at HLS.

For beat reporters like Eric, part of the job entails getting to the finish line first. That means the sources are worked, confirmed to the best of their abilities, and released into the wild as quickly as possible. When trying to squeeze everything into that kind of time frame, mistakes happen. And, personally, I know that the transition from what made sense in your brain doesn’t always translate perfectly to the page.

So, yes, Eric knows he should have done a better job on that tidbit and the damage/narrative building done by that quote likely can’t be fully undone. It is what it is.

Eric also went on to explain his rational for using the source and why he felt confident it was fit to publish said source’s information (again, emphasis mine):

I used this particular source, because they have been right EVERY time I’ve needed info to this point and because they do NOT have an agenda against Notre Dame. At the South Bend Tribune, our policy is that both my sports editor and executive editor must be informed of who the anonymous source is and they must approve the use of that source.

I very much wanted to corroborate the info with other sources. The two I trust the most were silent until after the press conference. Thanks again for asking the question, without accusing my mom of having a mustache or driving a beer truck, and letting me talk about the process of what was a very difficult story to track.

While hindsight would tellĀ Eric that he would’ve been better off waiting for another source to corroborate, again, I can see why he did what he did. If I was in his shoes and everyone else is giving me radio silence, I’m probably pushing to have the info green-lighted by my bosses as well.

In reality, the source wasn’t wrong at all. The academic probe did indeed garner massive amounts of attention and negative press. While we don’t know the specifics of the investigation, I think it’s safe to say that Notre Dame is covering their bases by going years back in the past and asking questions of many different people.

If any of you loyal readers wonder why we don’t like dabbling in the sources/rumor mill/tipster business, this is why. We certainly appreciate the information that comes our way, but we err on the side of caution because, quite frankly, it isn’t our jobs to break the news and dig up dirt.

We have the luxury as bloggers to let the dust settle before we start spilling our internet ink while those in the media trenches, like Eric, have to fire away on the front lines and risk taking a few bullets in the process.

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  • DJ

    Firstly, kudos to Eric for owning the mistake.

    And how far will this “owning” his mistake go beyond a transcript of an on-line chat at a third-rate newspaper? Perhaps one-ten thousandth of the distance. If that. That’s hardly righting the wrong.

    If the anonymous source was the source of the UNC comparison, Hansen should have pressed him: was there a coverup, like UNC? were there fake courses where athletes were steered to, like UNC? The more you force the source to clarify, the more you realize it’s NOT like UNC, and the less likely you make the libelous comparison.

    For beat reporters like Hansen, part of the job entails getting to the finish line first.

    Then he’s doing his job wrong. The most important part of the job is getting it right, which trumps “getting it first” by orders of magnitude.

    • Ryan Ritter

      So what do you suggest? Suspending him? Firing him? What does that change?

      He make an announcement that he screwed up in a full-blown press conference and the national coverage wouldn’t change.

      Based on Hansen’s reply, he did have a conversation about how it was similar to UNC (number of people that will be investigated and national impact). He failed by putting the comparison out of context. Reading between the lines, he realized he failed by doing it in the first place.

      • DJ

        “Number of people involved” and “national impact” are not the two things you think of when you hear “UNC Academic Scandal.” You think of institutional complicity, and fake courses and cover ups. Only an imbecile or a dissembler would assert otherwise.

        As to suspension or termination? Who knows? Surely his editors have some responsibility. But his recantation is weak sauce. Especially after doubling down and re-tweeting the piece of feces known as “David Haugh.”

        • Ryan Ritter

          I can agree that the only apology/retraction being the only printed source of this is far from the ideal solution. Perhaps it is a sad statement for media as a whole, that I see this as good considering most don’t even bother correcting anything–OFD has a GREAT collection of examples:

          As far as this other person you mention, I am not aware of any hack columnist by that name as I pay no mind to people that are dead to me.

          • Bano

            Eric does an outstanding job. Keep up the great work!

      • paulwt

        What does it change to fire an incompetent, irresponsible reporter? It changes future instances in which the incompetent, irresponsible reporter may be involved, and in which he may act incompetently and irresponsibly.

        This man did massive unjustified PR damage to the school he is paid to cover. His work here turned out to be basically libelous. He should not be covering them in the future. He’s an enemy of the program in effect, whatever his personal feelings towards it.

        Short version: with friends like these…

        • Ryan Ritter

          I’d agree if Hansen made a habit of this–say like his colleague Al Lesar. However, this mistake is an exception to his otherwise usually stellar work in covering the team.

          I don’t understand wanting to make an example out of Hansen when there are actually loads of absolutely terrible reporters out there that don’t even bother to apologize in any capacity as Hansen did.

          • paulwt

            Once is enough. His supposedly being the exception to the rule actually makes it worse, imo, not better. There are plenty of people out there openly antagonistic to ND, and it is what it is. But if the guy who’s supposed to be on our side or at least fair to us can’t even be that… ya know? It’s just ridiculous. ND badly needs friends in print media, and this is a mistake that could never have been made by someone who was really a friend to ND. If he got canned, maybe they’d bring in someone who really was.

          • Ryan Ritter

            He’s reasoning for why he did what he did was more than fair. It didn’t excuse it and he knows that.

            But based on the rest of the comments you’ve plastered here, it’s clear you prefer the knee-jerk reaction over calm reasoning.

          • paulwt

            Knee-jerk reactions over calm reasoning? Are you talking about me, or Eric Hansen?

  • Joe

    You are far too forgiving. Reporters like Eric have a responsibility to only report on truth and to use their words carefully so as to not suggest other than what they intend to say. It truly is a rookie mistake, or more accurately, a perpetuation of the hyperbolic media culture to spin implications into untrue (or unproven) headlines.

    • Ryan Ritter

      I wouldn’t be so kind if Eric made a habit of poor reporting. He doesn’t. In fact, the quote that did so much damage wasn’t even included in his headline (even before the edit to the story).

      Yet other members of the national media did use clickbait headlines and still haven’t bothered to correct their errors. There are still multiple stories out that have all four players as dismissed which is an outright lie.

      • paulwt

        You keep bringing up his whole body of work – some mistakes are so bad they wipe out, more than wipe out, any prior amount of good work. He almost singlehandedly caused a national scandal and gave ND’s reputation a black eye in the national media. I’m not sure there is any amount of good ND reporting that could make up for or justify doing that.

        • Ryan Ritter

          So fire someone that actually has been a friend of ND? That’s absurd. Mistakes freakin’ happen and he tried to undo the damage by both editing out any mention of the quote in his article (so anyone linking it now will see proper information) and apologizing in a public forum.

          Also, Hansen didn’t single-handedly cause anything, I’m pretty sure the genesis of the problem started with, oh, I don’t know, some kids actually doing something they shouldn’t.

          But yeah, sure, vilify Hansen. Perhaps you’d perfer Lesar take over the beat. That’ll be fun.

          • paulwt

            He hasn’t been a friend of ND. What do you think we’re discussing?

  • SupermanTDJesus

    People, Eric Hansen is consistently one of the best reporters on the ND beat, and he acknowledged that he made the error (basically the only one I can identify in my memory from him) which should be and IS enough. You have a problem with it? Call his office. Email him. Don’t bitch on a blog about how their opinions about his work don’t align with your own. You are doing nothing but arguing for the sake of arguing, not to achieve results. Move along.

    • paulwt

      Oh, what’s that? We can’t bash him in public? Why not? Maybe because when you say bad things about people in public, it makes them look bad? Gee, maybe you should have posted this to Hanson before he trashed ND.

  • frankbuzolits

    A Cleveland, Ohio native and a graduate of Ohio State University, Hansen has covered college sports since 1983. Says it all.

    • Ryan Ritter

      I could be because I’m running on very little sleep, but, in all honesty, I’m not sure what point you are trying to make in regards to Hansen.

      Are you saying he has an anti-ND bias because of Ohio/tOSU ties or his track record since 1983 should speak for itself?

      • paulwt

        He’s saying that an Ohio State grad, even if he has no natural antipathy towards ND, has no natural allegiance to Notre Dame, be it the football program, the university, the alums, any of it. And he’s right. This is a “mistake” that could never have been made by a friend of the program or the university.

        • Ryan Ritter

          His job isn’t to be ND’s friend, even though he’s probably been in ND’s corner more than any other beat reporter that I can think of.

          I guess if you want reporting by friends of the University and nothing else, you should watch nothing but WatchND. They do great work and you’ll never have to worry about people making mistakes that could harm ND ever again!

          • paulwt

            What is his job? Because I don’t think he did that, either.


    1) A ‘rookie’ mistake. This guy is not a rookie.

    2) ‘Owning’ the mistake. Sounds very manly, blah blah blah, `BUT – did he really have a choice? No.

    Which brings us back to 1 – the guy is not a rookie, therefore he is penalized a bunch of loss of trust.

    • Ryan Ritter

      Honestly, in regards to #2, I feel like he DID have a choice. In the chat, he could have just said “I stand by my decision” and left it at that. Hell, that’s basically what other media types have done.

      That being said, I believe a loss of trust is a fair reaction. I’m not in that camp personally, but I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone that has that. It’s the pitchfork and torch mob mentality that wants to throw Hansen out on his ass that I’d take issue with.

  • Padomer

    I don’t see how Hansen’s work is considered first rate prior to his mistake. It’s always vanilla, diet coke, miller lite commentary. He never provides anything insightful or gives us a true behind the scenes look. Surely I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but likewise I can’t think of any examples of “top notch – first rate reporting.” The best I can think of are the chatscripts. When asked a question say about how someone is performing in practice, he just gives stuff we already know. Something like, well clearly trumbetti has earned the trust of the staff.” So that said, the loss of him at the tribune would not make me lose sleep, for this quote is damning. Lesar as a replacement would put them out of business though!

    • Ryan Ritter

      I never said he was “top notch” or “first rate” (searched the page as well just to double check, no one has said this), rather that he just does a good job. He’s a beat reporter, he’s only going to be able to get the access he’s allowed.

      I can’t think of anyone that really gets a “behind-the-scenes” look at ND. WatchND is probably the closest that we get, but even that’s sanitized to a certain extent.

      If you have an example feel free to fire away though. I could definitely be wrong on that.

  • Padomer

    Ahh speaking of lesar, did y’all’s catch the tasteless/shameless piling on after this report? That “stuff that happened on BK’s watch.” Now there’s an example of fine reporting! What a joker. It’s as though the south bend tribune is based out of Ann Arbor.

  • Scott Smith

    Eric is a class act…and the best source of balanced journalism on ND him to call it fairly and make corrections like this if he was off from the start.