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 operate 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 tell 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.