Lies, More Lies and HBO: Yellow Journalism Dogs Cam Newton, Auburn

Kevin StricklandCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2011

You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.

When photographer Frederic Remington was dispatched to Cuba in the late 1800s to document a war and found none, he sent a message to publisher William Randolph Hearst: "There is no war."  

Hearst allegedly responded: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."  

In the ensuing months Hearst's newspaper fanned the flames with sensationalized front page articles that were of dubious accuracy and in many cases patently false. His articles stirred passions among a readership that neither knew nor cared if the reports were accurate. His relentless attacks eventually helped push U.S. administration into declaring war on Spain.  Hearst got his war.  

Since October, the Auburn football program has endured a similar smear campaign.  The attacks began in October and ignited almost simultaneously with the realization that the Tigers had the potential to be a serious player in the national championship chase.  The assault was first directed at the player who seemed most responsible for Auburn's meteoric rise, eventual Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton. It has since spread to include a plethora of vague and shadowy rumors about everything from coaches to bingo. 

From every indication from all in a position to know, Auburn officials were aware of the issues relating to Newton's recruitment at Mississippi State even before he became a Tiger. Auburn officials and Newton himself cooperated with the SEC and NCAA at every turn.  The NCAA issued a ruling on his eligibility, a ruling which was explained and confirmed in two separate public statements by NCAA president Mark Emmert.  

No matter what you may have heard incessantly repeated, Auburn is not currently under investigation. At this point, there is no reason to assume it will be. 

These basic facts haven't slowed the incessant beating of the investigation drum by Auburn detractors and has not capped a gushing well of near ridiculous speculation and conjecture.  Whatever occurs, it is seen to portend the worst of the worst.  

An assistant coach rejects a job offer and signs a contract extension?  Other programs are frightened of Auburn coaches and the NCAA baggage they bear.  An assistant coach takes an offer that has the potential to advance his career?  He's fleeing the impending NCAA tsunami.  

Some of that is understandable from fans. But when the media chimes in with its own sticks and stones, the situation changes. 

Hearst's effort to incite a war is considered textbook yellow journalism.  

Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to draw more readers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. 

That definition accurately captures the environment that has surrounded Auburn since the first days of the Newton saga. 

There's a difference between reporting the news and making the news.  In today's tabloid whirl of sensationalism, even major media outlets often blur the line between the two.  

Reports recently surfaced that former Auburn defensive lineman Stanley McClover will claim in an upcoming interview with the HBO series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that he received money or benefits to sign with Auburn. McClover may not be the only player and Auburn not the only team to undergo Real Sports scrutiny, but McClover's name is the one most repeated. 

It has since been reported that representatives from the HBO series made attempts to contact numerous former Auburn players. According to reports, HBO approached the interviews as if improprieties were assumed rather from a position of legitimate inquiry.  

"They approached me through Facebook," former Auburn receiver Jeris McIntyre told Charles Hollis of the Birmingham News. "He (HBO interviewer) said he was doing a story on big-time college football, and that's the reason I gave him my number to talk about it. But once it got into the questioning, and I got those 'off-the-record' type of questions, I thought, 'You're not going to get me, buddy.'"  

Is HBO reporting the news or attempting to manufacture it?  Will HBO air interviews with players who adamantly deny any wrongdoing or will Real Sports provide a biased portrait using only those interviews that fit a pre-determined agenda? 

Since the rumors of McClover's HBO interview surfaced numerous teammates refuted the comments he is alleged to have made.  His high school coaches rejected the version he allegedly told.  There are indications McClover himself may now be wavering on the legitimacy of his interview.  

Manipulating the news and reporting only the facts that support your position are hallmarks of yellow journalism.  

So too is the use of hyperbole and misleading headlines to attract readership.  

SportsbyBrooks, a TMZ style sports website that trades in rumor and innuendo, is a prime offender.  

On February 16, the site posted an article about the upcoming HBO interviews under the following headline: MSU Booster Bond to Tell All If Cam Gets a Pass?

The headline infers and speculation in the article postulates that MSU booster John Bond is prepared to provide damning information should he be unsatisfied with the resolution of the NCAA's ruling on Cam Newton.  Nowhere in Bond's comments, however, is anything of the sort indicated.  

In reaction to news that Kenny Rogers, another central figure in the Newton saga with ties to Mississippi State, has agreed to an interview for the Real Sports episode, Bonds merely states "They’ve (HBO) wore me out for a month and I think Bill (MSU booster Bill Bell) and I have decided we’re just going to hold off. For right now. We’re going to sit around and see what happens." 

Only by a wild stretch of imagination could one find any threat of as-yet unknown information.  Bond has already been interviewed by the NCAA and it's unlikely he withheld details in order to satisfy Brooks' craving for sensationalism.  That didn't stop Brooks from leaping to unsupportable conclusions in an effort to draw viewers. 

Another characteristic of yellow journalism is perpetuating a story of dubious accuracy or one that is an outright falsehood.  

Early in the Newton saga, a national media outlet detailed unsubstantiated allegations  of academic issues when Newton was on the Florida roster.  Despite the fact that those allegations were never confirmed and ignoring the fact that Florida officials denied the report, many in the national media continued to report the allegations as fact.  

Christine Brennan of USA Today is the latest, but hardly the only, reporter to rehash information that remains unproven.  In a February 24 character assassination of Newton which she masquerades as an analysis of his worth as an NFL prospect, Brennan states: 

Later, there was word he was about to be kicked out of Florida for not one, not two, but three instances of academic cheating. 

Word of?  One word.  One word since refuted by the only people who could actually have access to the legitimate information.

An article posted on Rivals on November 10, 2010 quoted two independent sources as strongly denying the allegations made by Thayer Evans of Fox Sports.  Evans, who has been embroiled in multiple instances of reporting wildly inaccurate information including highly publicized cases in both Kentucky and Texas, attributed his information to a "source" which is widely believed to be a person not affiliated with the University of Florida. 

Two independently-verified sources with extensive knowledge of the Florida academic disciplinary system (one was confirmed to work 10 to 12 cases on the Florida Student Conduct Committee) debunked Thayer's contention, noting that Newton had never been brought before the Florida Student Conduct Committee. One was quoted as saying, "If Cameron Newton would have come before the committee, we would have known about it."

One source whose affiliation was not revealed alleges. Two sources within the University deny.  Which version persists?  Brennan answered that with her glib and inaccurate report. 

Is the media no longer interested in the truth?  Is the economic situation in print media so severe that reporters have abandoned objectivity in order to prey on whatever the rumor du jour happens to be? Sleaze sells and if there isn't any, you better make some?  

You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war. 

Auburn furnished the pictures.  They are of national championship, SEC championship, Heisman and Outland Trophies.  The media is currently furnishing the yellow war. Accuracy and legitimacy need not apply.  


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