I am about to make an exception to a long-held rule that I have had in these parts. Since we started this blog four years ago, I have continually stressed one mantra: when you dont like what a national columnist writes, ignore it. Hits and generating controversy is what most journalists live for and I have learned that all the emails and complaining usually does is lead the columnist to want to write more, not less, negative things about Kentucky and the UK fanbase. While it may feel good to send the email to the writer in which you let him have it and give all your well-reasoned points, 99 times out of 100 it is either ignored or simply used as proof of the “delusional fanbase” point that they were initially making.
However I am going to make an exception today. After the last few weeks, it is impossible not to wonder what is the deal with Pat Forde. While I know many dont like that I say this in regards to Pat, it is true. I do like him personally and he has always been very nice to me. Having said that, these last few weeks have shown a scale of professional hypocrisy that seems beyond strange to me and is definitely worth questioning. Pat is (along with Katz), THE major college basketball voice on the most powerful sports network in the country. What he says matters (unlike say a local columnist in Memphis) and thus it cant just be ignored. His recent hypocrisy can be seen in his coverage of two stories:
By now it is not a secret that Forde co-wrote a book with Rick Pitino and is one of his good friends. No harm in that. But the way he has handled, and covered, the Pitino scandal has been beyond bizarre. Lets be clear, with the personal and professional relationship Pat has with Pitino, he should have ZERO coverage duties on the Pitino scandal. That should be beyond debate. But apparently the folks at the World Wide Leader disagree. When the Karen Sypher allegations first hit, ESPN sent Pat to interview her and do a story on her and her credibility. He questioned her sanity in the piece, refused to write her allegations and from the ESPN perspective discredited her. Then, when the Courier Journal finally reported the allegations and showed that Pitino had admitted to sex with Sypher and paying for an abortion (I mean “health insurance”), Forde was nowhere to be found. He didnt write the article on the story (Katz did), provided no written commentary or mention of Pitino/Sypher and only publically commented once…on ESPN’s First Take where his overall point was that “we need to remember it isnt Rick, but Sypher that is on trial.”
Counter that with his coverage of John Calipari. From the first day that Calipari was hired, Forde has questioned the hire in his ESPN writings and NUMEROUS ESPN television bookings (which mysteriously dried up in the Pitino week). He wondered why UK would take a chance on a coach who had an “NCAA record” and scolded the UK administration, suggesting Travis Ford would have been a better hire. Then the Memphis story breaks yesterday and Forde is up at the crack of dawn, tweeting out the details of the saga (I dont remember reading one Pitino tweet from Pat) and linking all critical articles of Calipari. He finished the day by going on television and suggesting that World Wide Wes had something to do with Derrick Rose’s story and tweeting a link to the Memphis columnist’s article in which he says Calipari had to know Rose was cheating, with Forde adding that the columnist pointed out the “key point” of the NCAA report.
So how do we reconcile these two different reporting styles. Some will say simplistically that it shows Pat hates UK and loves UL. That I would suggest is incorrect. Forde, like most sportswriters, has been doing this so long that his fandom has gone away and he holds no ill will to UK in particular. It does however show that Pat lets personal relationships/feelings get in the way of his reporting. How can Forde with a straight face go on television and say that the Pitino story is about Sypher and that “Rick isnt on trial.” Hey Pat, NO ONE CARES ABOUT SYPHER. She isnt a public figure and isnt the most famous employee of a major public University. Rick may not literally be in a government trial but he did admit to:
1. Cheating on his wife
2. In a public restaurant
3. With a woman he just met
4. With his entire staff there
5. Paying for an abortion/health insurance afterwards
Now tell me Pat, is that not reason enough to question Rick Pitino? Did you not agree with Iowa State’s ouster of Larry Eustachy for something that in many ways was much less egregious? Do you really believe this was only “one incident, six years ago” as Rick says or do you believe that it is highly unlikely that the only mistake Rick has ever made happened to be the time he got caught? Pat knows the answer to all those questions, but in the end Rick is his friend/business partner. So he cant make the connections that need to be made. There is nothing wrong with personal loyalty…but if personal loyalty prevents you from being objective, then do what Terry Meiners did with me on the radio and say, “I just cant talk about that because I am too close to the people involved.” Do NOT go on television and act like a reporter….because in that situation, you arent.
Again, contrast that with John Calipari. In a situation in which neither the NCAA, Memphis or even the SAT testing service has said with certainty that (a) cheating occurred or (more importantly) (b) Calipari knew, you have already made up your mind. Unlike in the Pitino situation, in which you have a coach who has ADMITTED to part of the allegations, here you are ready to convict, based solely on conjecture. Even though, as Mike Decoursey pointed out yesterday, the SAT testing service did not find that Rose cheated (it simply found that he didnt cooperate with the investigation), you as part of the Pat Forde Testing Service, have already made your conclusion. Now if you were Gregg Doyel or Skip Bayless, and you spent your living blasting people and making those connections, it wouldnt bother me…that is what you do. But you claim to be an objective journalist…one who has been silent and quick not to convict your co-author. Why do that now with Calipari? Is it because (as Andy Katz suggests) “anyone who blames Memphis or Calipari doesnt understand college basketball?” Or is it because you simply dont like Calipari and your objectivity goes away when he is the subject?
Pat Forde made the point (multiple times) on television that Rick Pitino wasnt on trial, but Karen Sypher was the real issue. Well according to the NCAA, Calipari isnt on trial either, the Rose situation is the real issue. While in both cases I think that is simplistic (the real issue is what people care about, Pitino and Cal), in one case you bought that explantion and in one you didnt. The reason is simple. When it comes to reporting in Kentucky, you let your personal feelings shape how you do your job, supposedly the biggest no-no in the journalism profession. If you cant report objectively on Rick Pitino, then you shouldnt say anything about him and come out publically acknowledging that fact. Journalistic integrity requires that. Similarly, if you are going to insinuate that Calipari knew Rose cheated on his SAT (an insinuation I have only seen you and angry Memphis writers make), then journalistic integrity requires you to show some amount of proof. If not, you are a commentator, not a reporter…a line that you blur depending on what media outlet (Sportscenter/First Take/.Com) that you happen to be on.
I am sure this article will stress my personal relationship with Pat. But because of his position, the ideas behind it are important. There are some, both pro and con, about whom I cant speak objectively. About those people I do not speak. My hope is that at some point, a much more seasoned and significantly better journalist than I, learns the same lesson.