Today, my friends, The Michigan Messenger lost any credibility that it had as a news organization. In a quest for fame, Todd Heywood spread gossip about 2 un-named Michigan State University basketball players to anyone who would listen. He sent his “report” out to every single media outlet he could find, local and national. Why would he do that? If your story has merit, it will get picked up… you don’t have to push it. But Heywood pushed it because he, presumably, wanted to beat everyone to the punch and get the story of all stories. In doing so, he left his journalistic reputation in the dust.
To be sure, I am not a journalist. Nor do I claim to be. I have neither journalistic credibility nor formal education on the subject. But I, as well as anyone who knows the importance of a free, credible press, know that this story is not only below journalistic standards, it is FAR below journalistic standards. You’ll notice that, with the unexplainable exception of The Grand Rapids Press, not a single credible newspaper website reported this gossip today. No Detroit News. No Detroit Free Press. No Lansing State Journal. Kudos to them for being responsible journalists and not passing on rumors.
Put bluntly, this is not a news story. A news story happens when charges are filed against someone. News reporters don’t have the right to drag someone’s name and reputation through the mud solely based on an accusation. Charges are not being filed in this case, nor are they even being considered. The case was not strong enough to prosecute as decided by numerous male and female prosecutors. The necessary elements to prosecute just were not there and responsible journalists from across the state realized that it is improper, and irresponsible, to print allegations when the legal system has reviewed the evidence and decided to not press charges. Michigan Messenger’s “report” presumes guilt instead of presuming innocence. We all know that’s not the way it works in our country.
In his article, Heywood quotes a heavily redacted police report. Let’s be clear: THE POLICE REPORT THAT HEYWOOD SOURCES DOESN’T EVEN CONFIRM THAT MSU PLAYERS ARE EVEN INVOLVED. Nobody confirms that on the record to Heywood yet Heywood feels he can write it without attributing it to anyone. That’s not how this journalism stuff works. He also anonymously quotes the alleged victim, which isn’t generally allowed at credible news sites. He slants his story to strongly make things look one way. It’s quite obvious that Heywood can’t be an impartial journalist. Not only did he editorialize in his article, but he didn’t keep the content of the story neutral, as journalists are usually determined to do.
When the event first happened, the State News, MSU’s student newspaper, wrote an article about it but didn’t mention anything about basketball players. When the prosecutors decided not to file charges, the news-worthiness of the event went away, even for them. In fact, it went away to everyone except The Michigan Messenger. The way they brought this information to the public in this manner is purely gossip, not news. It is sensationalism, intended to get you talking. Heywood’s “reporting” is not fair. It is not balanced. It is not journalism. It is an attempt to prosecute these players in the court of public opinion… and, unfortunately, it’s working. The court of public opinion is now making its decision based on one person’s interpretation of a story that was not investigated or reported with any journalistic integrity at all. And that is unfortunate… for both the alleged victims and the alleged perpetrators.
Please hear me on this – sexual assault is horrible and should be prosecuted to the fullest legal extent possible… if it occurs. But nobody except those involved in the situation know for sure if the alleged perpetrators were innocent or guilty. As members of a civilized society, we rely on the police to investigate cleanly and thoroughly and the prosecutor’s office to decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. Unless there is evidence that one of those two things didn’t happen, we have to assume that the authorities acted properly and made the decisions according to the oaths they took when they were hired into their jobs. If someone is willing to step up and say that something improper happened with the handling of this case, then, my friend, I’d be the first one to write about it. But there isn’t anyone out there who will do that, presumably because it was handled correctly. And if was handled correctly, we have to trust the authorities and move on.
Without specifically referring to this situation, let me say a couple things from a fan perspective about stories like this. As Spartan fans, it really stinks to have clouds of suspicion surrounding our program. But don’t be tempted to rush to judgment. After all these years, you and I know that if Tom Izzo felt that these allegations had any merit to them, these two players would be out of his program. Immediately. Izzo doesn’t mess around. His program is run his way. His action would have been swift. It would have been decisive. Put another way: If you don’t trust the Prosecutor’s Office in situations like this, you can at least trust Tom Izzo, right? Do not judge this team, or these players, or this coach unless you know all the details. And you don’t. So don’t.
Jack Ebling, who had 25 years at the Lansing State Journal, handled this situation perfectly as he discussedthe importance of journalistic integrity on his radio program today and how important it is to err on the side of caution. Listen for a couple minutes into his monologue and he gets to this subject here. Kudos to Jack Ebling, a true journalist. By the way, any comments on this post that speculate beyond what is publicly known will be deleted.