Brett McMurphy’s reporting of the alleged domestic abuse cover up at Ohio State has set the college football world on fire. But his actions while putting the story together and since, have crossed a journalistic line of integrity.
Brett McMurphy, Writing With Redemption Or Destruction?
If you came here for a resounding defense of what’s going on at Ohio State, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t know the full-scale of what happened, and neither does anyone else claiming to be judge, jury and executioner on Twitter or (fill in the blank) media site.
This also isn’t an effort to discredit the report that was broke by Brett McMuprhy last week. Far from it, because again, I’m not privy to the detail needed to say that the whole thing is bogus or exaggerated.
In fact, it is in the best interest of everyone to believe a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault when it is reported and let due process take place.
Instead, my purpose here is to ask about the man who broke the news, Brett McMurphy.
When the alleged domestic violence scandal and cover up first hit my Twitter feed, I like many others commended how thorough and diligent McMurphy was in uncovering the story.
Heck, it was even somewhat cool and retro to do it all in a Facebook post. Mark Zuckerberg would be proud.
However, now that time has passed, and with what more has come out, I am beginning to question what motives are driving the former ESPN insider, and where the compass points on his journalistic integrity.
Let’s Start From Ground Zero
Before we answer that question, we first must understand the position McMurphy is in. He, among many others, was released from ESPN as a cost-cutting measure in April of 2017. That had to rock his world, and since then, he’s been an independent college football insider plugging his articles written mostly on Facebook and publicized through his Twitter account.
For anyone that follows college football, the layoff of McMurphy was indeed puzzling since he was front and center on a lot of stories with the ESPN brand. You think he’s bitter? Who could blame him?
McMurphy in his own own words might best answer that question:
“The majority of the people [that were laid off] had long-term deals,” McMurphy said. “The thinking is, ‘Why would they lay off someone when they have that much time left?’ Well, they’re actually diabolical, because what they do is, they lay off all these hard-working, aggressive analysts and reporters and think, ‘they are not going to want to go one, two, three years being out of the game.’ So what happens is, I could take another job after I got laid off at ESPN, but then ESPN would be off the hook for paying me the rest of my contract.”
Sounds like sour grapes to anyone doesn’t it? But it didn’t stop there. McMurphy has continued to report on his own all while getting paid by ESPN through the end of his separation package with a non-compete clause.
“If [ESPN] would have said yes [to letting me keep working for them], they would have had Scott Frost going to Nebraska, [Joe] Moorhead to Mississippi State, and they would’ve had Urban Meyer and what’s going on at Ohio State. But they didn’t allow me to,” said Brett according to an article on Deadspin.
Then there’s also this after he made the most famous Facebook post in the history of college football.
Ok. Stick it to ’em Brett. It must have been awkward to go on with Scott Van Pelt later.
But that doesn’t seem to be all that’s driving McMurphy. When asked about the investigation of the 2015 incident of abuse by former assistant Zach Smith, Meyer responded, “I got a text late last night that something happened in 2015, and there was nothing. I don’t know who creates a story like that,”
Can you feel the smoke out of McMurphy’s ears? In not so many words, it was a dig at McMurphy. It likely struck at his journalistic ego that was already on life support after getting let go by a media behemoth. You can still see it in his Twitter bio today.
Notice the background of OSU fans rallying for Meyer and his distinct word for word account of Meyer’s denial pointed towards him at Big Ten Media Days.
Murphy apparently feels so strongly about his work on this piece that he changed his background from a picture of his daughter, to one with disgruntled fans at an OSU rally for Meyer. He feels the need to sarcastically add Meyer’s comments in his Twitter bio.
Now’s the point where McMurphy has begun to step right over a line. Has this not gotten personal? It’s one thing to be relentless in finding the details of a story, and working to bring forth accountability for those in the public, but when a journalist starts to do some questionable things when the lines get blurred because of a personal vendetta, then things start to lose professionalism.
Based on comments and actions by McMurphy himself, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he has an axe to grind with ESPN as well as Urban Meyer and whatever else gets in the way.
Light it all on fire.
To put it lightly, he appears to lack thick skin, and that’s not a good trait to have in the business.
And On It Goes
And now the latest (and in fact what made me lose all respect for him), McMurphy is continuing to step on the neck of Meyer and anyone associated with him. He’s now gone after Meyer’s wife Shelley.
As opposed to not speaking out against domestic violence? Look, I know this thing looks bad for Ohio State, but Shelley Meyer is one of the most decent human beings you’ll ever meet, and if you remember from the texts that McMurphy published to his Facebook account, she was trying to be a friend to Courtney Smith and encouraging her to obtain a restraining against the former OSU assistant.
So what does this accomplish other than continuing to now take things a step further and throw Meyer’s wife under the bus too? McMurphy reported the story, got his name in the news and I have to question what he’s doing now by trying to hurt other people’s lives. It is a slippery, slippery slope.
But there’s more to this story.
Not many people know the Columbus Dispatch was in the middle of its own investigation into Zach Smith, but there were too many facts and statements that contradicted each other to go to press yet. The local newspaper that has as good of a beat on the OSU program than anyone had two weeks of reporting waiting in the wings, but needed more verification.
Because that’s what you do before reporting a big, big deal.
Furthermore, a journalist will usually go to the other party to get a statement or other side to the story. It’s called fair and unbiased reporting. There’s always two sides that change the narrative just a bit. Did McMurphy reach out directly for a statement from Meyer or OSU prior to breaking the news? Na-dah. How about Zach Smith? There’s no account of it. What about Shelley Meyer? There is no account of any of it.
He did try to defend himself in an interview with Deadspin when asked about reaching out to Shelley Meyer about the text messages between her and Courtney Smith.
“You know, again, I’ve seen dozens of text messages between her and Courtney. I guess if I would have reached out to her, she could have said, “No comment,” or, “I never text Courtney,” or “I text her but I never tell Urban.” But again, at that point, I had so much information about it, it wasn’t going to change what was in the story. It could have got her side, but part of me is also like, I’ve been working on this story for three weeks; there’s no way that somebody else is not pursuing the same story. And again, by not contacting Shelley Meyer, it doesn’t change the accuracy of the story, it just would’ve given her the opportunity to give a comment on her behalf. I don’t know, other people can decide. If you ask Ohio State fans, I know their opinion, but I guess other journalists should decide if I should’ve reached out to Shelley and gave her that opportunity. Because I know once I reach out to her, she’s immediately going to Urban.”
You don’t even have to read between the lines there. McMurphy was afraid he would be beat to the press if you will by doing further fact-checking directly from the other source.
And I think many a journalist would disagree with the story changing by reaching out to the other side. In fact, that’s exactly why you do it. You could find out conflicting statements and indeed surprising information to change the crux of the story.
But he didn’t care. He got the trail and reported it first because he was in desperation mode, and it appears to have backfired on him a bit. It’s now well-chronicled that McMurphy’s original Facebook post about Urban Meyer’s alleged knowledge of domestic abuse has been revised multiple times.
Prior to Big Ten Media days, his article (no wait, Facebook post) read that Zach Smith was arrested in 2015, but that was later changed after Meyer’s presser a couple of times until the version that now reads “investigated.”
And yes, investigated would be the truth — after the fact. He has since clarified his edits, but that never had to happen if he would have gotten it right in the first place.
McMurphy failed to get clarification and confirmation on the truth of the police report by giving the Police department in Powell a chance to react. He failed to qualify statements and work with witnesses on both sides.
Meyer, at least in this case, would have been responding to reports of Smith being arrested, not investigated when he stepped to the podium. And while Meyer was far from completely truthful, how do you respond to a moving target?
That’s okay. I mean mistakes happen in journalism so some reporting or inaccuracies then have to be redacted, revised and noted. But there’s an absence of that with McMurphy too. Change it, keep going and hopefully nobody will notice.
He remains mostly silent on many of these issues.
Look, I’m not defending nor judging the subject at hand at Ohio State. This whole thing still has some chapters to be written. If things in regards to domestic violence were covered up and not reported appropriately, then it should be dealt with as such. It could and should lead to the termination of Urban Meyer’s coaching arrangement in Columbus.
But someone needs to call out Brett McMurphy for letting his emotions and feelings get in the way of solid reporting and creating a mess of a consistent and solid story. He rushed this whole thing as a post on Facebook, edited it without earmarking it, and now is trying to grind the axe in even further — collateral damage be damned.
If he worked for someone, they’d probably reel him in before he completely damages his reputation, but since his only masters are likes and shares on Facebook, that’s not happening.
I know many are going to read this and just think it’s an Ohio State site with Scarlet and Gray colored glasses on, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Like many, I too await the findings of the independent investigation Ohio State is embarking upon, and if it’s bad, then there’s no defense for it. It’s just hard to stand by and watch McMurphy light the world on fire without anyone providing checks and balances for the rules of the trade.
For the love of all that’s good in this world, please don’t let Brett McMurphy be the first to report on the findings of this investigation. Tie him down, take his phone and shut down his Facebook and Twitter pages.
Because he’s sure to do his work in a vacuum, without a compass.