By MATTHEW POWELL
Over the summer, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football program found themselves under immense scrutiny for their handling of former coach Zach Smiths domestic violence accusations that led to his delayed departure. Although the scrutiny was well warranted and fair, the reporting done that broke this story leaves a lot to be desired from a journalistic perspective.
Former ESPN reporter, Brett McMurphy, was the first person to break the story surrounding Zach Smith that sparked both Meyer’s suspension and the suspension of Ohio State’s athletic director, Gene Smith. Although this was certainly the most important story of his career, the reporting that went into breaking this story was questionable.
When Brett McMurphy was laid off from ESPN, he lost his platform to report stories. Like many other reporters who have been let go from their publications, Brett McMurphy took to posting his stories on Facebook to inform his followers about what was going on in the college football world. Evidently, this is where Brett McMurphy posted this bombshell story that quickly attracted attention.
In order to understand the reason as to why the reporting was suspect, one must understand what was initially reported and why the story was such a big deal. Brett McMurphy reported that Zach Smith was arrested in 2015 with a charge of domestic violence toward his former wife. This led people to believe that Urban Meyer was aware of that arrest and did nothing about it. The problem with reporting that Zach Smith was arrested is a pretty big one: Zach Smith was never arrested.
Reporters make mistakes all the time, it’s just something that happens in the industry. The problem with this mistake is that it was the basis of the entire story. If Zach Smith was never arrested, Urban Meyer would have never heard about the allegation and thus would have no reason to enforce any sort of action. If he was arrested, Urban Meyer would have probably been fired earlier this month, instead of getting suspended, because employing someone who has been arrested for domestic violence is grossly irresponsible is wrong.
The biggest problem with the reporting was how Brett McMurphy “fixed” his mistake. Brett McMurphy didn’t post anywhere that he made a mistake that changed his initial bombshell story. Of course he didn’t, because if he admitted this mistake then his story would significantly diminish in importance. Brett McMurphy simply went onto his Facebook post, edited the story to reflect that Zach Smith was never arrested, and went on with his day. Thankfully, people picked up on the fact that McMurphy edited his post without saying anything.
Instead of following journalistic procedures and properly updating his story, Brett McMurphy took a side and wanted to stay as relevant as possible in his moment of fame. In doing so, McMurphy changed the entire narrative surrounding the Ohio State football program based off a report that was simply untrue.