Somehow, some way, this has got to stop. I don’t know the answer, but at least I have an idea.
Once again this weekend, somebody started a wild, unfounded rumor on one of the infamous “chat rooms” so prevalent on the internet. Reportedly, it originated at the “Bama on Line” site. I assume it was an Alabama fan who started the potentially-damaging story about LSU coach Les Miles having an improper relationship with a student and that he would be forced to resign on March 4. I don’t know a Tide backer started it, for anyone can get on to one of the message boards. Could’ve been an Ole Miss supporter, Arkansas, Auburn or Idaho for that matter.
The administration at LSU didn’t even bother to recognize the gossip-magazine material, a denial all unto itself. But that didn’t stop Twitter, Google and every other information-swapping medium on the web from exploding. Somebody’s “source” had leaked the info, therefore it was absolutely true.
For the life of me, especially with everyone blaming the media for everything from the outcome of presidential elections to where a kid plays college football, I don’t know why so many apparently have a secret desire to be a sports writer. It’s incredible. The only credentials required? Can you get on line? Voila, you’re an official “blogger.”
Want to know the ironic thing about this latest attack on someone’s character? None other than Paul Bryant sued “The Saturday Evening Post” and famed Atlanta Constitution writer Furman Bisher for something the self-appointed writers are apparently foreign to in terms of controlling malarkey, libel. Bisher’s source claimed he overheard Bryant and Georgia coach Wally Butts fixing a game via the telephone. Bryant went on state-wide television to refute the story, then sued Bisher and the magazine and won hundreds of thousands of dollars, effectively squashing the Post and casting a credibility doubt in Bisher’s work that some in the industry say followed him to his end.
I can only imagine the late Bear’s reaction to today’s world of so-called journalism. Yes, it was a totally different era. Writers drank, dined and played golf with their subjects then, each other’s private lives guarded in an unspoken pact. Trusted members of Bryant’s inner circle of media members even knew about the shocking change to the wishbone prior to the upset of Southern Cal in 1971, yet didn’t breathe a word. Imagine that today? No wonder we only get to see the first 15 minutes of practice now.
Let there be no misunderstanding. This isn’t an indictment of every piece of information that originates on the Internet. People know players and others personally, and sometimes they talk out of school. Bobby Petrino’s downfall was justifiable, and it was born on the Internet. If it had existed 20 years ago, maybe Joe Paterno wouldn’t have condoned the horrific nature of the crimes going on in his own facilities. In fact, I knew conclusively that the Mike Price scandal at Alabama was going to break well before it did. I had a Tuscaloosa restaurant owner faxing me copies of his credit card usage, which indicated he was spending university money partying it up with students and anyone within reach in his first few weeks on campus. Then came Pensacola.
But to assassinate someone’s character, potentially cause irreparable damage to his family and sanity is flat out wrong. Yes, Miles is a public figure, leaving him virtually unprotected against untruths. But libel is libel, something some reckless chat room users should be required to familiarize themselves with or else face another fate. They should be sued to kingdom come, either losing or coming so close to financial ruin they understand being a legitimate writer carries a responsibility, not an entitlement.
Phil Paramore’s column appears Tuesdays in The Dothan Eagle. He can be heard weekdays from noon until 2 on AM 560 The Ball, 100.1 FM or at www.woofradio.com. He can be reached at the same website.