/Answers to questions about the MSUClarion-Ledger controversy

Answers to questions about the MSUClarion-Ledger controversy

It’s not like I expected the question. For 33 years I was a reporter at The Ledger. Later, I became a sports editor/columnist, and then a columnist. I edited or wrote scores of stories about firings and NCAA investigations, as well as other news stories. Many stories were unnamed sources. We’ll get there. First, let’s talk about the current buzz. Mike Bonner, the Ledger’s MSU beat reporter (and someone I respect and like), broke the shocking news Wednesday that State would promote John Cohen, an associate athletic director, as athletic director to replace Scott Stricklin. Bonner quoted unnamed sources that said the hiring would be announced at a Tuesday press conference. Shortly after the article appeared on the newspaper’s site, Mark Keenum, the president of MSU, issued a scathing statement criticizing Bonner and the newspaper. Keenum: “The Clarion-Ledger’s Mike Bonner reported today that an incorrect decision was made in that process. It is incredibly disappointing that a respected newspaper and reporter would publish such a report without verifying the facts. This is irresponsible, and may in some ways hinder the process. It is unfair to candidates for the job who have not been interviewed.” The Clarion-Ledger quickly responded, saying that it stood by the story. It still does. Full disclosure: I have close friends and a son who work at the CL. Mississippi State has many friends who are involved in this. It is our goal to balance every column. This is especially true in this instance. This is probably the best way to answer the question people are asking. Q. Q. A. A. We had once a policy at CL that we wouldn’t use unnamed sources under any circumstance. This policy didn’t last very long. Because we couldn’t get crucial sources on record, many important stories were missed. We decided to make every effort possible to find names sources. We would need at least two reliable, unnamed sources to support our story. Mississippi Today, the newspaper that carries my column, does not use unnamed sources, except in extraordinary circumstances. Two sources must be available if a story is to be published based on unnamed sources. The editors must also know the names and circumstances in which the sources were accessed. Q. Q. What do you think about Bonner’s story. Was he right? A. I don’t really know. John Cohen is my odds-on favorite for the job. He has a lot of support. Keenum and all the State employees I have spoken to, including Sid Salter (MSU Chief Communications Officer), my former Clarion-Ledger colleague says that no hiring has taken place and that interviews are being scheduled. Q. Q. Do you have any concerns about the way the story was told? A. A. It was our policy to give institutions the chance to comment and confirm news stories such as this. In this instance, that didn’t happen. Hugh Kellenberger, Bonner’s boss and sports editor, was able to tell me if that policy was still in place at The Clarion-Ledger. He replied, “Yes, that is the policy.” It didn’t happen in this instance before publication. However, with the sources Mike had, I feel comfortable with reporting.” So why did the CL not adhere to policy regarding this story? Kellenberger’s reply was “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to enter that.” I then asked Kellenberger if there were any comments on Keenum’s statements about Bonner and the paper. Kellenberger replied, “Mike has consistently been ahead of the pack in his reporting throughout this scenario, even before Scott Stricklin went for Florida.” “I have complete confidence in his reporting.” He certainly should. Bonner’s story said that the same sources claimed Cohen “is expected” to be introduced next Tuesday as athletic director. “That’s just wrong,” Sid Salter stated. “We wouldn’t schedule a press conference for the announcement of the hiring or promotion of someone who hasn’t been hired.” This one isn’t over, Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Check out his columns as well as his Sports Daily blog. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.