Media And Bias, Part II

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes a follow-up to Monday's column that attracted plenty of discussion and email.

Wow!

I fully expected significant disagreement from some as a result of the column I wrote here Monday, but I didn't expect the venom. It says a lot, I think, about the passion people in this state have for college football. Clearly, I am going to stand by what I said. At the same time, some things need to be cleared up.

First, the column was about newspaper reporters. It was not about radio or television. I have no more knowledge of how radio and television stations work than most of you reading this column, but there is no question some in this state--and I won't name names--lean heavily toward Alabama. I know of none outside of the Auburn area that lean toward Auburn. Those who say that reporters who cover Auburn don't have the same passion for their work as those who cover Alabama are simply wrong. I see those guys day in and day out, and most of them work very hard.

Understand, also, there is quite a difference between columnists and reporters. It is the job of columnists to be opinionated. No doubt, some enjoy stirring controversy. That comes with the territory. Stirring controversy is not the same as being dishonest or shading coverage one way or the other. Reporters who allow opinions to sneak into news stories are, in my opinion, going down a dangerous road.

I have covered hundreds of college football games in my time in this business, more Auburn games than Alabama because I have covered mostly Auburn for the past 10 years. I have written thousands of stories. I treasure the relationships that have grown out of those years with people on both sides. For many of those years, I have talked and written about what I see as unnecessary and unhealthy dislike between the two schools. I believe that dislike colors the way people see many things, including the way newspapers cover the two schools. In my days as a sports editor, I received as many complaints about perceived biased toward Auburn as I did perceived bias toward Alabama. I laughed most of them off, because I knew the truth. Some couldn't be laughed off.

In 1985, shortly after Van Tiffin's field goal beat Auburn 25-23, the telephone at my house rang. My seven-year-old daughter answered. When she hung up, she turned to my wife and said ‘That man said to tell daddy Roll Tide, g--, d--- it.' Sick? Very. In the first place, it wouldn't have taken much to figure out that I would be at the game and not at home. Second, what kind of person would say something like that to a little girl?

I have been threatened because of who I picked to win games. I have been cursed by people on both sides. I have had sugar poured into my car's gasoline tank. A Huntsville caller named Jerry frequently leaves me messages that he is going to beat me up. Maybe I would have been better off had I not gone down this road in Monday's column, but I went down it. I believe what I said to be true. Believe it or not, most of us would not put anything in the newspaper if we were not convinced it was true.

Anyway, there are plenty of better things to talk about than a bunch of sports writers. The most anticipated Auburn season in years is on the horizon. If my observations are accurate, this Auburn football team is ready and willing to shoulder the burden of those high expectations. Whether it will meet those expectations will be decided what happens on those Saturdays of autumn. Watching it unfold should be a lot of fun for those who play, those who cheer and those who write.


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