EDITORIAL: Irresponsible Reporting by Utah Dailies

The rush to be first instead of right apparently rules the day at two of Utah's daily newspapers. First the Provo Daily Herald and now the Salt Lake Tribune! You'd think they were rumor-mongering Internet sites rather than established media entities in the way they bungled this bouncing ball of a story.

While I am hammering the Provo Daily Herald and Salt Lake Tribune, let me say the Deseret Morning News and Dick Harmon should be applauded for adhering to a higher standard of professional journalism.

I think BYU's athletic department should insist these writers be taken off the Cougar sports beat or withdraw credentials from their newspapers, but that's not going to happen.

We do not condone in any way what happened in January in that off-campus home. This matter should be dealt with swiftly, decisively and appropriately by school officials. What makes it worse is, unknown to coaches or school officials, former Cougar football players have also engaged in similar, non-criminal consensual sex that warranted Honor Code action -- and got away with it because they are no longer in school.

If there is anything positive in all this, it's that these activities will be monitored much more closely by school authorities and that sends the right signals to incoming students and athletes.

But forgive us for sitting on this story to permit these non-paid, non-public student athletes the full benefit of due process before reporting on a story we knew about – alleged names and details – 7-10 days before the Provo Daily Herald "broke" it on Feb. 4 on their front page.

Without regard to truth or accuracy, the Provo Daily Herald published the names of BYU football players who lived in the home where these Honor Code-violating activities occurred. One of the named athletes was not even involved, but his name has been tarnished and linked to this despicable activity. The damage is done.

To make matters worse, the Provo Daily Herald republished this player's name in a follow up article, allowing him on both occasions to deny any involvement. Give me a break!

Public officials, crooks and celebrities routinely deny involvement in unseemly or illegal activities and do we, the by-now-jaded public, really believe these denials? For all intents and purposes, the Herald's disclosure perceptually branded this athlete immediately guilty until he was proven innocent.

And now that we find he is innocent, as he always maintained, do we really expect a front page apology from the Provo Daily Herald anytime soon? Uh, as soon as the cow jumps over the moon and the dish runs away with the spoon. (It's an old nursery rhyme if you didn't get it.)

I was particularly incensed that the Herald had the temerity to even include what was happening at the University of Colorado almost as justification for their blowing the lid regarding what happened in Provo. Excuse me, but I can almost guarantee you (without even being present) that some students or athletes from every college in the country engage in non-criminal, consensual sex at sometime in their college life.

The difference is that is strictly verboten by students at BYU because of its unique Honor Code. Every enrolled student and athlete signs it willingly, knowing full well that premarital or extramarital sex is considered a major no-no at BYU. But that is a far-cry from the raunchier activities reported from many other college campuses.

The latest faux pas came in today's Salt Lake Tribune article which revealed the names of four BYU football players, reporting they were kicked off the team.

Firstly, there were five instead of four affected by the Honor Code ruling and until a five-day appeals process is completed next Friday, the decision is NOT final.

Secondly, two were expelled and three were suspended for three semesters, according to the Honor Code ruling. The two that were expelled engaged in sex with a willing female student in an off-campus residence. She is not named, even though she is the ONLY person who committed a crime in filing a false police report.

The three who were suspended did NOT engage in sex, but were apparently present when it happened. The Tribune article implied, by omission, that all four did the same thing. That is not fair and right.

Reporters dealing in sensitive matters have an ethical responsibility to get their facts right. The lives, reputations and the future of these players ride in the balance. They have families who are just as impacted as they are.

Moreover, the Associated Press routinely picks up these "controversial" local stories from the daily Utah newspapers and circulate it on their national wire, allowing tens of thousands of media outlets (radio and TV stations and newspapers of all varieties) to run these stories exactly as reported – false facts, warts and all.

These two Utah papers, bastions of journalistic integrity they will claim, will likely say these athletes are "public" figures and that warrants their names being disclosed publicly. Baloney! These are young, amateur, non-paid scholarship athletes struggling to make ends meet as they pursue their gridiron dreams and go to school.

If the Provo Daily Herald and Salt Lake Tribune want to fairly and accurately paint everyone with their irresponsible journalistic brush, ferret out the girl's name and publish it alongside the names of these athletes. Um, Check that.

I am deliberately being facetious and flippant and I am NOT advocating they do that. Her dignity, name and somewhat tattered reputation – to family and friends who know her – should be spared from public ridicule and further dishonor. However, I am merely pointing out the inconsistency of these two professional newspapers and their reports.

Shame on the editors and reporters at the Provo Daily Herald and Salt Lake Tribune for NOT making sure their facts were right on this very sensitive topic (in Provo, at least) before they went to press.

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