A Matter of Source 

Monson's lazy faux reporting is a disservice to Utah athletes

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As Gordon Monson would say, this piece is "my published belief—not a news report, my opinion as is my license as a columnist ..." ["Kyle Whittingham's argument with himself," The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 30, 2014].

When I was investigative reporting in this state and region over the years, I can't count how many times I'd get a "source" calling me up unbidden with some kind of potential blockbuster information that, if true, would be certain to turn into a lead story—or even months of lead stories.

Alas, those calls would signal not the snagging of an immediate scoop that would then be promoted on Twitter and posted online with no attribution to any named source (aka the Gordon Monson method) but, rather, it would signal the beginning of a long process of inquiry wherein every angle of the supposed blockbuster would have to be vetted, often over weeks, before a word could be published, or a TV story aired.

This would include what motive the original source might have had in contacting me in the first place. It would include interviewing additional sources (on the record) pursuing pertinent documents and evidence to prove the story was real, and sometimes, the pursuit of the target of the investigation against the will of the targeted party—never easy.

Many times, nothing was aired or published, as the source's original information would be proven wrong, or even intentionally manipulative. I didn't appreciate people trying to use my news organization as a pawn or patsy in some scheme they were hatching. Several times, when this proved to be the case, I turned the story around and exposed the motives of the "source" that initially contacted me. They hated that.

My approach, also known as journalism, is clearly not one in practice over at the Trib, or what is left of the Trib, as it relates to Monson's writing about what may or may not be happening within the University of Utah's football program.

In Monson's Dec. 30 column, he wrote that he "couldn't care less" about where Kyle Whittingham coaches football. Well, I couldn't care less about Monson and his endless spew of negative drivel. However, I do care about the welfare of the young men in the program, their families, the assistant coaches and their families, and the employees who toil in this sports-entertainment platform called Utah Football.

While some people may think that football—and who coaches it and plays it—are not important matters, I'd reply that you can forget that part and look at the issue from a business perspective. Millions of dollars a year are wrapped around the Utah football program. Whittingham is the highest-paid employee in the state system—like it or not. Utah football is a brand-name product that sells itself to kids and their parents. Setting aside the debate as to whether or not football is worth playing—that's a different argument altogether—the matters that are central to the operation of this multimillion-dollar operation are no joke, despite the joke of a way the Trib currently covers them.

There is a level of extreme accountability required when a public institution operates something on this scale. Who is in charge, how is the operation run, and what goes into assuring that the organization is professional, ethical and, above all, focused on the benefit of the student athletes?

When the people who bear that responsibility—the university president, the athletic director and the head coach—are not openly forthcoming about matters affecting these young men and their collective future, that's a news story. That is something that begs for a digging—an accurate, relentless drive for public accountability.

Unfortunately, for the Trib and Gordon Monson, instead of going after a documented trail of evidence as to what is happening inside this massive athletic program at this publicly funded university, the Trib decided to run garbage from unnamed sources—which may or may not be total fabrications—that, in our cheap and easy Internet world, gets picked up and spread all over the digital universe as some sort of fact:

Kyle Whittingham is out as Utah football coach. Um, maybe not. Um, who knows?

Here is a big news story that requires real digging. Instead, Monson plays it both ways: He's protecting his sources, oh, but he's not really a reporter, so he can write anything he wants anyway because it's a column—a lazy column where he messes with real people's lives.

In the meantime, the kids who play at the U and the remaining coaches who haven't left for other jobs are seeing their recruiting season getting killed because Monson's nonsense allows other schools to point at the U as a mess and a place to be avoided.

Maybe the U is a mess and a place to be avoided—but in order to make that case, actual journalistic effort has to be put forth, and it's not happening at the Trib.

The editors at the Trib ought to wake up and smell the coffee. A real news story is brewing at the U, and they need to get some real reporters to file record requests for e-mails, phone records, every memo—all of it—as it relates to the multi-million dollar football program, so everyone, especially the players and recruits, can actually learn what the hell is happening.

John Harrington is a Salt Lake City based investigative journalist. In his 37-year career (including stints at City Weekly), he's won multiple awards for his work as a TV and radio reporter and as a print columnist.

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