Roy Exum: USA Today Is Wrong

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

After spending half of a century in the newspaper business, you will find it universal that one’s “personal ethics” demand you leave children off the news page. You don’t interview an 11-year-old who just watched her house burn down and now can’t find her kitty. You don’t take a kid’s picture at his daddy’s trial and, more than anything, never publish a word that would cause a child to relive a tragedy. The wisest commandment in the science of journalism decrees, “When in doubt, leave it out.”

Just hours after Oklahoma’s sensational Kyler Murray was awarded the Heisman Trophy, some terribly-misguided editor at USA TODAY ran a story that revealed when Murray was 14 and 15 years old, he made some anti-gay comments while joking with his friends on twitter. He even used an anti-gay slur – this when he was very much a minor -- and USA TODAY writer Scott Gleeson, who I figure was sitting on pins-and-needles because he was so desperate for his chance to finally play his “got-cha” card, had his wish come true.

As one who has been there, I am thinking what happened is that about a week before the nation’s top football player was named, several USA writers, some editorial assistants, and a few interns were tasked to research the three finalists, looking for “an angle,” something fresh. Understand, volumes of sport books, yards of video tapes, and air so thick you would need more than a new Barlow to cut it, it’s a fact in this day and age, if a crack reporter can dig deep enough, you can find dirt on almost anybody.

Somehow the slurs made their way to Gleeson’s inbox and here is a man who professes to cover “social issues through a sports lens.” As Sunday morning dawned the day after Murray enjoyed the best day of his life, the smear was well-planted and it was as broad as it was ugly.

But – hold your poise – the insult quickly reversed on itself, showing USA TODAY as the real jackal. Since then, every day has triggered more and more outrage. USA TODAY has been bombarded for preying on … what’s this! … something a 14- or 15-year-old said over six years ago. Such callousness defies a definition.

At 3 a.m. Sunday morning, the minute Kyler Murray learned what Gleeson wrote, the OU quarterback tweeted, “I apologize for the tweets that have come to light tonight from when I was 14 and 15. I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe. I did not intend to single out any individual or group.”

A lady named Traci Smith was the first to comment – again this was 3 a.m. Sunday morning - “I haven’t looked at them and I won’t. I’m not a football fan and know nothing about you, but it’s time someone said this. If we are all going to hold each other to the standard of today’s PC across the span of our lifetimes then we are all doomed.”

Minutes later Traci sent another tweet to Kyler: “You are not who you were. You are not who you will be. We all need a little grace for ourselves, the courage to see when we were wrong, and the conviction for change. It may have been your first mistake but it won’t be your last.  Hold your head up and be your best self.”

There were other tweets – thousands upon thousands -- as of yesterday afternoon. USA Today, the Gannett-based “national daily” that forever has sworn to be a neutral voice – has now twisted so badly that its blatant liberalism may soon destroy it. Really, I am telling you straight -- USA TODAY ranks today as a liberal haven and increasing numbers of media people believe the end is nigh for the “big hats, no cattle” pretenders.

There is little to divert or contain the villain. Glen Greenwald wrote, “Judging people’s character by what they post on social media at the age of **15** is beyond moronic; it’s oppressive. I am so glad the Internet didn’t exist to permanently record my every utterance in adolescence.”

Read what Clay Travis wrote on his “Outkick the Coverage page: “Let’s be straightforward about what stories like these are — they’re cheap, clickbait trash designed to allow a media outlet to capitalize on the surging interest in an athlete at the time of their greatest achievement. They also allow a cheap moralizing from the typical social justice warriors, who hold up the athlete as the latest symbol of everything wrong with American life.”

The overwhelming sentiment? “What purpose does this serve other than to feed red meat to the outrage culture?" writes one in complete disgust. “Dragging the young man down on the biggest night of his life for a tweet when he was 15!!! Enough w/ this crap!”

A reader in Texas writes: “This is why people are getting tired of the media. A long time ago, a young teen made fun of his friends (yes was joke insensitive - most teens have said worse)... now when he begins to succeed in life, they try to ruin him.”

To USA TODAY: “You guys really sat on some stupid tweets from when a kid was 14 years old, waiting to post them minutes after he won his Heisman six years later? That's disgusting, man.”

Robby Soave, the editor of The Daily Beast: “It is utterly contemptible that multiple news outlets wrote about Kyler Murray's high school tweets. Various headlines claimed they "resurfaced," which is doublespeak: you resurfaced them, for no reason at all. Shame on you all.”

David Rutz, writing on the editorial page of the Washington Free Beacon, is equally incredulous: “I'm always amused when news reports say the tweets "resurfaced," as though they suddenly appeared like Leo DiCaprio on the beach in "Inception."

“What happened is not by chance,” Rutz believes, “Reporters or random people went to the Twitter search function, put bad words into the 'any of these words' section, punched in the handle of the person who was until that moment having a great day, and voila. They weren't stumbled upon, they were tracked down like a hidden-shame time capsule.”

One more. Let’s suppose Kyler Murray – who I think will play major-league baseball as opposed to the NFL – had gone on his way as a great athlete, a grand role model ranging from those who just took that first baby step to nigh-grown boys who play with him for the Sooners, had never been encountered.

What if no one had ever seen those stupid tweets? Believe me, only losers ever looked.

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