More Snook about Michelle Herman.
The following is a column, including opinion and analysis:
ESPN STICKING TO ITS PREMATURE NARRATIVE
IN OHIO STATE MESS UNTIL THE BITTER END
On Aug. 2, Paul Finebaum looked into an ESPN camera and announced, “Urban Meyer is a fraud. I believed in Urban Meyer. I was wrong.”
Trevor Matich then compared Meyer to ex-Baylor Coach Art Briles, who was accused of covering up several instances of sexual assault and was fired.
And so it began.
With these definite and bold declarations, the World Wide Leader of Sports’ narrative of this public mess -- Ohio State’s investigation into Meyer’s role of whether he covered up alleged domestic violence from ex-receivers coach Zach Smith, who was fired July 23 for violating a no-contact court order filed by his ex-wife, Courtney Smith -- took off like a rocket.
Since the moment Meyer had been placed on paid-administrative, ESPN has consistently and securely carried this storyline like a school kid’s backpack. Through the words of various “on-air personalities,” as they are called, and across its wide variety of daily talk shows, it has typecast the main characters of this drama and has stuck to the playbill throughout:
Zach Smith = Wife-beating scumbag adulterer.
Courtney Smith = Battered wife and a brave heroine for coming forward.
Meyer = Lying, cheating football coach who cares only about winning, about to be unemployed at the end of this play.
Ohio State = Football factory which overlooks domestic violence to protect the millions of dollars it earns on fall Saturdays.
And now, on Tuesday, with the revelation of his 2013 arrest for impaired driving, something Smith admitted publicly that he hid from Meyer, the network added to Zach Smith’s profile:
Zach Smith = Otis Campbell on wheels.
Realize that no evidence to the contrary of any of these characterizations has or will make it to any of ESPN’s various channels. Once the story line is set, it is set in concrete. You almost wonder if someone wearing a suit in Bristol, Conn., released an in-house memo carrying that directive.
And this attitude, which we have seen before, is dangerous. Very dangerous.
The fast lane from accusations to public trial to guilt progresses in a nano-second.
I have reported that both Courtney Smith’s own mother and her ex-mother-in-law (Zach Smith’s mother) each have labeled her a habitual liar who was executing a pre-planned scheme to take down her ex-husband, and Meyer, himself. She spoke of it often, they said. They also claimed she was the one who committed domestic violence, with first-hand accounts.
Consistent with their claims, the Powell police department never arrested Zach Smith despite Courtney Smith’s numerous 911 calls. No district attorney in Delaware County ever filed charges.
Tina Carano, Courtney’s mother, described an incident in which her daughter purposely tried to run over her ex-husband with her car in the summer of 2015 in front of their two children. Zach Smith confirmed this as well. She also said her daughter has a drinking problem and “needs professional help.”
What say you, ESPN?
The network has chosen to ignore all of it.
Didn’t fit its narrative, and remember folks, the reporter in this case is an Ohio State graduate, so he must not be credible. He has written books on Ohio State football, so he must be holding a gun to these mothers’ heads and forcing them to lie. So if he tells you the campus’ stadium is shaped like a horseshoe, don’t believe him.
ESPN has avoided pursuing the truth from the beginning, pegging their hopes on one solitary character. They must be praying that Courtney Smith turns out to be credible.
Here’s a newsflash: She isn’t.
Her own family members will tell you that.
And I am pretty sure the Powell police department and its officers who had worn out a path to her residence to respond to her numerous 911 calls, have known it for some time, too.
This will all come out as soon as the six-member committee and its bevy of lawyers investigating the matter releases its findings.
Unfortunately, the little sports network that was born in Bristol in 1979 and used to televise ping pong and badminton matches grew into the ESPN we know today. A behemoth in American culture that creates ad then shapes public opinion in the sports world. Then it drives it along like a well-tuned Ferrari.
Somebody on ESPN said it? Well then, it must be true.
Finebaum called Meyer a fraud.
Well then, he must be.
I heard he also took recent shots at me this week.
“Don’t know if this guy Snook is credible,” he said, among other things.
He and I roamed SEC press boxes and locker rooms (back when they were open) often in the 1980s and ‘90s, but I can’t remember if I ever met the guy. I do remember this: When I covered the Florida Gators and the SEC years ago, Finebaum was a much-despised columnist for an Alabama newspaper.
Steve Spurrier once told me, “Finebaum is the type of muckraker who gives you media boys a bad name … you can’t believe a word he writes.”
Not one football coach I know of respected the guy. He had it out for Florida State legendary coach Bobby Bowden for years and would rip into him at every turn -- all because Finebaum was personally offended when Bowden turned down the Alabama job in 1986. (Bowden then proceeded to turn FSU into the annual contender that Alabama was not at the time).
But it all changed when ESPN plucked Finebaum from his Alabama newsroom and put a microphone in front of his lips. Now he had a national voice and sudden credibility.
His “F-Baum” segments are appropriately labeled because I want to drop one every time he delivers one.
But back to this mess.
We have learned throughout history that hanging our judicial hats on single accusers and flimsy evidence can be risky. And that goes for journalists, too. This isn’t the Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby case, where there are dozens and dozens of accusers. They can’t all be lying, right?
On Aug. 29, 2007, a notable 44-year man died alone in Woodbury, Ga. The official cause of death was kidney failure, but he really died of a broken heart. He had few friends, but he died with plenty of money.
His name was Richard Jewell, the accused 1996 Olympic bomber. The media convicted him publicly for years. Then it turned out he was innocent, and he was actually a hero whose actions saved many lives. It didn’t matter, because the damage was done and his life was ruined. Jewell later became filthy rich from all his libel suits against CNN, NBC and Cox Enterprises (which owned the Atlanta Constitution), however. (For the record, ESPN wasn’t a defendant in any of them although it televised much of the coverage before Jewell was cleared.)
How about the more-recent Duke lacrosse scandal?
Through thousands of hours of coverage, ESPN drove the narrative that convinced the public that the accused players were guilty of rape.
Turns out they weren’t.
Ironically, the network then aired a “30 for 30” documentary called “Fantastic Lies” of how the accused were pre-judged and not treated fairly.
That’s the ultimate in hypocrisy.
“Hey guys, let’s perpetuate a ton of lies, ruining people’s lives, and then we’ll broadcast a movie about how we did it!”
Now make no mistake: I am not equating terrorism and gang rape to this case, but the immediate overreaction, the bullet train from allegations to guilty, are similar here. There is broadcast time to fill, but no time to wait for the facts.
And ESPN can pick and choose who or what it believes once the narrative is set on the main story.
Just Sunday afternoon, I noticed ESPN’s scroll at the bottom of its various channels Sunday after I broke the news that Tom and Michelle Herman were knee-deep in this mess.
It didn’t read, “Texas’ Herman accused of being involved in Ohio State scandal … ” or anything of the sort.
It read: “Herman denies Facebook report … ”
That’s called shaping the news, folks.
On this matter, let me just respond to what is obvious: WELL, OF COURSE HE WOULD DENY IT.
He wasn’t exactly under oath. And have you ever heard anyone in the public eye, especially a head coach at a prominent college football program which pulls in millions of dollars each year, stand up in front of the media and admit, “Yeah, you got me! I was indeed the source that got this whole investigation rolling!”
As far as Brett McMurphy, who actually said something like, “Snook should have come to me for my source.”
Yeah, we reporters always question other reporters for their sources all the time. (That’s sarcasm). There are three things you never do as a journalist: You never pre-empt a follow-up question, you never look over the shoulder of someone typing in the press box – and you never, ever ask the identity of another reporter’s source.
Those credos apply to anyone working in the field, from the White House press room all the way down to a high school press box.
But back to Herman.
I think he realized Sunday that he had to admit giving Courtney Smith money, which turned out to be $10,000 (even after staring into the cameras two weeks ago and stating he knew nothing of anything going on at Ohio State ‘because we weren’t there in 2015”) and yet, many actually still believed his denial.
And for the record, in the many subsequent messages to and from Michelle Herman since, I have demanded that her husband retract his denial and do the right thing and admit the truth.
I know he won’t, because he has too much at stake to admit the truth now. But he isn’t realizing one more thing: When the investigative committee releases every ounce of its findings, and his name is mentioned, he made a mistake by not admitting the truth and getting out in front of it ahead of time.
I really think the Hermans are decent people. They just got caught up in something that just spun out of control. In their defense, I never for a minute believed they intended to take Meyer down. After all, for all of Herman’s differences with Meyer in the past three years, it was the Ohio State coach who plucked him from that college football hotbed of Ames, Iowa, in 2012 to run the Buckeyes’ offense. He gave Herman the break of his coaching life.
At the time, Ohio State’s fan base asked, “Tom who?”
After a national title in 2014 and two hugely successful years at Houston, Herman now has his dream job at Texas.
The Hermans had an ax to grind only with Zach Smith, as far as I can tell, and had to be shocked beyond belief when Meyer’s role became questioned and he was placed on leave. Smith and Herman, once very close from 2012-14, had a bad falling out since Herman left Ohio State. The wives, however, were very close and remain close.
Still, Michelle Herman told me this Tuesday about Courtney Smith via Messenger:
“She never told me she was being abused. She never told anyone she was being abused. Nobody saw any abuse.”
That, in essence, covered her husband’s responsibility toward his Title IX responsibilities while at Ohio State.
She went on to describe her relationship with Courtney Smith:
“We were close. I am not saying we weren’t close. We just weren’t that close while we were there. I wouldn’t call her my best friend, either.”
So why give her a substantial amount of money in 2017 (three years after the Hermans left Columbus)?
“When she needed to borrow money, she was drowning in debt and going to drop out of school. I said ‘that’s a bad idea. Then what will you do?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you let me loan you the money? I mean, it’s not going to hurt us.’ We loan people money all the time. Sometimes, we just give it to them.”
OK, there you have it. Want a loan? Just call the Longhorns’ football office. The head coach makes $5.5 million per.
Somebody sent me a clip of two of ESPN’s talking heads on one of their daily afternoon shows from Monday, discussing Herman and this story. They referred to me as “the Ohio State graduate who writes books on Ohio State.” Again, they questioned my motives and credibility. They said I created the Herman story only “to distract” from the real issue of domestic violence.
Believe me, if the real issue in this case was substantiated domestic violence, I would be all over it. But it’s not. It’s about a revengeful plot. Marriages sometimes can be messy, or “toxic” as this one has been called. And divorces of “toxic” marriages and be downright war.
How can I state this entire issue is not about domestic violence, you ask? Once again, for the 100th time, the Powell police have investigated and never found evidence to warrant charges. That doesn’t mean Zach Smith was a saint. He cheated on his wife. I am sure he put his hands on her as well, as she did him, especially after they both had tipped a few.
But let’s get back to our favorite sports network.
Remember one thing, ESPN stands for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.”
That first word in the acronym is crucial here. You would think they would have changed it years ago when it grew into the behemoth of American culture that it became.
In recent years, however, the network has lost its focus. Its 6 p.m and 11 p.m. Sports Centers, the heart of the network, have plummeted into a two-person gabfest about such things as who has the finest clothes and which latest music group may win a Grammy. Recent layoffs of hundreds of employees and sagging ratings have further eroded the network’s influence.
It’s really a shame ESPN lost its way, because other than Bob Ley, its live televised events, and the dozens of “30 for 30” documentaries, it really has become an industry joke. Collectively, it is to sports journalism what Big Mac is to a great lunch.
In these times of scandals permeating athletic departments (ESPN already has re-focused its primary attention on Maryland), who really knows how a school president will react? It wouldn’t shock me one bit if Ohio State succumbed to the huge national pressure to ultimately sack Meyer – as a result of ESPN’s determination from the start.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to appease the lynch mob than to stand up to it.
That’s the challenge school president Michael Drake faces. Let’s see if he passes the test, the biggest one of his career thus far.
Will he vindicate and reinstate Meyer if the investigative committee discovers he did his job correctly -- or will he give in to the lynch mob and fire him? Or did the committee find the smoking gun that nobody else has found, something that implicates Meyer in not fulfilling his contractual obligations? That would be truly shocking at this point considering Meyer has changed dramatically since his days at Florida.
He has cracked down on player discipline like a drill sergeant and toed the corporate line since taking the Ohio State job in December, 2011. If a player got caught illegally parking in a handicap spot at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, he passed the matter to the athletic director. There are no indications there is an Aaron Hernandez in his coaching closet.
Or will Drake compromise and suspend him? Which would inform the public there was something there, perhaps, maybe, and we at Ohio State just wanted you to know we did something.
By Monday morning, when I expect Drake and the university to release its findings and announce Meyer’s future, I don’t believe Urban Meyer will be proven the fraud Finebaum thinks he is.
Nope, I believe the real fraud here is the World Wide Leader.
And it has been for some time.