Marshall’s books raise ethical questions

Phillip Marshall’s bias toward Tommy Tuberville and Auburn has been discussed consistently over the last year. But one element I haven’t seen covered is Marshall’s pecuniary interest in Auburn’s success—his books.

Marshall uses his al.com blog to not only shill for Tommy Tuberville, but hawk his merchandise. He ends many blog posts with this plea:

These and many other stories are told in Phillip’s book, “The Auburn Experience,” an oversized coffee table book published in December 2004. It features more than 300 slick pages of stories and photographs of many of Auburn’s greatest traditions, teams, players and coaches in every sport. The book is available for $20, plus $5 shipping and handling. For orders of multiple books, there will be just one $5 charge for shipping and handling. Send check or money order made payable to Phillip Marshall to The Auburn Experience, P.O. Box 968, Auburn, AL 36831.

Tell me this doesn’t color orange every word Marshall writes.

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It isn’t uncommon for a writer of Marshall’s caliber to write books. His prose is very good for a sports writer; however, Marshall’s vested economic interest in Auburn’s success raises real questions about the ethics of covering the Auburn beat. Can Marshall risk upsetting fans by writing something critical of Tuberville? Or is it more likely Marshall would blow smoke to make fans feel good so they would purchase his book?

A search of the Internet shows Marshall has written or co-authored four books related to Auburn. The first book published in 2000 was Cliff Ellis: The Winning Edge, in 2003 Tales from the Auburn Sidelines, in 2004 The Auburn Experience and in 2005 Stadium Stories: Auburn Tigers.

Many media organizations have ethics policies in place to prevent their staff from creating such a conflict of interests. The NY Times Company has this policy in place: “Staff members and others on assignment for us may not collaborate in ventures with individuals or organizations that are likely to figure in their coverage. Among other things, this prohibition applies to writing books, pamphlets, reports, scripts, scores or any other material and to making photographs or creating artwork of any sort.”

A search of the Advance Publications (owner of al.com and the Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and the Huntsville Times) did not reveal any ethics policy for reporters. However, most major newspaper chains have ethics policies—and I’m sure there is one in place for Huntsville Times employees, which would include the Auburn beat writer. Does this type of fraternization meet the criteria of the Advance policy? That’s a question for Times management.

The central issue is one of fairness. Would someone with Marshall’s obvious attachment be allowed to cover UA athletics. The answer is no. However, Newhouse (Advance Publications or whatever they are calling the company these days) papers in Alabama have tolerated biased reporting on its Auburn beat for years.

26 Comments

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  1. 1
    mike

    In all honesty…what does it really matter? If you don’t like Marshall’s articles don’t read them.

    I know this is hard to grasp, but I’ll try and walk you through the process with an example….I don’t like Paul Finebaum because he is biased towards Alabammer. It’s not surprising that he is since he makes his living off of ratings and the majority of people in this state are Bammer fans. So, what do I do? I don’t listen to Paul Finebaum. Nor do I read his articles. Also, I don’t waste my time writing articles about how I don’t like Paul Finebaum or how he is biased…so I’m done talking about ol’ PF.

    On another note, being from Mobile I can tell you about biased writers. Think I should start writing about it a few times per week?:)

  2. 3
    rhYno

    Capstone, several of your frequent readers, also happen to be religious Batman fans (I’m fairly sure even the two barnies, Kevin and Mike are).

    You think you could grace us with a “The Dark Knight” column around the time of the film’s release?

    Pretty please with a cherry on top:-)

  3. 4
    Coach Tony Franklin

    Why ya’ll picking on our houseboy Phillip!
    I’m Tony Franklin Damnit!
    Sure Phil writes pieces that glorify Tommy T and myself, but why not! We are the greatest thing going, just ask any Auburn fan. Ya’ll dont be picking on houseboy Phil or you will incurr the wrath of Tony Franklin.
    Phillip helped me out a while back by burying the whole kentucky thing, and Tony Franlin doesnt forget his friends, ….ANYONE WHO WANTS TO PICK ON PHILLIP MARSHALL WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH ME! THATS THE WAY IT IS WITH THE MEDIA ITS ALWAYS GIVE ME MORE! GIVE ME MORE! LEAVE PHILLIP MARSHALL ALONE!!!

  4. 5
    TiderInsider

    Truthfully, does API merchandise every meet its expected yearly or monthly quota, outside of the football season?

    Maybe to the Barnie family it does, but when being compared to the more avid fan bases, does it? Should it? Or better yet, should it be more than it is?

    Marhsall just may not be hawking merchandise for Tubby, he may be doing it solely for himself, if that is the case.

    Even so when API isn’t on top of the mountain, the orange and blue slowly fades to dim or nothing at all. Obviously it’s been quite some time since they haven’t held the golden torch, but I can assure you from several past experiences, as soon as their winning ways die off, so will their so-called “overly supportive fan base.” (And please don’t misinterpret my point, in no way am I attempting to take stabs at the TRUE API fans, only the already crumbling fair weather fans who claim they live and will die by the eagle, until after a simple loss, they never speak a word on API football or flaunt the apparel ever again, but that’s beside the point)

    If that is so, Marshall will definitely be out of a pocket then.

    PS: Rhyno, clever request, ha! Ha! I’ll definitely second that!

  5. 6
    Cooper71

    Phillip Marshall is an embarrassement. Its 8:55am and he is probably just finishing cleaning up the Tuberville’s breakfast dishes.

  6. 7
    Biased Reader

    Let’s see… this is the capstonereport, yet all you ever write about is Auburn. hmmmmmm, kind of like calling the pot kettle black…..

  7. 8
    mike

    Cap-

    I figured the only reason you were writing this WEAK stuff was because it’s the off season. Plus, this is an easy topic for you….you write the same old tired thing and the Bammer homers swarm in with predictions of Auburn’s demise and the Tide’s rise…..Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer:)

    Oh yeah, thanks for not writing about Harry Potter and I could really careless about Batman too. Actually, just keep the Marshall, Goldberg, Tubby duck hunting articles coming…I have gotten so used to them that my day would be incomplete without one.

  8. 9
    capstonereport

    Delenda est Carthago

    To be honest, I think folks in the media consider this a major issue. The perceived integrity of every writer at a newspaper is important, and while you could ignore writers you don’t trust. The newspaper itself and most of its readers can’t or won’t.

    Marshall can write and believe whatever he wants. The question is whether the Huntsville Times should sponsor it—and promote the stuff as ethical journalism.

  9. 10
    mike

    Cap-

    Well, the Birmingham News sponsors PF…are you going after them too? If not, why?

    Here’s another question and there IS a reason that I ask:

    If a site (let’s just say it’s the Capstone Report) sponsors,publishes or hosts someones articles and that someone is sued for slander and defamation…Is the site that hosted those articles at risk?

    Let me say that this question in NO way is directed towards you. It has nothing to do with anything you have written. I just heard something last night and it made me curious!!!

  10. 11
    capstonereport

    PF isn’t biased toward Alabama. Right now he’s kicking Auburn, but trust me…he’ll be back to kicking Alabama soon enough. Like say if Saban were to lose to Tuberville this year.

    A media outlet could be sued for libel because it is printed—or published. Slander is a different animals. But a media outlet, and we’ll argue a website is a media outlet (which it probably would be considered that by a court) have the luxury of a very high legal standard for lawsuits.

    If it were a private person “libeled”, then they must prove negligence. However, if it is a public person (a football coach, a minister who makes speeches and appears on radio programs, etc.) then they must prove actual malice.

    To win a libel verdict then you have to show the malice resulted in a reckless disregard for the truth on the part of the publication. That’s an almost impossible standard.

    So, you have to prove not only was the statement published FALSE, but that the publisher KNEW it was false and then published it anyway.

    In addition in some jurisdictions, before the aggrieved party can even sue, they need to take non-legal steps to address the problem. For instance, let’s say someone didn’t like a column I wrote about Tommy’s duck hunting. Tommy (or his legal representative) would have to write us (my email is on top of front page!) requesting a retraction, etc.

    That isn’t true for all jurisdictions; however, the simple rule is that a public figure or limited-use public figure has a much harder time winning a case….

  11. 12
    mike

    PF isn’t biased towards Alabama? Seriously, I know you were smiling while you typed that!!!

    Yeah, I figured that it would be hard to win a slander or libel suit. Then again, a legal win can come in many different forms and not just monetary. It’ll be interesting to see in a few months IF the story I heard comes to light!!!! Look at the bright side….IF it does you’ll have new material to write about….maybe.

  12. 13
    capstonereport

    Lawsuits are warfare by other means. So yes, you can sue someone and win even if you lose—you can use it to divert attention or fight a Fabian style action.

    But the reverse is also true…sometimes lawsuits have unintended consequences. Any public personality who files a lawsuit should just look at Roger Clemens.

    So, what’s the story you heard? More of the nonsense about Shane?

  13. 14
    mike

    Cap-

    Why would you assume it involved Shane?

    I agree 100% about the reverse effect. Clemens must be an idiot!!! That makes me think….wonder of Clemens posts on this site under the name “BamaFanInNYC” or “Christopherson”:)

  14. 15
    capstonereport

    Because Auburn fans have called into PF’s radio program and said Shane would get hit with a suit for writing that stuff about Chette Williams.

    And I always chuckled because Shane hasn’t written anything the NY Times or Auburn itself hasn’t said about Williams.

  15. 16
    mike

    Cap-

    Honestly, I haven’t heard the Auburn callers on PF say that, but I don’t doubt that some have.

    Maybe you are right, maybe you are NOT. Maybe this concerns Shane, maybe it doesn’t.

    That’s all I have to say. You answered my original question several posts ago. We’ll see in a few months what happens….

  16. 17
    sixdownnow7

    editor’s note: I really don’t like editing comments, but come on guys don’t use words like that. I mean my mom reads this site….

    What a crock of pure horseshane! You are kidding me right?

    Who was pushing the Sociology story for the NYT?
    Answer! A (misogynist word) Bama Graduate, her queer boss another Bama Graduate and the Tuscaloser News.

    Tell Shane that Tray Blackmon is going to whip his candyass too.

    You Bunch of dumbass (another misogynist word). Auburn is going to whip your Bama ass!

  17. 18
    intheknow72

    Capstone, please remove sixdownnow7’s post; such offensive language betrays the aptitude of the writer, but isn’t necessary in here.

    Brilliant work again, Capstone. You have exposed Phillip Marshall for being what he is, an Auburn trumpeteer. Perhaps the biggest phenomenon (and you alluded to this) is that Auburn beat writers are given a pass by many of the papers statewide to cover AU athletics without objectivity. The honest reason is, nobody gives a rat’s you-know-what about Auburn. Period. Rack up all the “streak wins” all you want. But at the end of the day, when we all lay our heads on our pillows, the fact remains that interest in that still second rate program has to be manufactured. It doesn’t come naturally. Every move in Tuscaloosa is closely monitored. But Tubby could run out in the street naked and no one would notice. Why? I’ll say it again:

    No one cares about Auburn. Period.

    And that fact absolutely eats Auburn fans alive, which is why, even after six skewed wins, they are still unsatisfied. The most gratifying feeling one can have is when one’s enemy can’t find satisfaction in victory. And Auburn fan, you can’t. Which just makes we Bama fans that much happier! Incredibly ironic, but true.

    And now, you’re in the know.

  18. 19
    mike

    intheknow-

    I will have to disagree on nobody caring about Auburn….look at how many articles on this site are about Auburn. You can say what you want, but the TRUTH is evident by reading this site!!!

    Question for you, Cap and everyone else:

    What would you like to see Marshall and other beat writers write about Auburn? Would you like them to say that Auburn’s days are numbered? If so, that’s not going to happen because ABSOLUTELY NOTHING has happened to make any reasonable person believe that(1 great recruiting class by Bammer means nothing today). Would you like them to say that Bammer whipped Auburn in recruiting last year? Well, that has been said and I will say it again…Bammer whipped Auburn in recruiting last year. What else would you yahoo’s like Marshall to write about Auburn?

    The bottom line is that Marshall is an Auburn beat writer so Bammers are NOT going to like him. Ya’ll want him to paint this doom and gloom picture on the Plains, but he’s not going to do that because it’s not like that. As much as Bammer fans would like to believe that a #1 recruiting class for Bammer meant the end to Auburn….that’s not the case. Auburn has as much talent on their team today as they have ever had during Tubby’s tenure. Auburn had a rough year recruiting last year, but things are looking great for this next year ( granted it is early).

  19. 20
    capstonereport

    What should Marshall write?

    Why not write the truth. Talk about the strengths of the new offense AU will run, and then balance that with the challenges the offensive line and the defense could face. Talk about Tommy Tuberville’s positives (and there are a lot of them), and then tell the truth that Tuberville almost left Auburn during the off season.

    A beat writer should write the TRUTH, and not just blow smoke. Most of what Marshall writes, especially on his blog, is spin, spin, spin.

    Unlike some Alabama fans, I like Ian Rapoport’s coverage of Nick Saban. Why? Because often times it ruffles Saban from his comfort zone. I expect Auburn beat writers to do the same thing to Tommy Tuberville. However, not one AU beat writer does that—they all suck up to him.

    I don’t want Marshall to paint a doom and gloom picture of things on the Plains; however, it would be nice if he didn’t write things which always make Tuberville look good. You know he isn’t Tubby’s media relations guy. 😉

  20. 21
    capstonereport

    BTW, why has this site even mentioned Auburn? Interestingly enough, we rarely did for the first year or so of existence. But things have gotten very interesting because Auburn fans actually come here to get the real news about what is happening with AU’s programs.

    As a public service to them, we are providing them news and analysis too.

  21. 22
    mike

    First, I have read several articles discussing the potential problems with the new offense and how the new offense could have negative effects on the defense. Most of them show more positives than negatives, but IMO there are more positives than negatives. As an Auburn fan that attends practices, etc….the new system looks 100x better and more effective than what we have been running.

    As for telling the truth about Tubby nearly leaving Auburn…Tubby didn’t nearly leave Auburn. I know that you and the rest of the Bammers do not want to believe that because then you can’t spin it the way you want, but that’s the truth. How do I know that? I happen to have a very good friend that was on the staff last year (wish he was still on the staff).

    Let’s talk about Bammer beat writers, I very rarely get any valuable information from them because they don’t know what’s going on with the team. Why not write everyday about how Saban keeps the media in the dark? Oh, I forgot, that wouldn’t be nearly as fun and Saban may shut down this site:)

    A public service? You are pretty funny!!! As I have said before…all you do IMO when writing about Auburn is spin things the exact opposite of Marshall….I wouldn’t call that REAL NEWS.

    As for the increase in Auburn fans on this site…they probably ended up here the same way I did. A buddy sent me numerous links to ridiculous posts on this site (some you wrote and some others wrote) so I decided to check it out for myself!!

  22. 23
    capstonereport

    The problem is Marshall never met anything he didn’t think was great for Tuberville.

    He either lies or is an idiot when it comes to the stats he used to say Stars don’t matter. And that’s just one of may creative things we’ve caught him doing over the last year.

    Truth is I have a source who tells me he was shopping heavily. Tuberville hates certain people in your administration, and was hoping to say a big “Screw you guys I’m going home.” Now, I think it was better for Auburn that Tuberville stayed. But could also be very bad, if things go south with Franklin’s offense.

    I spin things the opposite of Marshall because I’m writing commentary and news analysis—it isn’t like I’m a beat writer generating “news” stories on the program. My job and Marshall’s job are vastly different. Yet, even you admit he’s spinning. 🙂

    But I think it is interesting how Auburn fans want real analysis from outside the program; that shows there is a serious media problem in the state. How do I know that? My mailbag has more than a few Auburn fans telling me they agree with some things, disagree with others…but find this website a useful filter for the crap from al.com.

    Still, my offer is open for a guest column or two to share your thoughts in an extended format. 🙂

  23. 24
    mike

    Cap-

    Well, I don’t know who your source is or how reliable he is, but even without knowing your source…I feel fairly confident in saying that he/she is NOT as reliable as mine!!!

    I understand that you are not a beat writer…I was only responding to your comment about REAL NEWS. I believe you were joking with that comment, but I wasn’t 100% sure:)

    I agree that there is not much for objective media in this state (Auburn or Alabama). Honestly, if I had to rely on you are Marshall to find out what was going on at Auburn…I would be in trouble!! Thank goodness, I am NOT in that position:)

    By the way, have you read Marshall’s blog titled “Will Tuberville Take the next to greatness….”? I’ll be honest, I don’t read a lot of Marshall’s stuff, but IMO this blog was objective.

  24. 25
    capstonereport

    Well, my source doesn’t have an agenda to promote. That’s why anyone close to Tuberville and Auburn is suspect. A better source would be someone close to either Auburn or Tuberville. But….either way, I feel very confident saying Tuberville hates most of the AU administration, and would screw them over if he could. Honestly, I can understand why. 😉

    I read that blog, and I read Goldberg’s blog this morning about the new offense. I thought Goldberg’s was pretty useful. I think Marshall’s was much better than his normal stuff.

  25. 26
    mike

    Cap-

    No doubt that there is some bad blood between Tubby and some of the admin. On the other hand, Tubby has already won that battle and he knows it (trust me when I say that he knows it).

    When you talk about Tubby screwing them over….well that sounds like a high schooler looking to get even. Do you honestly think that Tubby would make a decision that affects his life and family to get even with a few administrators??? I’m sure that we will never agree on this matter and that is fine. I know that it makes for easy writing for you to insist that Tubby is mad and looking to screw them over..plus it makes for good reading for the Bammer homers, but I disagree with you. IMO there is a lot more that has to be taken into consideration…first being family and his family seems to be very happy at Auburn and Lake Martin!!!

    Haven’t read Goldberg’s yet, but I will. Been too busy on here…guess I should take a break from here and read some REAL NEWS about my own team:)

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