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 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 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.