Leaked Missouri to the SEC story raises serious ethical questions

What did these journalists know and when did they know it?

That is the question that should be on the mind of fans thanks to the errant publication of a press release and series of stories from the SEC and its SEC Digital Network about Missouri’s acceptance into the Southeastern Conference.

The documents released even included a Q&A with Tony Barnhart.

Maybe our questions should be, what did Mr. College Football know and when did he know it?

Since Tony Barnhart was quoted in some of the errant documents posted by the SEC’s website, it makes one wonder about his role as a journalist.

Is Barnhart an employee of the SEC or a journalist? What is his role on CBS?

Since the postings were dated October 22, Mr. College Football must have known for some time.

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune’s website, Barnhart had this to say about Missouri’s joining the SEC in a Q&A feature: “I think people have to remember that, as recently as 2007, Missouri was ranked No. 1 and in a position to play for the national championship,” Barnhart responds. “If they beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, they were in a position to play for it all. Gary Pinkel has been as consistent of a coach as they’ve ever had. Missouri knows what good football looks like.
“The thing that people keep asking: ‘Is Missouri a cultural fit?’ I don’t think there’s any question that they are. People forget that there were questions about South Carolina and Arkansas. South Carolina had always been in the ACC or an independent, and Arkansas had been a founding member of the Southwest Conference, as far west as they were. People wondered if they would be a cultural fit. Once you bring somebody into the SEC family, after 3-4 years from now, that question will never be raised. They become a part of that family by being invited.”

Can we trust Barnhart to be an unbiased source? Or, is Mr. College Football a pro-SEC talking head?

You can thank the new media order for this. A generation ago, there was a clear line between reporters and the organizations they covered.

Today, these barriers aren’t so clear.

In some respects, the NFL and major college conferences like the SEC and schools like Alabama have succeeded in disintermediation; there are fewer barriers between consumers of information and the sports owners.

Today, Alabama can tweet its press release or the NFL commissioner can post a letter that reaches the masses without the filter of the New York Times or ABC/ESPN.

With new conference networks and digital properties, conferences can earn dollars from covering themselves. In some ways, this is good. Fans have more access to information about the NFL than ever before with the emergence of the NFL Network and the NFL’s excellent website.

Of course, the coverage could be shaped by the person who writes the checks, but fans know this when they visit the site.

But what about fans who watch these journalists on CBS or listen to their calls on sports radio shows like Paul Finebaum?

No doubt, this new media order causes headaches for journalists who now answer to many different employers.

This isn’t a perfect world, and the latest SEC and Missouri news shows just how confusing it can be.

UPDATE: Today Mr. College Football tweeted about his answers in the Q&A. According to Barnhart’s tweet, “Fair question. I was asked by XOS to respond to a hypothetical of Mizzou joining SEC. Had no inside knowledge or would have reported it.” (Source)

Fair enough. However, it doesn’t really eliminate the questions about reporters who work for conferences directly or indirectly on these conference channels and conference-owned websites.