He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Who can say when Pete Thamel of the New York Times decided to make it his mission in life to take down John Calipairi? Unlike Ahab of the story, Calipari did not bite off Thamel's leg (even though Gregg Doyel of CBS Sportsline claims that he walks funny), or deliver some other deadly insult to him. Yet something seems to burn in the heart of the Grey Lady's sportswriter -- a lust for justice, perhaps -- for the man who works in the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
No astute observer of the Eric Bledsoe matter was surprised at how it ended. Here at A Sea of Blue, it provoked a lot of speculation, but those in the know pretty much got most of it right. It was clear almost from the start that the Birmingham school board was not going to allow Thamel to drag them down the tubes in his jihad against Calipari, and in the end, that's exactly how it went down. Absent a giant, smoking Howitzer, this was always going to be a case of "insufficient evidence."
It is the measure of the mindset of the media in that they always mention the alleged academic fraud by Derrick Rose (note that I use the term "alleged" only because it was never proven. I personally believe that fraud was very likely) for which Calipari could not have been to blame rather than the the unreimbursed expenses by his brother Reggie, for which Calipari arguably had culpability. It was IN-SANE of Calipari to let Reggie Rose to travel with the team, and IN-SANE of the Memphis compliance department to allow it.
Nobody ever mentions that, though, because it's just plain not sexy enough to bring Calipari, bloody and eviscerated, to the unemployment line. Vacated seasons and Final Fours -- now that is sexy. That is scandalous. That has punch.
This curious dichotomy informs the real motivations of Calipari's detractors in the media -- the big headline, the big score, the "show-cause-penalty-must-follow for this evil minion of Satan" kind of outcry. They aren't interested in small potatoes like a stupid extra benefit -- Saint Roy Williams did that much at Kansas, for heaven's sake -- they want $150,000 payouts to, or academic fraud by Bledsoe that results in a vacated season, or any of a hundred other truly scandalous accusations that validate their opinion of Calipari and get them fame, fortune, and readers.
The big question now is where will they go next? Trust me, Calipari's detractors in the media, those who have substituted a crusade against evil for objective reporting, will not surrender after defeat at the hands of the Birmingham school board. Of that, you can be absolutely sure. Like Thamel cast as Captain Ahab, only the blood of the great whale Calipari will assuage their lust, this time not motivated by something as noble as revenge, but rather by a desire to define themselves as defenders of the realm of college basketball.
It would be easy to suggest that there is a media conspiracy to bring down Calipari, but I think that's way too sophisticated to be true. What has happened in the Bledsoe matter is what often happens -- the media becomes an echo chamber in which the memes they produce are amplified and reinforced by their colleagues. Doyel says in the link above that he believes there is a cadre of northeastern-educated writers including Thamel, Dana O'Neil and others that reinforce each others writing all the time, driving stories like the cowboys of old drove cattle.
So will Thamel and his crewmen in the media now give up their efforts to bring Calipari to justice? Not a chance. When reporters start crusading for a cause, they wind up being remembered with quotes like; ". . . from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee", or from Absence of Malice; "We can't have people go around leaking stuff for their own reasons. It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God it ain't right." So it is likely to be with Thamel. Calipari is his white whale (well, at this point, a Blue and White one), and Thamel has now cast himself firmly in the role of Ahab.
Unfortunately for Thamel, we all know how Moby Dick turned out.