Was Kentucky Right To Disinvite The Kentucky Kernel For Violating Their Media Policy?

This story was a major Twitterburst last night, particularly among media members including Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, Brian Edlridge of Kentucky Sports Report, and Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio.  Here are the essential facts as I understand them:

  • The Kentucky Kernel is the UK student newspaper;
  • The sports reporter from the Kernel, Aaron Smith, called two students recently disclosed as UK walk-ons, Brian Long and Sam Malone, to confirm that they were walking on to UK.  Both players said "Yes."
  • He then requested an interview with them.  They both declined.
  • UK's media policy requires reporters to contact UK Media Relations to get access to players, which Smith did not do.  This was construed as a violation of that policy, which at least the interview request seems to be.
  • DeWayne Peevy, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, apparently contacted Smith after this incident and informed him that he was no longer invited to attend a special media availability for which certain media members had been selected by UK to meet the UK players and get eight minutes with each of them. 

According to the Herald-Leader, Peevy characterized this as "punishment" according to the Herald-Leader's reporting:

[Kentucky Kernel Editor in Chief Taylor Moak] said, too, that Peevy used the word "punishment" in telling Smith that he was rescinding the invitation; Peevy told the Herald-Leader he used the term "for lack of a better word."

Of course, the Kernel is displeased about having Smith's invitation revoked, even if, according to Peevy, it is just for this event. Here is Peevy's argument in a nutshell, in the Kernel's reporting of the incident:

[Peevy] said there has to be "some sort of trust" between UK Athletics and any reporter given access to this round of interviews because information received during them is supposed to be embargoed until Oct. 1.

...

Peevy said that he did not have a problem with Smith reporting the news, but once Smith found out Long and Malone were student athletes, he should not have attempted to interview them without first contacting Media Relations. Peevy said UK Athletics’ policy is for reporters to contact Media Relations if they want to talk to a player.

What Peevy is suggesting in this article is that by violating the UK policy, Smith called into question whether or not he could be trusted to comply with the media embargo on reporting about today's media availability until next month.  In addition, Peevy is saying that the violation was the attempted interview, not the contact.

John Fleischaker, a prominent Louisville first amendment attorney and attorney for the Courier-Journal as well as the Kentucky Press Association, characterized Peevy's action as a first amendment violation in the Herald-Leader story:

The decision to ban the writer "is so clearly a violation of First Amendment rights for the university to condition access on gathering or publishing information the way the university wants you to do it," said Kentucky First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker.

I am not qualified to gainsay Fleischaker in this matter, but I am suspicious of this statement for a couple of reasons:  First of all, Smith wasn't "banned."  Peevy clearly intimated that this single event was the only consequence of Smith's action, and that this event was restricted to a select few, not a general media availability.  Second, it seems to me that the University has some rights to control access to players for a whole host of reasons.

The question that arises in my mind is this -- if UK has the authority to grant access to some, but not necessarily all media to a given event, does not that give them the implicit right to revoke said access for good cause ?  The question of whether or not the policy violation was a good enough cause is certainly fair, but it is subjective.  In Peevy's mind it is, and I can't see a good reason why the judgment of the Kernel, Fleischaker, or anyone else should be substituted for his in this matter.

Could Peevy have handled it better?  Probably.  In my personal opinion, a mere "Come to Jesus" phone call would have been more than sufficient to set Smith's mind right about the proper protocol.  With that said, Peevy's response appears to be within the bounds of reason, if a touch strict.  This is the UK student newspaper we are talking about, after all.

So what do you think?

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