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Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Michael O'Brien: Learning From the 'Best and the Brightest'

The sky is falling!  The sky is falling! ...

I'm sure that was the reaction Chicago Sun-Times "reporter" Michael "Would You Like Fries With That" O'Brien intended among UK fans when he wrote his (now famous) blatantly sophomoric story citing a rumor that UK-target, blue chip basketball prospect Anthony Davis, was demanding $200,000 in exchange for his verbal commitment.  And considering O'Brien cited a UK blog, Nation of Blue, as reporting that Davis will indeed announce for the 'Cats; via innuendo, O'Brien insinuated that UK was paying/paid Davis the "cabbage."

Talk about your passive-aggressive left hook.

Although O'Brien richly deserves whatever fate travels his way for his singular act of stupidity, he isn't lonely when it comes to reporting partial-truths, out-right falsehoods, and innuendo-laced passive-aggressive assaults on the University of Kentucky basketball program, particularly since the arrival of the modern day Dapper Don, John Calipari. 

Almost since the debarkation of Calipari in Lexington, writers from around the country have offered-up half-baked, illogical criticisms of the UK head coach; the University for hiring him, and the fans for loving him.  And although no respected writer has directly accused Calipari of cheating, the topic is skirted by most seasoned scribes by using the same type of insinuation O'Brien utilizes in his article. 

For example: This truth is very seldom ever written; "Calipari has never been even remotely accused or held responsible for violations at UMass or Memphis," rather, it's usually a half-truth that's reported; "Calipari left UMass and Memphis stripped of their Final Fours," which of course purposely omits the pertinent fact that Calipari did nothing wrong in either debacle.  Not one scintilla of evidence (not for lack of looking, I'm sure) has ever been brought forward by anyone which indicates Calipari has ever fractured even one NCAA rule.  But that's not sexy, and that doesn't win Pulitzers.

It's just so much easier and more fun for most of the "national" writers to paint Calipari, and his one-and-done tendencies, as the villain.  Why investigate?  Why put some thought into it? ... sadly, that's the mindset which exists today among many of the "national" sports writers.  All one has to do is read practically any 800-word column centering on Calipari and Kentucky, and inevitably Calipari will be insinuated into being a persistent felon, and all-round bad dude. 

And when this type of questionable, cynical journalism permeates the coverage of a coach, program, or player, for such an extended period of time (in this, case 16 months), an environment of playing fast and loose with the truth begins to unveil itself.  And as if on cue, the minions begin echoing what the sage scribes are continuously implying as being the truth.  In the workplace it's called creating a hostile work environment, and it's illegal.  But, in the coverage of sports, ignorance in the name of headlines is showered with oohs and aahs, and rewarded with additional column inches.

So there really is no backlash for the reporter to endure, no reprimands for those who write with the intent of damaging that which they don't like, or understand.  That is, until the unfortunate, young Mr. O'Brien (I'm betting O'Brien isn't a veteran reporter) meanders onto the scene and bashes into oblivion any and all acceptable standards of journalistic integrity (oxymoron?).  If his article wasn't so comical -- I mean, c'mon, $200,000?  Where did that figure come from?  -- it could be considered damaging to the reputation of the University of Kentucky and to the family of Anthony Davis.  But, O'Brien, in his youthful exuberance, didn't think about the characters he was attempting to assassinate.  No, he dutifully followed the established industry standard regarding reporting on Calipari, and cast with his keystrokes blatant, potentially harmful innuendo, and insinuation. 

In his now infamous piece, O'Brien rose above his peers, fearless of consequence, and directly links UK, the money, and Davis, which is the element of the story which grew legs and ran off with his career.  The carnage went like this:

"Rumors that Davis' commitment is for sale have surfaced since he cut his list of schools down about a month ago."

"The rumors/sources that have Davis choosing Kentucky are also alleging that the commitment cost $200,000." 


Other, more, uh, (what's the word here?), "professional" sports writers are keen on how to weave the innuendo into their tales without accusing Calipari or UK of direct involvement in whatever indiscretion (real or imagined) they are blathering on about.  But, O'Brien evidently did not attend the all-important seminar on "Subtlety in Accusatory Journalism," as so many of his learned colleagues have.

So, where do we go from here?  Well, the University of Kentucky decided to have its attorney shoot-off a "cease and desist" letter, with threats of litigation, and all manner of hell fire.  And, I don't blame them one bit.  But, in my opinion, nothing will come of it.  The paper might print some type of retraction, afterall, they don't want to drag this embarrassment out any longer than necessary, and a legal battle would do just that.  But, really, does it matter?

Everyone sees this clown for what he is.  I mean, what about O'Brien burying the dirt deep into the piece ... what's that about?  He didn't think it would be as noticed if the salacious details were at the bottom of the screen?  As if "$200,00" doesn't just jump off the page at you.

I don't know of anyone (other than maybe a UofL fan) who took the offending portion of his article seriously.  Even O'Brien's "national" writing-mates, as if having colluded, had a nearly simultaneous explosion of tweets, roundly, colorfully, and enthusiastically condemning O'Brien for his unprofessional conduct ... now that's good for a chuckle, eh?  Obviously, the seasoned writers wanted to distance themselves from O'Brien as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  The guy has no friends; he's been "outed," so to speak.   

But honestly, as thick-witted as O'Brien's piece was, I think much more egregious than his single sin is the continual assassination of John Calipari's character by the aforementioned seasoned "national" writers.  For they are not the ones having their pulpit razed from the ground up; they'll carry-on, business as usual.  Oh, every so often someone will, with their dulling pen, commit hari kari, but for the most part nothing will change.  And there's just nothing anyone can do about it. 

So, I think it's time to face facts, folks.  As long as Calipari is coaching in the college ranks he's going to be perceived as a cheater by many, many people.  The fact that he's far surpassed any reasonable expectation of success during his short tenure in Lexington, only serves to add fuel to the ill-willed writer's fire.  Calipari's overwhelming recruiting success rate, with players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, and Michael Gilchrist, has given him an aura of invincibility (be it real or imagined), and those who wish to take Calipari down are desperate to label him bad for business.

But, as long as Calipari continues to operate within the boundaries of the NCAA rulebook, UK fans have every reason to sit back and enjoy the view from the top; don't bother with the senseless chatter from below.  If being a fan of sports has taught us nothing else, it has taught us this: Hyper-success is cyclical, even at UK.  And we better enjoy it while it lasts, and not allow anyone to rain on our bounty.  So, let the green-eyed ogres write what they must, we'll check the sports pages after the victory party.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!