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Friday, December 10, 2004
There's a potentially huge journalism controversy brewing down here in Alabama. It goes a little something like this:

Paul Gattis, University of Alabama football beat writer for the Huntsville Times, is one of 65 voters in the AP Poll. The AP, like the BCS, ain't so popular in Alabama, as the Auburn Tigers are stuck at third place, and locked out of evena split national championship. Naturally, a lot of Auburn fans were upset with Gattis. This makes perfect sense, of course, because you're supposed to vote for the local team. Right? Isn't that what journalistic integrity is about? Sure it is, if you're a jaded Auburn fan. (I guess I shouldn't talk - Howell Raines graduated from the University of Alabama). At any rate, Gattis wrote a column in Monday's paper defending his position of voting Auburn third (OU was first, then USC, then AU) and basically telling the upset Tiger fans to go buzz off. Sounds fair to me. Before any rabid Auburn fans fire off an e-mail, let me say this: If Gattis did this to Alabama, of course I might not be happy, but I understand that as a journalist and pundit, he's perfectly free to do that. He doesn't owe me a thing, so long as he gives me the truth.

Where things get interesting is on the front page of Wednesday's paper. Gattis' op-ed piece had appeared, as it should, in the Sports section. Wednesday morning's front page featured a lengthy piece by Times editor Melinda Gorham apologizing for the lack of sensitivity in Gattis' piece. Sensitivity. That's what sports writing needs more of. Sensitivity. Because heaven knows the media just hasn't been sensitive enough to Tommy Tuberville over the last twelve months.

The issue here is bigger than Auburn or the pathetic BCS. The issue here is a sports writer was doing his job - covering Alabama football - and was rewarded with a vote in the AP Poll. His vote is his own; it is not the vote of his paper. If the homers for Auburn don't like it, that's fine, but Gattis doesn't owe them anything. He was decent enough to provide an explanation. It was simple: he thinks OU and USC are better teams. End of discussion. No doubt faced with the threat of subscription cancellations and low ad revenues, an editor threw one of her own under the bus. Gattis didn't lie. He's not Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. He stated an opinion, albeit a controversial one. He didn't come out in support of Osama bin Laden. He didn't come out in favor of clubbing baby seals or shooting puppy dogs with pellet guns. He dared to say that maybe Auburn isn't a better team than Oklahoma or Southern California. Newsflash, Ms. Gorham: That ain't an uncommon opinion.

Is Gorham unable to distinguish between the Jayson Blair scandal and the fact that some readers are in a fit because the paper doesn't back their own agenda? Give me a break. Gorham could have let this blow over or she could have simply stood behind her reporter with some quiet resolve. Instead the state gets a lame duck apology for a lack of sensitivity and a mean-spirited column. Yeah, it's mean-spirited to tell a rabid group of fans that a man is standing by his opinion. Puh-lease. Gorham has just turned her paper into a joke, more concerned with an attitude of civility than the truth. Paul Gattis isn't Dan Rather or Howell Raines. He didn't smear anyone or put forth a false story. He simply justified his vote, and now his own editor has come within an inch of wrecking his career, all because he refused to vote the local line and put the hometown boys in first place. He's being railroaded for having just an ounce or two of integrity.

It's a crying shame.

Stay tuned here and at Paul Finebaum's site and radio show for more information.
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