The State Board of Education fired University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear on Thursday. Meanwhile, Statesman sports reporter Chadd Cripe is frantically submitting entries for investigative journalism awards.
On August 3, 2018, the Idaho Statesman’s Editor Bill Manny wrote “Football player’s misconduct case hurt other U of I students.” This scolding came after Cripe continued his finger-wagging articles to shame the university about Athletic Director Rob Spear’s handling of an off-campus sexual misconduct case. The charges are serious, but in my opinion, the Idaho Statesman exposes its negative narrative against the university through exaggerated coverage. Meanwhile, the unethical behavior of publishers and reporters evades publicity. Many of us remember when Publisher Gordon Black fathered two children in one year – one by his wife and one by an employee. He was promoted.
In 2003, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey won an investigative journalism award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for his coverage of University Place, an ambitious but failed plan by the University of Idaho to expand in Boise. Mistakes were made but later rectified as the president resigned, an employee was fired, and the Foundation reorganized. However, Popkey’s relentless and ruthless reporting irreparably damaged the professional reputations and personal health of several volunteer members of the U of I Foundation Board, temporarily condemning the entire university.
In 2004, searching for another prize, Popkey submitted his story for an award from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Journal. In his submission, he wrote “the finances of the university’s private foundation are in ruins.” That was not true. The Foundation maintains a public record of successful investments, manages an excellent portfolio, and continues to support the University’s goals and missions.
Ironically, Popkey, known for his liberal politics, left the Statesman in 2014 to become press secretary for ultra-conservative Idaho U.S. Representative Raul Labrador. His starting annual salary was $84,000. Apparently, the grass and money were greener on the other side.
I know and endorse Athletic Director Rob Spear. He says he was unaware of Title IX changes that took effect in 2011 mandating that off-campus sexual misconduct was the responsibility of the University. The University reacted to the media frenzy and placed him on paid administrative leave. Nonetheless, his reputation is damaged beyond repair.
I believe the media should take note of what happens in the fallout of their punitive investigations. For example, the University of Montana went through a similar crisis in 2012. The media attacked the university leading to the firing of the football coach and athletic director. Both later settled out of court for substantial sums due to this rush to judgement.
The net result has been a damaged reputation and a 30% enrollment decline at the U of M since its peak in Spring 2011. Faculty positions have been slashed and entire degree programs eliminated. Is this what the Statesman wants for Idaho’s flagship university?
I proudly graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism. I served as president of the National Alumni Association and was a member of the University of Idaho Foundation Board of Directors when Popkey was castigating us in the Statesman. Now Popkey is out of a job and can’t eat his words or awards. Maybe he could try public relations for the University of Idaho and write about the excellent programs, students, administrators, and faculty.