UK Athletics has revoked the Lexington Herald-Leader’s access to future interviews with a UK basketball player after a dispute over a reporter’s Q-and-A story.
The story by reporter Jerry Tipton in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader contained a question different from the one Tipton asked in an interview with freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. DeWayne Peevy, associate athletic director for media relations, said in a statement Thursday that the new question “sensationalizes the story and was unfair to Michael and his family.”
The question was printed as follows in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader: “Your father died of multiple gunshot wounds when you were 2 years old. How did that affect you?”
In a clarification added to the online story Wednesday, the Herald-Leader said the question asked in the interview with Kidd-Gilchrist was: “My father died when I was 2 years old. So that grabbed my attention. How did that affect you?“
Herald-Leader Editor and Vice President Peter Baniak said the newspaper clarified the wording in Thursday’s paper, too.
But the newspaper did not issue an apology, which led UK Athletics to withhold future interviews with the player.
Information about Kidd-Gilchrist’s father’s death has been published previously on news websites and blogs. An interview discussing the incident can be found on CoachCal.com, where a July 15 article said, “Michael was robbed of the chance to build a relationship with his father when the elder Michael Gilchrist was killed at the age of 30 from multiple gunshot wounds.” Kidd-Gilchrist will be featured in an HBO documentary, “Prayer for a Perfect Season,” about his basketball talents and personal struggles, and it will include information about losing his father.
UK’s statement said it has a duty to protect student athletes, “and we feel an apology from the Lexington Herald-Leader was necessary.”
Billy Reed, a former Sports Illustrated writer and former Courier-Journal sports reporter, said he thinks the athletes are overprotected.
“It is part of the learning process for these young men, and especially the ones who have the chance to go play in the NBA, (who) should know how to handle themselves in the public and how to handle the media,” he said. “I don’t think the UK sports information office is really teaching them the right kind of lessons about how to deal with the media.”
In its clarification, the Herald-Leader said it had edited the question for space and to add context.
Reed thinks UK’s action is aimed toward Tipton, rather than the questions he asked.
“I think they do see Jerry as an enemy instead of the professional reporter that he is, and that is really unfortunate,” he said.
UK’s statement said Kidd-Gilchrist “will no longer be available for interviews with the Herald Leader,” and Peevy told the Kernel this includes any Herald-Leader reporter and is not exclusive to Tipton.
Some think, however, that the Herald-Leader might have edited the interview ineffectively.
“There is a tension here between telling the story of his father’s death and reflecting the interview as it actually happened,” said Kelly McBride, a senior ethics, reporting and writing faculty member at the Poynter Institute. “I think, unfortunately, in trying to tell the story of this player’s father’s death, they chose an alternative that didn’t let the readers know that was not the question they asked.”
She said this could have easily been fixed by using parenthesis, italics or an editor’s note to describe the situation, “so the reader knew that was not part of the question and they would have been able to uphold both values at the same time.”
Peevy told the Kernel that UK Athletics would not comment further about the decision and stands by its statement.
From a public relations perspective, this situation would have been handled better by UK behind closed doors, said Stephen Dittmore, an assistant professor of recreation and sports management at the University of Arkansas.
He said that if the Herald-Leader’s intent was to publish the interview verbatim, the newspaper might have been wrong in changing the question.
But Dittmore said although he is geographically removed from the situation, his initial reaction is that UK “has made a bigger deal out of this story by issuing a media statement and issuing more retribution to a media organization rather than just handling it internally.”
However, “if attention was already being made,” he said, “then UK needed to respond in a public forum.”
Reed said UK drew attention to itself by issuing a response.
“I think nobody would have noticed if they would not have made it an issue,” Reed said. “And in making it an issue, they are the ones who are showing unnecessary attention to the family and the young man.”
The Kernel’s access to the same media day when Tipton conducted the interview with Kidd-Gilchrist was revoked in August after Kernel basketball writer Aaron Smith called two basketball players directly to confirm whether or not they were walk-ons. After the players confirmed they were on the team, Smith asked if he could question them further.
Smith was to receive access to one-on-one interviews Aug. 30, but lost that “reward” when he attempted to interview the two athletes, Peevy said at the time, which violated UK Athletics’ policy on interviewing student athletes.
“They still are trying to punish the press,” Reed said, “and I think that is really a bad policy.”
Reed said he “can’t recall another situation where an athletic department has gone out of its way to make mountains out of mole hills.”
“It’s almost like they are declaring war on the media who cover them,” he said.
Baniak, the Herald-Leader editor, said in August that he recalled another time the newspaper had an access issue with UK Athletics officials when they held an invitation-only event and invited one specific Herald-Leader reporter over another. He said the newspaper declined to attend.
Beyond clarifying Tipton’s question, Baniak declined to comment further on the current issue.
“I think it’s always dangerous to assume why a news organization acted the way it did without asking the people involved,” McBride, the Poynter expert, said.
She said she can’t pass judgment on the situation since she doesn’t know the paper’s side.
Reed said UK Athletics is going out of its way to create problems that it doesn’t have to.
Most readers who commented on the Herald-Leader’s website regarding the interview sided with UK.
“I am absolutely dumbfounded at the wording of the questions and the entire tone of the interview,” wrote user Pccatsfan. “He is not some professional celebrity who may expect this type of interrogation. The Herald-Leader owes this young man an apology.”
One reader said the setting was inappropriate to ask Kidd-Glichrist the questions.
“Do you normally ask the families of the deceased what happened in the final moments? Especially if they spent them with the dying?” wrote user Jonathan Borders. “If Kidd-Gilchrist wants to talk about something like that, he can initiate it. It isn’t something that any reporter should elicit, especially at this stage in his career.”
Some readers, however, agreed with Tipton.
“I thought it was a great interview,” wrote user knotonalog. “Tipton was letting him tell his story about the hardship of losing his father at age 2. And with the help of his uncle and the strength his mom gave, he has developed into a great person.”