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November 17, 2009

Ferris Bueller's Cousin's Friend's Uncle Says....

Yesterday I got a slightly panicked call from a friend. Michael Wilbon is reporting that Rich Rodriguez is going to be fired! Wilbon's report, such as it is, has been helpfully reprinted in today's Detroit Free Press. To those who claim regional newspapers like the Free Press no longer serve a useful role, I say, of course they do! Where else can people go to read the rehashed musings of radio talk-show hosts? Yesterday's talk radio speculation today - there's the future of newspapers.

Sorry for the diversion. Back to Wilbon.

The Washington Post columnist, and star of the airwaves, reported to his listeners, "I had a solo conversation with someone who is affiliated with the current coach at Michigan, and he does not believe for a second that he'll be back."
When pressed on this assertion by co-host Tony Kornheiser, Wilbon elaborated that his source is a former Rodriguez player, and that the source "says that he would bet me right now -- took his wallet out and threw it down -- that this is not going to happen."

So, let's review the methodology of this little reporting bombshell. A former Rodriguez player thinks Rodriguez is going to leave his job. He does not say that Rodriguez told him this. He just thinks so. It is not clear whether this former player thinks Rodriguez will quit or be fired. The former seems highly unlikely, given that Rodriguez's market value is at a nadir right now. The latter is something that a former Rodriguez player, or even Rodriguez himself, wouldn't be in a position to know.

Imagine this musing appeared on a blog - hey, I talked to a guy who knows Rodriguez and, though he isn't in a position to know, he's willing to bet that he'll not keep his job. Would anybody pay attention to it? Would a newspaper reprint it? Of course not. It's not even an anonymously sourced report. It's anonymously-sourced speculation.

Could Rodriguez lose his job? Unlikely, but you never know. In the meantime, let's try to keep in mind the distinction between reporting and a game of telephone.


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