One of things you hear Wolfpack fans howling about the most is the way that NC State and its teams are covered in the media. They say that NC State never gets a break in the local paper, the Charlotte paper, the television media or many of the online columnists that help shape the country’s opinion about sports.
Some like to say that folks who have that opinion are delusional and paranoid, and that anyone who thinks that the so-called bias against NC State that they see is merely something that they made up in their heads. The unstated insinuation is that they are mentally ill, or close to it.
It is true that every fanbase has a cadre of people who believe that the press is “out to get them.” You hear this from Duke fans and Carolina fans whenever a negative story is written about their school too. To those folks, UNC or Duke can’t possibly do a thing that’s wrong. That’s a Pollyanna view, and of course, it’s also untrue.
On the other hand, not every State fan is crazy, and the older ones can rattle off story after story about how the press has at times given State a beat-down. Anyone old enough to remember how the News and Observer, under the guidance of then-editor Claude Sitton, handled the Valvano Scandal in 1989. They can give you an in-depth description of the paper’s despicable tactics: a sensationalized story that stated that shady dealings were going on in State’s basketball program would be front page fodder, and then, when other journalists investigated the story and found the accusations essentially baseless, a retraction would be printed in the bowels of the paper, sometimes literally in the obituaries. It was yellow journalism at its finest, and it basically destroyed NC State’s relationship with Coach Valvano — and our basketball program with it.
Claude Sitton once told me directly, and this is an exact quote: “I’m going to get Valvano.”
Well, he did, and sold a lot of papers while he was doing his hatchet job. Valvano was no saint, mind you, but then again, he most certainly was not a kingpin of systematic cheating the way that he was portrayed either. To say that balance from the N&O’s coverage of the time was missing would be a massive understatement.
So much for journalistic integrity. And knowing that, can you really say with a straight face that State’s fans are crazy for not being fond of the local paper?
Problem is little has changed since then.
Fast forward a number of years to the present. For years, reporters, whether they are small-town newspaper or national TV personalities, have stated privately and off the record that NC State’s Sports Information Department is the most difficult to deal with of any ACC school. They start by saying that they don’t want their name used in any story about the SID because they fear retribution. Then they tell a tale or two of horrors of dealing with the State press office.
The truth is that I have personally heard this from local television sports guys, from several print guys and from one prominent commentator that’s currently on a cable network that dominates sports coverage. True to their request, I won’t name names, but trust me when I say that if I were to do that, you would know almost every one of them because you see them, you read their stories and you recognize their faces from TV or the radio.
Lee Fowler didn’t, and essentially called me a liar to my face when I asked him about that on 850 The Buzz’s air a couple of years ago. I asked “Coach” Fowler why so many reporters said that they had problems dealing with NC State’s SID, and he retorted that I was “making that up” and that the reporters he talked to all loved the Wolfpack Sports Information Department.
In other words, it was a typical “lunatic fringe” comment, and Fowler handled it in his usual dismissive manner with a few insults thrown back in reply. I expected as much and was actually entertained by his non-answer answer, after all, it is the hallmark of his time at NC State: the fans are crazy for wanting wins, the press loves us, and everyone that reports to him is doing an incredible job. Of course the results on the field and in the paper don’t show that.
Now comes this story, from Jim Pomeranz. Pomeranz is a solid guy, an NC State supporter and someone who has a level head. He recently wrote:
It used to be that the Sports Information Office cultivated the media, working with writers and radio and television reports to make sure Wolfpack athletics benefited from coverage. In many instances, the SID staff socialized with the media, talking on and off the record. Coaches did as well. Of course, the attitude of the media changed, especially with 24-hour coverage and internet sites, such as this one, but get this: A longtime newspaper reporter from Winston-Salem, a very nice guy who was covering Wake Forest, was asked by his editor to drive to Raleigh and to write a story about NC State football, a subject with which he was not so familiar. He did what he would normally do and stopped in at the Sports Information Department and spoke with the Director. When explaining why he was there, he asked the Director for a story suggestion. Wow! What a great opportunity for NC State, to have a reporter ask for a story idea. What a great set-up! The Director, though, surprised the writer by saying: “I’m not going to do your work for you. You figure out what you want to write about.” This came from someone who was schooled in the art of Sports Information by one of the best in the business, Bob Bradley of Clemson. That kind of attitude should not be tolerated.
So let me get this straight: a reporter went to the SID’s office looking for a lead for a story to write about NC State, and was told in reply ““I’m not going to do your work for you. You figure out what you want to write about.”
Incredible. Not only is that incompetence in action, it is contrary to the interests the SID’s office represents.
These are the people that shape NC State’s image, folks. And this is how they do it.
How Lee Fowler finds that acceptable is beyond my understanding.