Atlanta Journal-Constitution Fires Reporter, Issues Corrections After Irresponsible Story About the University of Georgia

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Last week, I wrote about an article that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) published about the University of Georgia football program that was so full of inaccurate information and downright falsehoods that the University of Georgia Athletic Association (UGAAA) sent a letter to the editors and publisher of the AJC demanding a retraction.

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The article was part of a series of “investigative reports” on the off-field problems that have plagued the Georgia Bulldogs since the team won its second consecutive national championship, but reporter Alan Judd’s investigation was sloppy enough to cross ethical lines. Judd pieced together separate quotes like Frankenstein’s monster to create new, more damning quotes in his efforts to smear the Bulldogs football program as too tolerant toward players and recruits who assaulted women.

The letter from the UGAAA has resulted in the AJC firing Judd and issuing corrections to the original article. Interestingly enough, the AJC didn’t have a problem with much of what Judd wrote in order to make UGA look bad.

Reporter Brian Eason writes, “AJC editors and attorneys investigated each complaint raised by university officials in the letter and found two elements of the story that did not meet the news organization’s journalistic standards, Editor-in-Chief Leroy Chapman said in a statement.”

But the paper doubled down on the strongest assertions from the UGAAA. Eason reports that “The AJC review found no instances of fabrications in the story, as the university’s letter had alleged, Chapman said.”

Still, the AJC fired Judd for “violating the organization’s journalistic standards,” and the inaccuracies shed enough light to cast doubt on much of the premise of the article — as Marc Weiser of the Athens Banner-Herald put it, “The AJC said it could not substantiate that 11 players remained with the team after reports of violent encounters with women.”

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Related: University of Georgia Bites Back at Irresponsible, Unethical Newspaper Coverage

It’s interesting that the AJC would have allowed Judd to so egregiously slam the university from which the paper makes so much money. After all, the AJC has relied on coverage of UGA sports to lure in subscribers, and it sells commemorative framed national championship front page prints on its site for $25-$150.

What’s also fascinating is that this isn’t Judd’s first unethical journalism rodeo. In 1988, he was writing for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and he penned an investigation into the lack of opportunities for high school sports stars in the area. But when the series of articles went live, problems emerged.

Jason Butt of UGASports.com picks up the tale:

After the stories were published, the Courier-Journal received calls and letters from subjects and those written about in the story, saying they were misquoted or that what was depicted was inaccurate.

Jon Fleischaker, an attorney who has represented the Courier-Journal and other media companies in Kentucky, was involved in the vetting process of this series. Fleischaker said he sat with Judd and the other reporter assigned to the series and went through their copy line by line. When it came to quotes, he asked them if those subjects were recorded.

Judd said they were.

Fleischaker took him for his word, which he now admits was a mistake.

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It sounds like Judd is a serial fabulist, so it’s for the best that the AJC sacked him.

As for the off-field problems — which don’t include the severe allegations Judd made — several leaders on the team remarked at this week’s SEC Media Days about how they’re making changes to the culture.

“There’s an understanding that we have to be better,” said center Sedrick Van Pran to the media. “A lot of guys stood up and said, ‘We have to get a handle on this.’”

“I think we have a very strong culture among players and coaches and everything,” remarked tight end Brock Bowers. “We’ve had numerous meetings about what we can do better on and off the field, and I think we have done a pretty good job of blocking out the outside noise and focusing on ourselves and focusing on the stuff that we can get better at personally.”

“Sometimes mistakes are made. And it leads to opportunity for growth and to learn from it,” cornerback Kamari Lassiter told reporters. “We’re aware of the situations and things that are happening. We understand that things have to change.”

The Athletic’s Seth Emerson (the best UGA beat reporter in my opinion) reported that the team is trying to put its best foot forward to address these issues.

“Smart and school officials met with a dozen local media members last week to discuss the speeding issues and other allegations,” Emerson writes. “(The former Georgia acknowledged. The latter it forcefully has pushed back on.)”

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As the Georgia Bulldogs gear up to defend their title again, key players and coaches are working to address trouble off the field. And one of those problems won’t be back to haunt them in the form of a crusading reporter who crossed ethical lines to make the team look bad.

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