Detroit Free Press columnist, radio personality, novelist and Bo Schembechler hagiographer Mitch Albom has been suspended from the paper for an article he wrote during the NCAA basketball tournament that, it turns out, might have been one of his better pieces of fiction. I remember reading the article online after the game and thinking, well, that’s a nice little scoop.
In the article, Albom waxed smarmy about a couple of former Michigan State players, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson, who “both made it a point to fly in from wherever they were in their professional schedule just to sit together Saturday” at the Final Four game between MSU and North Carolina where, he said, they “ sat in the stands, in their MSU clothing, and rooted on their alma mater”.
It was loyalty, sure. And it was exciting, no doubt. But in talking to both players, it was more than that. It was a chance to do something almost all of us would love to do: recapture, for a few hours, the best time of their lives.
Trouble was, neither of them was at the game - change of plans. Albom had interviewed them earlier in the week, written his article and turned it in on Friday, (this is too good) April 1. The game was played on Saturday, April 2.
On the scale of journalistic shenanigans, this certainly isn’t the worst - the interviews apparently actually took place, the article didn’t influence the betting line, no insider trading was enabled (unlike the WSJ articles by R. Foster Winans a few years ago) - it was just a piece of fluff. The disturbing thing about it is the level of institutional complicity that was involved in publishing it. His editors KNEW that the article was written before the event, because they published it prior to the game in early editions. This won’t hurt Albom much, if at all, but it tars every other journalist without the star power to take a mulligan on the central fact of their articles. (Give the Freep and Albom some credit, however, for having the stones to leave the article up).
A couple years ago, I read one of Albom’s novels, Tuesdays With Morrie. Its premise was that Albom heard that one of his old college profs was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease and, coincidentally, Tuesday was usually a light day in Albom’s schedule, so he started travelling from Michigan to Boston to tape conversations with Morrie. It was a bit maudlin for me, and I started to get the feeling that the two of them were using each other - Morrie for a shot at immortality, Albom for a sure-fire hit with the Oprahtariat. (Others I respect found it uplifting, which just shows, I guess, what a cold piece of gristle I am).
But, think a second - if I got warm fuzzies from reading about the camaraderie of Cleaves and Richardson, and it turns out they never were in the same area code, maybe somebody should get on the horn - maybe Morrie, if he existed at all, ain’t dead.