AJC issues corrections in UGA football program story

georgia football-rara thomas-arrest-details

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

A Georgia football helmet. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday issued corrections to its recent investigation into the University of Georgia football program’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against its players and recruits.

The corrections were issued in response to a nine-page letter sent July 11 by UGA attorney Michael M. Raeber. The AJC declined the letter’s demand for the article to be retracted.

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.

The AJC review found no instances of fabrications in the story, as the university’s letter had alleged, Chapman said.

In a statement, the AJC said the article’s author, investigative reporter Alan Judd, was terminated for violating the organization’s journalistic standards.

The article, first published on June 27, detailed how the national championship-winning football program rallied behind two athletes accused of sexual assault and domestic violence in recent years. It also suggested a pattern of the football program retaining other players accused of sexual misconduct on the team roster, but such a pattern could not be substantiated by the AJC’s internal review, according to Chapman.

The two confirmed cases in which the athletes were named were “accurate and newsworthy,” the AJC said in a statement, and they remain in a revised version of the article published online Wednesday.

“Our editorial integrity and the trust our community has in us is at the core of who we are,” Chapman said in a statement. “After receiving the university’s letter, we assigned our team of editors and lawyers to carefully review each claim in the nine-page document we received, along with some additional source material that supported the original story. We identified errors that fell short of our standards, and we corrected them.”

Chapman’s statement identified the corrections and explained changes made to the article. The AJC’s editors said they could not substantiate one of the article’s key assertions about Head Coach Kirby Smart’s tenure: that 11 players remained with the team after women reported violent encounters. The “precise count of 11 players” could not be substantiated under the AJC’s standards, the statement said.

As a result of the corrections, the AJC removed or adjusted several paragraphs of the story that depended on that count, and edited the headline.

“A critical part of our mission is to hold people and institutions accountable. It is a responsibility we take seriously,” Chapman said. “We must hold ourselves to this same standard and acknowledge when we fall short, which we have here.

“We apologize to the university and our readers for the errors.”

In a second error, the article improperly joined two statements a detective made minutes apart into a single quotation, the statement said. Connecting the sentences did not change the meaning of the quote, but the way it was presented to readers failed to meet AJC standards, according to the statement.

Judd has been a leading reporter at the AJC for nearly 25 years, writing many of the newsroom’s most significant investigations and breaking news stories. His work has exposed slumlords profiting from dangerous apartment complexes in metro Atlanta; linked suspicious deaths in state psychiatric hospitals to neglect and abuse; and helped uncover a teacher cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools.

“I am proud of the work I have done for the AJC for the last 24 years and I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve the community,” Judd said in a statement.

The UGA article was the latest in a series of reports showing how football players often elude accountability for off-field infractions. The AJC previously reported that the program’s permissive culture tolerated reckless driving, excessive speeding and street racing by its players. That behavior culminated in tragedy when a high-speed car crash in January killed a football player and a member of the team’s staff, later leading to criminal charges against star defensive lineman Jalen Carter.