Free Press hides behind month-old plagiarism charges against sport reporter

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

More than a month after allegations surfaced that Detroit Free Press sports reporter Drew Sharp plagiarized a story, he is back on the job this week, and the newspaper is refusing to publicly acknowledge anything happened.

Drew Sharp, via Facebook
Drew Sharp, via Facebook.

The failure to respond to the allegations has perplexed and angered some Free Press reporters and journalism experts who question why the state’s largest newspaper would hide behind one of journalism’s most egregious violations.

After all, newspapers demand accountability from everyone they interview, from business owners and politicians to police and authors. But the Free Press, for whatever reason, is refusing to hold itself accountable, which some say raises questions about the newspaper’s credibility.

“If you mess up, you fess up,” Jack Lessenberry, head of the journalism program at Wayne State University, said about ethical journalism violations. “It’s bad form and undermines a news organization’s credibility.”

Lessenberry said newspapers need to hold themselves to the same standards they hold for everyone else.

“We need to be open about our failings,” said Lessenberry, who also is the ombudsman for the Toledo Blade. “People respect when someone apologizes.”

The Free Press’ failure to respond to the well-documented allegations is the antithesis of how the newspaper handled star columnist Mitch Albom in 2005 when he fabricated details in a story. The newspaper responded on the front page of the newspaper that it was “undertaking a thorough review of the situation” and assigned five reporters and an editor to examine more than 600 columns by Albom. The team found that Albom often quoted other news outlets without giving attribution and was disciplined.

But when David Harns, of isportsweb.com, notified the Free Press that Sharp lifted details of his Nov. 20 story about a 25-year-old quadriplegic’s adoration of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, the newspaper allowed Sharp to continue writing for nearly two weeks and made no public mention of the incident, other than to later state on the Dec. 3 story that the proper attribution had been added. No other explanation was given.

Photo by Steve Neavling.
Photo by Steve Neavling.

Since then, the Free Press and the Detroit Newspaper Guild have refused to discuss the Sharp story or say whether he was disciplined or whether an investigation was conducted to determine if there was a pattern of lifting information from other outlets without attribution.

The silence has incensed some Free Press reporters, who said Sharp’s actions demand a public explanation from the newspaper because ignoring the problem discredits the rest of Sharp’s colleagues.

“We all look bad because of this,” one reporter told me, speaking on condition of anonymity because the newspaper forbids journalists from speaking despairingly about the Free Press. “Just explain what happened. Our readers deserve to know.”

Harns explains in detail how the events unfolded and concluded that “Sharp talked to Cook in the hallway for about 5 minutes, used my story to supplement the information he gained from that interview, and published it completely as his own work.”

Soon after the discovery, Sharp failed to appear on Detroit Sports 105.1 FM, where he recently became the co-host of “Derry and Sharp.”

The allegations, first revealed by Detroit Sports Rag, took some in the local sports community by storm.

For the past week, top Free Press editors and Sharp have declined to respond to numerous Motor City Muckraker requests for comment.

Do you think the newspaper owes the public an explanation?

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • barriobirdy

    This is BS! The Free Press is now officially a rag. Journalists have been trying to overcome a black eye given by Janet Cook when she made up an 11 year old heroin addict. Can his ass.

  • Tom

    Rescind the JOINT OPERATING AGREEMENT!
    The mission of corporate media is to pick and choose news and in some cases do everything possible to ignore if not quash stories instead of competing to cover all news events.

    A crude analogy would be you call an electrician to repair an outlet in your kitchen but the electrician ignores it and inspects wiring that is not in disrepair.

  • Tom

    Rescind the JOINT OPERATING AGREEMENT!
    The mission of corporate media is to pick and choose news and in some cases do everything possible to ignore if not quash stories instead of competing to cover all news events.

    A crude analogy would be you call an electrician to repair an outlet in your kitchen but the electrician ignores it and inspects wiring that is not in disrepair.

  • Harry Palmer

    If a guy like Charlie LeDuff is employable in local media, does another plagiarizing local writer really surprise any longer??

    • javierjuanmanuel

      Leduff has a black grandpa, Jason whats his nuts at the NYT, and Drew sharp all have what in common ?

      Hint, I did not mention leduffs black grandpa with out a reason (yes I know it to be true, he mentioned it on 105.1 about a year ago).

    • Donald E. Hodge

      That is if you believe what the New York Times says is true? Just remember everyone has their own take or agenda on something like that. doesn`t make it true.

  • Dean Henry

    Lame Freep. Their non coverage for the first year or so of the Flint water fiasco is another news event that deserves answers from them

    • javierjuanmanuel

      What would they cover, what difference would it make ?

      The root problem is they let crime get out of control because of politics. People left, crime went up more, they never stop spending money. They spent and spent just like detroit. Then one of the money saving moves was to cut one of their largest expenses.

      None of this is hard, you just spend a certain amount per person, and per employee, you do not let people retire with pensions after ten years work. You should not get 3 million dollar pensions, 600k health care doing work people in private industry do with no pension no health care.

      Being a small rust belt city does not mean you get to print money, even the feds who print money spend to much.

      The water is the product of what they did. They ran the entire city as a affirmative action program just like detroit.

      If they books were in order this would never have happened. NEVER.

      All the people in denial the last 30 years are to blame. Every mayor and city council member who knew they were hemorrhaging money, and instead said things were fine, and they were going to spend more and fix things. They need to have their names attached to this.

      The EM is not the EPA. It might shock you, only a few towns in recent years needed a EM, and they all have similar demographics with the same huckster leaders.

      Name one leader who said post early 90s, this town is a craphole we need to slash everything to stay afloat. Any fool can look at some graphs and see population plummet, expenses sky rocket. You do not need a MBA to see where this ends.

      So who had the nerve to say that?