Viral eMail roils higher education once again
Oregon State forced to respond to a false internet rumor about a backroom deal involving Michelle Obama's brotherBy Dennis Carter, Assistant Editor
Read more by Denny Carter
March 31st, 2010
Have you heard the one about shady White House dealings that saved a college basketball coach’s job? The eMail rumor about Oregon State University coach Craig Robinson—President Obama’s brother-in-law—was read by millions on the web in March, serving as the latest example of how viral internet gossip can catch university officials off guard.
An eMail message charging that the Obama administration had pledged $17 million in stimulus funds to Oregon State as long as the university retained Robinson spread to web sites, blogs, and in-boxes under the subject lines “Stimulus Does Work” or “Stimulus Money…One Job Saved.” The message claimed that Robinson’s job was in danger, so the White House dispatched a Department of Education official to arrange a special stimulus award as part of an unreported quid pro quo.
The viral message stirred up so many questions that Oregon State officials had to debunk the rumor with an official statement released March 23.
The viral eMail said: “Some have said that the stimulus hasn’t saved any jobs, but here is a case where at least one job was saved. According to an unnamed source, Oregon State University Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis was considering firing their basketball coach, Craig Robinson, after an 8-11 start (2-5 in the Pac 10 conference).”
The message continued: “When word of this reached Washington, Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter was dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million in stimulus money for the university. The source now says that Craig Robinson’s job is safe for this year. For the record, Coach Robinson just happens to be Michelle Obama’s Brother.”
In its statement, Oregon State called the eMail message a “baseless rumor” that drew “queries … from numerous individuals, as well as from organizations that specialize in debunking internet falsehoods.”
One of those organizations was About.com’s Urban Legends blog, which said that “while it’s true that Oregon State University head basketball coach Craig Robinson is Michelle Obama’s brother, virtually everything else in this message is false.”
The Urban Legends blog cites a March 2 ESPN.com report about Robinson agreeing to a two-year contract extension with Oregon State, making him the head coach until the end of the 2015-16 season.
The university has received $26.4 million from the federal stimulus bill passed by Congress last year, and the university said in its statement that that money would fund 60 projects ranging from “climate change-related research developing a historic record of atmospheric carbon dioxide to a study of a new combination treatment for cancer.”
“OSU regrets that the above rumor unfortunately continues to be spread, and asks that individuals join the university in laying it to rest,” the statement says.
The Urban Legends site says there is “no record” of a visit from Kanter or any other federal official to discuss the terms of a deal to keep Robinson’s job.