It Isn’t A “Hit Piece.” Chances Are The Story You’re Worried About Isn’t Either

I can’t remember when it started, but now I hear it several times a year.

I’ll get a call from a potential client, or more regularly their legal counsel, worried about a “hit piece” they think is coming in the form of a news story.

I try to explain to them that, in reality, there’s almost no such thing. Sure, there are tough stories about negative subjects. There are stories that are challenging to handle. There are topics that are difficult to talk about, that you wish never saw the light of day. But in mainstream journalism, especially local news, a solar eclipse is more common than what worried subjects think of as a “hit piece” – where a reporter supposedly designs a strawman that portrays a subject negatively because of an agenda and then works to fill in the blanks to fulfill that vision, contacting the subject at the last possible minute for a “check the box” comment. In fact, in more than 25 years, to my best recollection, I’ve only seen two up-close, and they were both by the same reporter at the same outlet.

A week ago, Louisiana State University women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey used a press conference to draw attention to an upcoming Washington Post story that otherwise might have been a pretty ordinary profile of a high-profile figure in a sports growing in popularity at its most visible time of the year. Mulkey characterized the story as a “hit piece” and threatened to sue the Post, while making broad statements about “the media” that would fit right in at a MAGA rally. Some might argue she “got in front of” the story. But thanks to her venom, more than anything, she built interest in the story, especially when word came out that the reporter had been trying to interview her for two years.

The story is online now. Once upon a time, when Sports Illustrated would publish pieces like this on a weekly basis, it would probably be considered a profile. Mulkey didn’t participate in the story, but the Post still tried to find quotes to balance it as much as they could otherwise. It’s not always flattering but did at least try to be comprehensive. It’s about what most observers of the situation who actually read The Washington Post expected.

This was no “hit piece.” While I’m not a lawyer, I also hear from hot-under-the-collar story subjects who want to sue news outlets. None actually has. So it’s think it’s fair to say there’s nothing that warrants a lawsuit here.

Kim Mulkey is a public figure who, based on the public persona she has created for herself, attracts attention every time she steps foot onto a basketball court and onto a press conference podium. To paraphrase a famous line from a famous movie – this is the business she has chosen. That means she’s going to have to deal with some tough news coverage from time to time. That is simply the reality.