The biggest story in sports this week was USC football player Josh Shaw, who went from Hero to Zero in a matter of hours, and is now suspended from the Trojans while the LAPD investigates the situation. At the center of the story – from a point of view of some media and Trojans fans – was Heather Brittany, a USC graduate who is now a lawyer in California. Hours after USC announced Wednesday that it needed to vet Shaw’s story, this tweet from Brittany kicked the story into overdrive. What’s it like having your tweet go viral, and being on the receiving end of multiple calls from the media and tweets/emails from rabid fans?
Q: So, how was your Tuesday out there in California? Probably a slow work week with the holiday coming up and all.
Heather: Ha. It’s actually an absolutely crazy work week. But, that’s always how it seems to be … when things are crazy they always manage to get crazier. Fortunately on Tuesday I got into the office a little after 7am so when things starting stirring up with USC I was able to see what was going on. After my tweet, I pretty much went dark and right back into work. I think I checked my twitter at the end of the night and had over 200 mentions (99% of which were well-wishes, kisses and rainbows).
Q: So how many media outlets called your office after your tweet?
Sources: Josh Shaw was involved in an incident involving domestic abuse & jumped off a 3rd story window while running from LAPD. #USC
— Heather Brittany (@HeatherBrit) August 26, 2014
Heather: Oh goodness, enough that I owe our receptionist a bottle of wine. I had her send them all to voicemail, so I am not sure how many actually called, but I had seven voicemails by the end of the day (and two emails).
Heather: Someone called me the “worst alumni since OJ.” So, that’s totally rational.
It’s not just a USC thing … unfortunately people get so obsessed and invested in something they lose sight of reality (and become absolute psychos). If I had a child who stole something, I wouldn’t turn the other cheek and pretend it didn’t happen in order to “protect” his reputation, I would drag him down to the store, make him explain what he did, apologize and return the item. On Monday I posted Shaw’s commencement speech and went on about how this guy was the definition of who you wanted to lead your school. And then Tuesday, I tweeted that unfortunately, I was hearing his pool rescue story was totally fabricated. News is news…
Q: Given how you’ve now broken a couple stories on the USC “beat,” do you think that’s maybe why so many media outlets called/emailed you trying to get the story?
Heather: Ha. I’m not sure anyone knows or really cares about the previous stories; in fact, people still call me a liar about the locker room fight after the Sun Bowl. I think the pool rescue was such a compelling story and for it to possibly be a lie was even crazier, so media outlets were grabbing at whatever they could to get any information.
Q: Josh Shaw now has a lawyer, and he’s refusing to talk to the police. The LAPD told the LA Times today they are investigating a possible domestic violence situation. Clearly, you’ve got some good sources.
Heather: He hired a criminal attorney. I recall seeing a quote from his attorney saying that smart people hire attorneys, which I obviously agree with. Whether there is a criminal investigation (which, as you mention, it sounds like there might be) or not, it was a smart move. At the very least, it was smart to hire an attorney to avoid incriminating himself. However, I also think it may alienate him from Sarkisian and USC and hurt his chances of playing for the Trojans again. But yes, I have great sources and part of the reason is I promise anonymity; people speculate about who my sources are, but they are not even close to correct.
Q: You’ve been in the middle of USC brush fires before, but this was a five alarm blaze in the middle of a slow sports week, and Shaw’s story led Sportscenter and was featured on the Today Show, among other places. Hindsight is always 20/20, but IF you could go back a few days and take back your tweet – it has over 1,800 RTs – would you?
This is something I went back and forth with and actually mentioned on twitter. I spent a few hours agonizing not only my credibility, but also the reputation of Josh Shaw. What if I just spread a rumor about a 22 year-old, who by all accounts seems to be the ideal leader? What if my sources were victims of the rumor mill? But, I trusted them and I also really believed something was incredibly off with his story. Yes, I did not have first-hand knowledge, but those I spoke to were adamant about the fact that Shaw was lying and that it was actually a domestic dispute. In law, to file a complaint (essentially initiate a lawsuit) you need enough to allege a plausibility that what you are alleging occurred. You don’t need to “prove” it yet, that comes at trial, all you need is enough for the court to believe what you allege plausibly could have occurred. I trusted my sources, I believed the stories I heard were not merely plausible, but probable. I could not “prove” anything, but there was enough information that I believed he was lying; I followed my intuition. So, to answer your question, no.