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Extreme March Madness: Kim Mulkey vs. The Washington Post

LSU used a big second half to blow out Middle Tennessee on Sunday, 83-56, and roll into the Sweet 16. The third-seeded Tigers will play either Creighton or UCLA on Saturday.

The victory offers not just some rest for LSU, but more time for what has, thus far, been the most dramatic clash of the women’s tournament (or the men’s) — Tigers coach Kim Mulkey vs. The Washington Post.

Seemingly everything and anything has happened through the years in the men’s and women’s tournaments, but coaches preemptively warring with newspapers over yet-to-be published stories may be a new one.

Yet there was Mulkey in front of a microphone on Saturday revealing that the Post is working on what she perceives will be an unflattering story and threatening to sue a newspaper that has toppled presidencies.

March Madness indeed.

At this point, only so much is known since the Post hasn’t produced anything. Is it about Mulkey the person? Is it about the program? Is it a larger piece?

It’s all speculation. Mulkey left a few clues though, starting with she clearly thinks the story will make her or the program look bad. It's why she spent nearly three minutes reading a prepared statement in an effort to get out in front of whatever is being written. In the process, she also turned up the attention and anticipation of the story.

So let’s try to break this down using her full comments.

Mulkey: I wanted to publicly address what exactly this reporter for the Washington Post has been doing the past several years, and the lengths he has gone to try to put a hit piece together. This reporter has been working on a story about me for two years.

After two years of trying to get me to sit with him for an interview, he contacts LSU on Tuesday as we were getting ready for the first-round game of this tournament with more than a dozen questions, demanding a response by Thursday right before we're scheduled to tip off. Are you kidding me?

This was a ridiculous deadline that LSU and I could not possibly meet, and the reporter knew it. It was just an attempt to prevent me from commenting, and an attempt to distract us from this tournament. It ain't going to work, buddy.

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - MARCH 22: Head Coach Kim Mulkey of the LSU Tigers answers a question at the press conference during the first round of the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament held at Pete Maravich Assembly Center on March 22, 2024 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Kim Mulkey delivered a nearly two-minute statement on Saturday lambasting the Washington Post, which she says is preparing to run a hit piece against her. (Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The reporter is Kent Babb, whose work is highly respected. He has, per Mulkey, been working on this for a while, although that is not all he has worked on. In 2023, he published 13 stories, mostly about football and many of them positive in tone.

Mulkey said this will be a “hit piece” and she may be correct but it also remains to be seen. Also open for debate is whether two days is enough time to answer a dozen questions that Babb apparently communicated to LSU. Some would say that’s a generous amount of time. Others would point to Mulkey being busy trying to win a fifth national title.

Who knows what the questions entailed though.

Mulkey: Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern that goes back years. I told this reporter two years ago that I didn't appreciate the hit job he wrote on (LSU football coach) Brian Kelly, and that's why I wasn't going to do an interview with him.

After that, the reporter called two former college coaches of mine and left multiple messages that he was 'with me' in Baton Rouge to get them to call him back, trying to trick these coaches into believing that I was working with The Washington Post on a story. When my former coaches spoke to him and found out that I wasn't talking with the reporter, they were just distraught, and they felt completely misled.

The story Babb wrote “on Brian Kelly” was more about how in Louisiana (and pretty much every other state) there is seemingly unlimited money for the local college football coach but not other needs and social programs. It would be unfair to blame the system on Kelly or make him the villain. That wasn’t my takeaway from that story, however, that is just one opinion. If Mulkey saw it as a “hit job,” then that’s her right to categorize it as such.

Also her right: not speaking to the Washington Post. She doesn’t owe anyone an interview, let alone a reason to decline an interview.

Meanwhile, a reporter should never “trick” anyone into an interview but we only have Mulkey’s secondhand account that it happened, so we’ll see.

Mulkey: Former players have told me that The Washington Post has contacted them and offered to let them be anonymous in a story if they'll say negative things about me. The Washington Post has called former disgruntled players to get negative quotes to include in their story. They're ignoring the 40-plus years of positive stories that people — or they have heard from people about me.

This is the most notable comment on what the subject of the story could be. Mulkey was an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech from 1985-2000 and then spent 21 years at Baylor before taking over LSU three years ago.

She is one of the most successful coaches of all time — four national titles — but also one who has never backed down from a battle. Like anyone with a lengthy career, there will no doubt be critics and fans.

Is the Post story based on comments from past players, assistants and staffers — perhaps anonymous — that are unflattering or even scandalous to Mulkey? This part of her statement implies so. Again, she has seen the questions the Post asked, so she likely knows and brought up “disgruntled” former players herself.

As for the Post ignoring the positive stories, that isn’t yet known since the story hasn’t been published. If the story is just about calling around to find a few negative, but essentially mild, comments and experiences and only printing those, then Mulkey’s anger will be justified.

Mulkey: But you see, reporters who give a megaphone to a one-sided, embellished version of things aren't trying to tell the truth. They're trying to sell newspapers and feed the click machine. This is exactly why people don't trust journalists and the media anymore. It's these kinds of sleazy tactics and hatchet jobs that people are just tired of.

People definitely don’t trust journalists and the media … perhaps less than ever. This is a good rallying cry. Since the story hasn’t been published however, there is no telling whether it is “one-sided” or “embellished” or a “hatchet job.”

Mulkey: I'm fed up, and I'm not going to let The Washington Post attack this university, this awesome team of young women I have, or me without a fight. I've hired the best defamation law firm in the country, and I will sue The Washington Post if they publish a false story about me.

Not many people are in a position to hold these kinds of journalists accountable, but I am, and I'll do it. That's all I'm going to say about this right now. And now I'm going to get back to talking about my basketball team and winning this game tomorrow.

The likelihood of the Post publishing a story that violates libel laws is pretty slim. This is a serious operation and generally speaking the Post would have to know the story is categorically false and they printed it anyway to purposely harm Mulkey. That probably isn’t the case.

Still, if Mulkey thinks the story is going to contain false and damaging information, she absolutely should cry foul and try everything she can to defend herself and her program, legally or otherwise.

In the meantime, her team is in another Sweet 16.

“We're not going to let one sleazy reporter distract us from what we're trying to do,” Mulkey said Sunday.

In March’s most unexpected, but already quite heated clash, Mulkey isn’t backing down. Here is guessing the Post isn’t either.