Rob Parker probably deserved to get fired — but not like this.

The now-former Detroit News sports columnist was forced to resign last week, shortly after his controversial questions directed at now-fired Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. Parker has been a mediocre columnist and analyst of Detroit sports for years, and I’m actually surprised the News kept him around as long as it did. I’m astounded, however, that — having survived so many years with shoddy insights and writing — Parker was forced to resign because of a rare instance of brave, responsive reporting.

The event in question took place during the post game news conference with Marinelli following the Lions’s embarrassing 42-7 home loss to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 21. The loss made the Lions 0-15 for the season, just one loss away from “achieving” the first winless season the NFL has seen since going to the 16-game format.

Parker — as he often does, and not always wisely — decided to address a topic others would consider too dangerous. Whereas every other reporter in the room stood mesmerized by Marinelli’s poise and humility following another crushing defeat, Parker chose to set aside compassion and personal feelings and ask a tough question that he thought had to be asked.

The subject he chose to question was the Lions defensive coordinator, Joe Barry. It was an entirely reasonable line of questioning, given the following: The Lions had the worst defense in the league in terms of total yards and points surrendered — it wasn’t even close — and yet the defensive coordinator still had his job.

I think we can all agree that it shouldn’t matter that Barry is Marinelli’s son-in-law — if he’s a bad coordinator, then he’s a bad coordinator — but for some reason, it mattered a lot. Parker tried to steer the conversation to why Barry still had a job, and Marinelli, like the good soldier he was in Vietnam all those years ago, continued to take the hits himself and protect his charge, who also happened to be his son-in-law.

I admit that I’m amazed at how much class and control Marinelli showed throughout a miserable season of excruciating press conferences. Not once did he ever lose his cool or blame someone else. That’s all good, but it doesn’t justify dodging a relevant question, and that’s exactly what Marinelli was doing that day.

Parker’s final question, the one that allegedly crossed the line was this: “On a lighter note, do you wish your daughter married a better defensive coordinator?” The question’s very premise indicates it wasn’t a serious jab. Parker even prefaced that question with “on a lighter note,” so forgive me if I fail to see how that crosses the line at all.

Parker was universally criticized afterward for allegedly “making it personal,” but his self-righteous critics (most of them dim-witted, ex-question-dodging meatheads like Terry Bradshaw) missed one important point: It was Marinelli who chose to make it personal the day he hired his son-in-law as defensive coordinator.

As one of the few Lions fans who watched every game and absorbed every bit of analysis throughout this horrific season, I, of all people, should have known that Barry was Marinelli’s son-in-law. And yet, up until the moment Parker asked that question, I and likely thousands of others had no idea that was the case. While I’m sure that superbly relevant point was reported somewhere sometime, the majority of reporters and analysts avoided it out of fear that it crossed a line.

And that’s what reporting has become these days. Reporters are still good at their jobs and know how to dig, but suddenly there’s a fear about pursuing certain facets of the truth. Whether it’s something relatively trivial on the grand scale like Marinelli’s son-in-law or something with much higher stakes (wars and weapons of mass destruction, for instance), the media simply seems to have lost its appetite for responsiveness and accountability. Instead, the media has developed love for what it covers (see: Barack Obama) — and that’s unacceptable.

Sure, the media is indeed supposed to have a heart. It’s supposed to have a heart for rape victims and whistleblowers who need anonymity. It isn’t supposed to have a heart for public figures who screw up and then are spared scrutiny because personal issues might have somehow been involved. That’s simply a case of the media failing in its fundamental, fourth estate purpose. No wonder newspapers everywhere are failing.

Rob Parker did something right that day. He may have been a prick, but that’s often the job of a reporter. It would be great if more reporters got to work once again.

Imran Syed was a former editorial page editor for the Daily. He can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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