Monday, August 16, 2010

The PGA controversy, Plagiarizing at The Times, and Jim Gray

I know, I's been awhile.  Just back from my niece's lovely wedding in Chevy Chase, Md., where more than one friend commented on the abandonment of Swift Kicks since the Vancouver Olympics.  The truth is, I've turned into a farmer this summer, having requisitioned a plot at the Carlisle Community Gardens, and haven't had the least inclination to sit down and write.  I used to think time and tide waited for no man.  Now my standard for unrelenting impatience is summer squash and green beans waiting to be picked.  You want tomatoes?  Right now my counter is covered with about 150 of them in various shapes and sizes in search of a mouth or a recipe.  It's enough to make a man sit down and face his blog.

It was a fascinating final round at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin.  As most of you know by now, Dustin Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 18th hole, an infraction that cost him a spot in the playoff.  It was a sad thing for Johnson and the tournament, but CBS announcers made it sadder than it should have been.  Announcer David Feherty practically wept while revisiting the offending bunker, telling CBS viewers it never crossed his mind it was, in fact, a bunker, rather than a bare patch of ground.  He could see no discernible lip, no rake, and footprints were all over the sand, left by spectators who'd been standing there.  His take?  Johnson had been jobbed.
     I like Feherty, but I have trouble believing it never crossed his mind Johnson was in a bunker.  While watching the telecast, when I saw Johnson ground his club while addressing the ball, my heart immediately jumped.  It was clear to me he was in one of those shoddy bunkers: there are something like 1200 of them scattered around that course.  None of CBS's announcers--Jim Nantz, Feherty, Nick Faldo--said anything when Johnson grounded his club, however, so I assumed the bunkers beyond the ropes had been designated waste areas.  A waste area is not considered a hazard, and golfers are allowed to take practice swings and ground their clubs when in them.  Why?  Because waste areas aren't raked, and the surface of the sand is uneven and unpredictable within them, often marred by footprints and tire tracks.  The bunker Dustin Johnson found himself in on the 18th hole, which the gallery had been standng in, was just such a place.  It should have been declared a waste area, but it hadn't been.  PGA officials had specifically posted signs in the media center and the locker rooms alerting players to the fact that those areas were considered hazards and to be treated as if they were bunkers.  Johnson should have known that.  Feherty, who had the benefit of going back and standing in the bunker, certainly should have recognized it for what it was.  And Nantz and Faldo should have known the local rule and said something while Feherty was carrying on as if Johnson had been robbed.  Eventually a PGA rules official interviewed by Peter Kostis cleared the matter up.  But it was not the finest bit of sports television I've ever seen.  Then again, none of those involved--Nantz, Faldo or Feherty--should be considered a journalist. 
     So what's Jim Gray's excuse?  This guy makes Keith Olbermann look objective.  First there was his absurd performance during the LeBron James telecast a few weeks ago on ESPN, in which the self-aggrandizing Gray waited six minutes to ask the only question a real journalist would have cared to ask: Which team was James jumping to?  I didn't think it was possible for him to sink any lower, but he managed to on the eve of the PGA Championship, when Gray confronted Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin outside the press center, jabbed his chest with his finger, called Pavin a "liar", and told Pavin he was "going down."  Huh?  Down where?  The hole that Gray crawled out of?  Pavin's offense?  He told the press conference that Gray had misquoted him when Gray reported on the Golf Channel that Pavin said he'd offer Tiger Woods a spot on the Ryder Cup team, even if Tiger didn't qualify for one of the automatic selections. 
      My take?  Anyone who's ever covered sports for any length of time has been accused of misquoting an athlete.  It's very possible Pavin told Gray exactly what Gray reported.  It's also possible he told it to him off the record.  It's possible there was a misunderstanding between the two about what was on and off the record.  These things happen.  Athletes say things all the time they later regret.  Often the default response is to say they were misquoted.  Or misinterpreted.  It's happened to me a couple of times over the years.  The way for a journalist to handle it is to privately discuss the athlete's concerns with him (or her), and, if you still believe you are right, to publicly stand by your story.   That's it.  "I stand by my story."  No name calling.  No jabbing in the chest.  No calling someone a liar.  And certainly no threatening that "You're going down!!"?  Gray was unprofessional to the extreme.  It was, and is, inexcusable.  Any network that hires him going forward should know what they are getting: an unprofessional personality with axes to grind.  Not a journalist.
       Finally--while speaking of bad journalism--under the category of Low Moments in the New York Times, we have The Case of Who Plagiarized Whom?
    In Lynn Zinser's news story on the final round of the PGA Championship (Monday, Aug. 16) she writes the following about Phil Mickelson: "But on Sunday he finally got hot.  He eagled the par-5 No. 5 early and then had birdies on three consecutive holes.  He hit nice putts on Nos. 12 and 13 and hit his approach within two feet for birdie on No. 14.  That put him at seven under.  He stayed there until a wild ride on 18, which led to a bogey and a round of 67."
     Succinctly put.  This was another article in this morning's NY Times, written by Thomas Kaplan, entitled On Par, under the subhead Mickelson Steadies Himself: "But on Sunday, he finally heated up.  He eagled the par-5 No. 5 early, then had birdies on three consecutive holes.  He hit nice putts on Nos. 12 and 13 and hit his approach within two feet for birdie on No. 14.  That put him at seven under.  He stayed there until a wild ride on 18, which led to a bogey and finished a round of 67."
       If it were not for two minor discrepancies ("got hot" by Zinser vs. "heated up" by Kaplan; and the word "finished" in the last sentence by Kaplan), the paragraphs would have been identical and I would have assumed it was some sort of computer screw up.  But since those two descriptions of Mickelson's round were almost, but not exactly, the same, the hand of man is apparent.  So who wrote it, and who copied it?  I smell a nameless editor's hand in this foul till.
     Or maybe great minds think alike.  Strange brewings in Kohler, for sure.  All in all, an exciting PGA Championship that some of us would just as soon forget. 



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