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The Usual Suspects

Journalist ought to report what he's seen or heard Add to ...

Cautionary tales from the new media:

There has been consternation about a loud tiff between Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter and defenceman Dion Phaneuf after Calgary's 3-2 loss to Colorado on Tuesday. The shouting match - behind closed doors but audible to nearby reporters - came to light shortly after the game in a Twitter submission from Denver Post writer Adrian Dater. Naturally, the story went viral. The problem was that Dater was passing on second-hand information he'd received from other media who'd heard the yelling. Dater cited the information via Twitter, thinking he'd be only one of many to report the story.

Wrong. No one else touched the overheard confrontation till Dater reported it. (Then it went bonkers.) Which raises two ethical questions: Should Dater have passed on overheard info? On deadline, reporters often share quotes and tips with colleagues from out of town. In retrospect, Dater acknowledges he should have sourced the story personally.

"I regret putting out that tweet now," Dater wrote in the Post Wednesday. "I shouldn't pass along second-hand stuff like that. I thought I'd made it clear that I was just passing along what I'd heard, but I don't think I made that clear enough at all, and it came out too much like I'd heard it myself, and that it was gospel."

Which raises question two: Is a shouting match overheard through a door in a dressing room fair game? Many in Calgary took the move along, nothing to see here approach. Even Dater admits players and coaches frequently shout at each other in dressing rooms. But should reporters self-censor? Is it news if it happens or is heard in a public area? What if it's not a sports issue? What if it's personal?

Glad you asked. In practice, personal issues that do not affect a player's performance are considered off-limits to reporters (although even this is changing in the Sean Avery era). However, reporters should not presume to censor the news they observe. A public tiff between a coach and his star defenceman may seem old hat to a veteran beat reporter, but in this ultra-connected culture, the audience demands to make its own judgments. When reporters keep back such stories, the public is entitled to ask "What else are you not telling us?"

The stickiness of the story tells us that the public had great interest in the issue. Solution: The journalist ought to report what he's seen or heard, with the proviso that, in his or her opinion, these things happen all the time. Then let the reader judge.

Get Your Irish up

Soccer needs a j'accuse moment. A Zola in short pants to ask why the sport still accepts refereeing blunders that date back to Maradona's famous hand touch that sank England in the 1986 World Cup. The latest visually impaired epic occurred in Wednesday's France-Ireland match that sent France into the 2010 World Cup and Ireland back to the banks of the Liffey. Everyone in the sport seems to believe, oh well, it's simply the rub of the green that the refs missed Thierry Henry's handball that resulted in the 2-1 aggregate win for France. Like baseball, soccer continues to accept the charade of human error in its officiating.

Hello. We have this invention called television that shows virtually everything in super slow motion. FIFA should really look into it. We know that taking a look at a video replay might keep us from some Nureyev writhing on the pitch from a "fatal" blow or the umpteenth pass back to the keeper. But this TV thing actually works in other sports. Ireland's had a bad couple of years. It doesn't need to be bilked out of the World Cup. So look into this TV thing, FIFA. You might be surprised what you (finally) see.

Mea Culpa

Finally, to every spin there is a season. The latest fallen angel to mount a PR offensive is soccer dominatrix Elizabeth Lambert. The New Mexico defender made headlines by going all Tie Domi in a game with BYU. Hair pulling, punching, kicking … her intimidation racket went on YouTube around the globe.

To counter the impression that she's a tad aggressive, Lambert granted an interview to the New York Times this week. As the PR contrition handbook dictates, first do remorse: "I have so much regret. I can't believe I did that." Check. Next take the high road. "I'm not just out there trying to hurt players. That's taking away from the beauty of the game. And I would never want to do that." Check. Then cite victimization yourself. "I definitely feel because I am a female it did bring about a lot more attention than if a male were to do it." Check.

Now finish off with a dollop of 'you think I'm bad?' by pointing out that guys are turned on by the Amazon thing. "That appalled me. A lot of people think I have a lot of sexual aggression. I was like, 'Whoa, no, I don't feel that way at all.' That's bizarre and shocking to me." We're shocked, too, Elizabeth. Just not for the same reasons.

dowbboy@shaw.ca

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