The need for speed has been everywhere lately and it's claiming victims again in the journalistic world – this time over the reckless speed used by some media organizations in trying to break the death of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose legendary career was ended by a child sex scandal. Paterno died Sunday morning of complications from cancer.
But not before CBS Sports erroneously used Twitter to announce Paterno's death on Saturday night. The news sped across the Twitterverse, with the Huffington Post posting an obituary and many high-profile journalists adding their condolences. Then, the Paterno family emerged to say that their father was not dead and still fighting for his life.
CBS Sports went into apology mode, saying it had relied on an "unsubstantiated report," adding that "CBSSports.com holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations." You might say that.
How an organization as big as CBS fails to confirm a death with the family is inexcusable. Huffington Post, a liberal website, doesn't have the same resources as CBS, but it only takes one call to check a fact – which Huffington reportedly did not do. (Maybe it was preoccupied by Newt Gingrich winning the Republican primary in South Carolina?)
The haste to be first reminded many here in Canada how the Damien Cox and other outlets announced the death of former NHL coach Pat Burns in September of 2010. Burns quickly phoned in to say he was still alive. (Burns died two months later.) Speed kills, especially when editors and reporters don't do the most basic fact-checking.
As TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted, "I get desire to report news first but on imminent death, here's a novel concept: why not wait for family or team/league to make it official."
The death of Canadian skier Sarah Burke from injuries sustained in competition has led many to wonder about an athlete's need for speed and danger. What hasn't been discussed is the role of television in the deaths of skiers and auto racers – as well as in the more devastating injuries in hockey, football and other contact sports.
Put simply, TV craves excitement like a skier craves fresh powder. The lens is bored with the ordinary and seeks daredevils to fly faster, higher, farther. To seek new aerial tricks or touchdown catches that defy gravity. To invite spectacular mid-ice bodychecks and drivers who'll run next to the wall at 200 miles an hour.
In an age in which fame on TV is the new panacea, putting yourself (and others) in harm's way is the Express Pay line to recognition. In this, there are many willing takers such as Burke, those who will move closer to the edge on a half pipe to land a new trick. Or those in team sports who will attempt more violent bodychecks and crushing tackles to find their way onto TSN's SportsCentre or Sportsnet Connected.
There is, after all, no need to push the danger zone. Compelling auto races can still be conducted five miles an hour slower. Football tackles can be made with something less than kill-shot kamikaze intensity by simply wrapping up a runner. Hockey checks can simply take the puck from opponents rather that take out their teeth. But in a desensitized society, that safe stuff is so yesterday. From our couches, we demand the adrenalin jolt from a highlight pack – and TV obliges.
Burke was a star of ESPN's X Games and was going to be a TV star as the favourite in her event at the 2014 Winter Olympics. To many, it doesn't get much better than that. But as Burke discovered, that notoriety comes with a price tag.
Wondering why CBC chose the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators game on Saturday afternoon over the terrific 4-3 Vancouver Canucks win over the San Jose Sharks played at the same time? Why wouldn't the Corp. want the game in the larger market and with the Western Conference leaders? Or how about the Boston Canucks-Vancouver instant classic two Saturdays ago? Both were carried on Sportsnet Pacific.
Well, Hockey Night in Canada has the rights to 14 Canucks games with the option for one other this season. When the schedule was drawn up, Hockey Night opted for more Saturday night games to fill out its doubleheaders. Why? Probably because you can charge advertisers more for the night games than afternoon games.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, who's had his disagreements with Hockey Night in the past, shrugged off the choice. "We have a good partner in Sportsnet," he told Usual Suspects. "We got a record rating for the Boston game. We have no desire to be Canada's team. We'll leave that to Toronto. We belong to Vancouver and B.C."
Nails on blackboard
First, why would you have Steven Tyler of Aerosmith butcher the Star-Spangled Banner before the American Football Conference Championship game? Second, why was CBS featuring a guy who's a star on rival Fox juggernaut, American Idol? And third, see No. 1 above. Just askin'.
Finally, bless former NFL referee Mike Pereira, who now works for Fox TV. While everyone covering the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots game for rival CBS missed Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski getting both feet in on an important play in the first half, Pereira immediately jumped on it, saying it should be reviewed. While the video was clear that Gronkowski's catch was good, CBS never said boo even when the replay ran.