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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mainstream Media Misinformation

Recently we had an interesting exchange at the Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR) discussion group http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/APBR/
on the subject of the reliability of various forms of media. One poster indicated that he does not read blogs at all because he only trusts information that comes from mainstream, commercial media; he believes that there are more controls in place there to ensure accuracy and accountability. I countered that every source of information should be consumed with a critical eye/mind. I have written for mainstream outlets such as Hoop, Basketball Digest and Sports Collectors Digest in addition to maintaining this blog, so I do not have an ax to grind relating to this issue.

Informed readers/viewers of mainstream media realize that name brand outlets sometimes convey information that is misleading, deceptive or just flat out wrong. Here are a couple examples from the first month of the NBA season. On Friday's edition of the ESPN show "Rome is Burning," Jim Rome and his panel discussed Larry Brown's coaching legacy. One of the panelists suggested that when Brown is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame it will take a big quilt to include the logos of all the teams that he has coached. Neither Rome nor the other panelist pointed out that (1) Brown was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2002 and (2) the Basketball Hall of Fame does not induct an individual as a member of a particular team (the panelist was probably thinking of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which creates a bust depicting the player wearing a cap from the team with which he is most identified if he played for more than one franchise).

Before we look at the next example, consider these two statements: "(Eddy) Curry is not just a good defender but is in actual fact an excellent defender..."; "...on average, Curry's poor defensive rebounding, subpar shot blocking makes for an overall poor defensive presence in the middle." What do you notice? If you said that the author should have used "make" when referring to multiple items instead of "makes," you are probably an English teacher; of course, what stands out is that the two statements make completely opposing assertions. Each statement was preceded by a lengthy recitation of statistics. What's so unusual about this? Well, the same author produced both sentences--the first appeared at the APBR Metrics forum in March and the second in an SI.com article in November. As the saying goes, the author feels strongly both ways about Curry's performance on defense, which is very convenient; whether or not Curry plays well on defense during the rest of this season, the author of these statements will be able to write that he predicted correctly.

The March statement came in response to my contention that Curry is a poor rebounder and defensive player. The quote that defines Curry's rebounding shortcomings came during his time as a Chicago Bull when his exasperated coach Scott Skiles was asked what the 6-11, 285 Curry needs to do to rebound better. "Jump," Skiles replied. With Curry the physical tools have always been present, but the rebounding and defensive production have been poor. Needless to say, I was surprised when the author not only argued against what is plainly obvious but also resorted to ad hominem remarks during the course of the exchange. In face to face conversations, usually the first person to lose control and start screaming is the one who knows that he has nothing substantive to offer to make his case, so he is forced to resort to distracting histrionics--"sound and fury signifying nothing." In the online world, insults and snide remarks are the equivalent of screaming.

When I read the SI.com article that made exactly the point that I had stated in March--and completely contradicted what the article's author had so vehemently asserted at that time--I wondered what had caused the article's author to change his mind; I also noticed that the article erred in stating that Shaquille O'Neal led the NBA in turnovers in 2004-05. He in fact did not even lead his own team in that category. So I posted a comment at APBR Metrics noting the mistake about Shaq's turnovers and asking if Curry has done something in the first 10 games this year that merits such a completely different evaluation of his defensive play. The author chose not to respond and the APBR Metrics administrator suggested that I should write to him privately. It seems odd that someone would write bold, contradictory statements for public consumption and then be unwilling to explain them publicly but I did email this author; I have not received a response. Eventually, others also chimed in on the subject and the author finally posted a response at APBR Metrics, making references to Prozac and the evolution versus creationism debate. He concluded that he will not waste his time explaining what he is saying to anyone who is not smart enough to figure out what he meant. Although this is apparently intended to be a shot at me, in fact it is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who read his contradictory statements and is not able to understand how both assertions could be accurate. Then the APBR Metrics administrator locked the topic, preventing anyone from making further posts on the subject. When someone resorts to ad hominem remarks, it is extremely tempting to fire back in kind--but that just lowers the level of discourse even further. I make a point of responding quickly and cordially to any feedback that I receive about my writing--there is no reason or justification to insult one's readers. It is disappointing that not everyone adheres to this approach.

Interested readers can find the whole APBR Metrics discussion of this topic here:
http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=440/

The original Curry statement appeared in a topic about Antoine Walker, a discussion that began with a simple question about Boston's resurgence after trading for Walker but degenerated into non-productive, off topic comments (including bringing Curry, a one-dimensional center, into a discussion about Walker, a power forward who rebounds, shoots threes and is a good playmaker). You can judge for yourself how/when that transformation happened. That topic can be found here:

http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=132&highlight=antoine+walker/

I later had the opportunity to speak with Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers and longtime NBA writer Bob Ryan about Antoine Walker. I used their quotes in my two part article about Walker. Here are links to that story:

Part I:

http://www.suite101.com/print_article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117473
/


Part II:

http://www.suite101.com/print_article.cfm/basketball_spotlight/117474
/

posted by David Friedman @ 6:30 PM

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