Clowns Like Stephen A. Smith Ruin Things for Real JournalistsNo one has ever mistaken Stephen A. Smith's overheated TV ramblings as real journalism but the most recent misadventure of ESPN's clown prince demonstrates how much harm fake reporters cause to real journalists. Smith asserted that if Kevin Durant does not re-sign with Oklahoma City then Durant could end up with the L.A. Lakers. Smith cited no source for his statement and Durant responded by emphatically declaring that neither he nor anyone in his camp spoke with Smith and that therefore Smith is lying. Durant has every right to publicly correct non-sourced reports about him and to make it clear that he does not provide information to Smith. Things went south in a hurry, though, when Smith took a bunch of ad hominem shots at Durant on ESPN before issuing a direct warning to Durant, "You don't want to make an enemy out of me."
My response to Smith is simply one word: "Why?" Why act like an idiot on national television (not that acting like an idiot is new for Smith, but the question is still valid)? Why threaten a pro basketball player just because he refuted the notion that he speaks with you and provides you with information?
One might be tempted to laugh at Smith's self-important cries for attention and his apparent belief that every NBA player must bow down to him but Smith's antics are the symptom of a deeper problem that is endemic at ESPN and also applies to many other media outlets; basically, ESPN either hires people who are buffoons and instructs them to act like buffoons or ESPN hires people who used to be real journalists and pays them a lot of money to act like buffoons. I don't want to paint everyone at ESPN with a broad brush. Hubie Brown is one of the greatest NBA analysts of all-time. Jeff Van Gundy is great, even if his knowledge of pre-1980 basketball history seems sketchy at times. Steve Young's NFL commentary is masterful. There are a few other ESPN reporters and commentators who do great work as well--but the overall trend is buffoonery and sensationalism, exemplified by the network's shameful coverage of the deflated football "scandal" that they helped to create and perpetuate.
Why does this matter? Athletes are understandably fed up with dealing with buffoons, so when a real journalist attempts to interview an athlete the real journalist is often met with resistance. When I first started interviewing current and retired players in the early 2000s, many of my subjects were initially reticent or even hostile because they had been through so many bad experiences with media members who misquoted them, took things out of context and just generally did not know what they were doing--and the situation is even worse now than it was a little more than a decade ago. I broke down those walls by proving that (1) I know my stuff and (2) I am trustworthy with my word and reliable when quoting their words.
During last season's NBA All-Star Break, Durant blasted the media for playing favorites and twisting people's words, indicating that he only spoke to the media now to avoid being fined. Durant also declared to the media members surrounding him at that moment, "You guys really don't know s---." Not surprisingly, many media members took offense and criticized Durant but Durant spoke the truth. Many people who are covering the NBA do not understand the sport, nor do they know basic principles of journalism.
I have interviewed Durant a few times, with my most extensive interview coming in November 2008, during the early portion of his second season in the league. He came across as an earnest and nice person, not yet cynical about media members. I asked him about Coach Scott Brooks shifting him back to his natural forward position after previous Oklahoma City Coach P.J. Carlesimo had inexplicably played Durant at shooting guard. My Durant article was both fair to Durant and informative to my readers. I did not misquote him or write anything sensationalistic but I provided a glimpse into how he and Brooks (who I also interviewed) felt about the situation. Now, thanks to clowns like Smith, it would be much harder to get that kind of access to Durant and conduct that kind of interview, because Durant rightly views with suspicion anyone who wears a media credential.
Smith's tired act is a disservice to real journalists everywhere.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:35 AM