Wednesday, February 21, 2007

MBP of the Week: Chicago Tribune (again)

You won’t believe this one. Boy, it has been a bad month for the Chicago Tribune.

I take that back. It’s been a super-shitty month for Tribune sportswriter Lew Freedman.

One week ago, I pointed out how the Trib published a long feature about ex-NBA player Kevin Gamble, but ran a file photo of Dee Brown (one of Gamble’s old Boston Celtic teammates) misidentified as Gamble.

That story was written by Lew Freedman.

Yesterday, the Trib published another feature story by Lew Freedman, this one about DePaul University baller Marcus Heard (above bottom). The headline read: “Demons’ Heard makes grade.” It was all about how Marcus Heard is a good student and a good citizen, on top of being a good athlete.

Freedman quoted Heard’s coach, Jerry Wainright, who said: “He's a great study of a young man who's pushing the envelope. … I love Marcus Heard. He opens doors for people. He says thank you.”

Freedman even quoted Heard’s mama, who said: “With Marcus, it was never if he was going to go to college, it was always when. He is very serious about his school.”

Nice story. Very nice. Only one problem…

Yes. Amazingly, the Chicago Tribune did it again, running a picture of Heard’s Blue Demon teammate Wilson Chandler (above top) misidentified as Heard.

Today, the Trib ran this correction: “On Page 3 of Tuesday’s Sports section, an incorrect photo appeared with a story on DePaul's Marcus Heard. The photo showed Wilson Chandler instead of Heard. Here is a photo of Heard.”

Well, that fixes that.

I emailed Lew Freedman this morning, introduced myself, and asked a few questions. Such as: Whose fault was this? Who screwed up? (Assignment editor? Copy editor? Photo editor?) Did you take any steps after the Kevin Gamble mix-up to ensure that such a thing never happened again? Will you try to do so now? Can you describe your feelings concerning these mistakes? Embarrassment, I suppose (even though they weren’t your fault)? Did you call Gamble and Marcus Heard yourself to apologize on behalf of your newspaper?

And so forth.

Freedman emailed me back to say he passed my questions up the chain of command to his boss, Dan McGrath.

If I don’t hear back from Mr. McGrath – and I haven’t yet – I won’t be surprised. Not because of my lowly status as a neophyte blogger. But because McGrath is probably still red-faced (literally) over a whopper of a Misidentified Black Person that occurred last summer.

In that case, McGrath himself wrote the 12-paragraph correction that appeared in the Trib. Here’s what happened:

A former NBA player named Eddie Johnson was arrested last August in Florida, charged with sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl. Alas, there are two former NBA players named Eddie Johnson. The other one is now a broadcaster in Phoenix. That one – the one not charged with child sexual assault – grew up in Chicago and played ball at the University of Illinois. Which gave the Tribune’s editors a reason (so they thought) to pick up the Associated Press report on Eddie Johnson’s arrest.

The Trib didn’t run a picture (thank God), but it misidentified Eddie Johnson by inserting wrong information into the AP’s account. To wit, this headline: “Former NBA, Illini star accused of sexual assault.”

The Eddie Johnson who got arrested wasn’t an Illini; he played his college ball at Auburn University.

So sports editor Dan McGrath addressed the matter on August 10, 2006, under the headline “An apology to Chicago’s Eddie Johnson.”

“Factual errors erode a paper’s credibility,” McGrath began. “We made an inadvertent but hurtful error Tuesday night in an effort to get as much news as possible into Wednesday’s final edition of the Tribune sports section, and we would like to apologize to Eddie Johnson, his family and friends, and our readers.

“An Associated Press story detailing the arrest of ‘former NBA All-Star Eddie Johnson’ moved across the wire late Tuesday, and a decision was made to get it into the ‘Press Box’ segment of the sports section, where our sports briefs go.

“In Chicago, former NBA star Eddie Johnson means Eddie Johnson, 47, a 6-foot-7-inch forward from Westinghouse High School and the University of Illinois, the Eddie Johnson who went on to a 17-year pro career with seven NBA teams. The Eddie Johnson who was distinguished as much by good citizenship and charity work as by 19,202 career points….

“Unfortunately, the man arrested Tuesday was ‘the other’ Eddie Johnson, 51, a 6-2 guard from Auburn who had a 10-year career with three NBA teams and has been in and out of trouble with the law since he quit playing in 1987. …”

McGrath then bent over backwards to proclaim: “Anyone who knows or has had even limited contact with Chicago’s Eddie Johnson would find it unfathomable that he would be linked to such behavior” as sexual battery.

“For the record,” McGrath continued, “Chicago’s Eddie Johnson remains extensively involved in charity work, including motivational speaking and basketball clinics for kids. In addition to his broadcasting duties, he is president of a Phoenix telecommunications firm. He got his degree from Illinois in 1981, and he was and is regarded as one of the NBA’s model citizens.”

McGrath’s apology ends with this quote from Eddie Johnson himself: “It has been a tough day, but I appreciate you trying to set the record straight.”

Johnson might sound forgiving in that quote, but he expressed his hurt to the East Valley Tribune, a Phoenix-area newspaper, when the mistake hit the streets.

“This is why athletes have so many problems with the media,” Johnson told the Arizona paper. “They don’t do their homework. They don’t bother to check facts before they write things…. I’m sitting here dumbfounded because 47 years of building a reputation is being destroyed in one morning by something I had nothing to do with. I’ve been getting nasty emails all morning. It’s a nightmare.”

Getting back to the Chicago Tribune’s latest fuck-up, it occurs to me that the number of MBPs could be drastically reduced if newspapers simply stopped covering the sport of basketball. It may be the only way.

Recently, in the space of two weeks, the San Francisco Chronicle misidentified three different college or high-school basketball players in photo captions. All were black. Here are the Chronicle’s corrections:

“In Thursday’s Sporting Green, a photo of Cal women’s basketball player Keanna Levy was published with an article about her teammate Ashley Walker.” – January 26, 2007

“In Sunday’s Sporting Green, a caption for a photograph from the men’s basketball game between Stanford and Cal misidentified a Stanford player covering Cal’s Ayinde Ubaka. The player was Fred Washington.” – February 5, 2007

“A photo caption in Wednesday’s Sporting Green misidentified a Wallenberg High basketball player. Chibuzo Emeka is the athlete shooting the layup.” – February 8, 2007

I guess this bullshit happens in threes. So Dan McGrath, you know what that means? Time to buy some fucking eye drops, dude!

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: No, I’m not done yet with this round of MBPs. These next two will amuse and/or annoy any soul music fan.

The Hartford Courant ran this correction on February 16: “Singer Eddie LeVert was a member of the O’Jays, not the Temptations, as was incorrectly stated in a CD review on Page 6 of Thursday’s Cal section.”

(By the way, it should be spelled “Levert.”)

And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted this correction on its website yesterday: “ ‘This Old Heart of Mine’ was recorded by the Isley Brothers. It was incorrectly attributed to the Temptations in a Rod Stewart concert review published online on Feb. 18, 2007.”

THE GRAVE WILL NOT PROTECT YOU: Finally, I wasn’t familiar with this gentleman because I’m not into the blues. But the Los Angeles Times ran this correction on February 14: “An obituary of guitarist and musician Eric von Schmidt that appeared in Monday’s California section misidentified blues guitarist Blind Boy Fuller as Blind Dog Fuller.”

Ain’t that a bitch?


Anonymous said...

Fucked up, but unless you're dealing with a very, very small newspaper (which the Tribune is not), it's the editors who are in charge of photos, headlines and cutlines, not the journalist. The journalist only writes the story.

Undercover Black Man said...

Oh, I know this, anon. That's why I put the onus on sports editor Dan McGrath. My heart breaks for the reporter, Lew Freedman. He wrote two good stories... both spoiled by these screw-ups by who-knows-who.

Still, if this had happened once on a story of mine, I might've been extra cautious in future profiles of black basketball players, and might've injected myself deeper into the editorial process. Like double-checking the layout and the cutline with my own eyes. Because, as you know doubt realize, regardless of what faceless drone made the actual error, it reflects horribly on the person whose byline is on the story.

Undercover Black Man said...

Anon: I've edited my post to make clear that the reporter didn't make these mistakes.

Anonymous said...

If it's true, as McGrath says, that "anyone who knows or has had even limited contact with Chicago’s Eddie Johnson would find it unfathomable that he would be linked to such behavior," why was the Tribune so quick to rush it into print without checking? You'd think, if it was so unfathomable, someone would have say, "Hey, wait a minute. That doesn't sound right. Are you sure we have the right Eddie Johnson?"

And it's unfortunate, but you also have to ask: If Eddie Johnson was a white player, would the Tribune have been more careful?

Undercover Black Man said...

Daniel, you wrote: "... why was the Tribune so quick to rush it into print without checking?"

That question goes unanswered in McGrath's "apology." I truncated it a bit for space, but he wrote that the nature of the crime should've been a "red flag." Yeah, obviously... What needs explaining is why the red flag wasn't heeded?

Also, I don't like McGrath's tone of ass-covering and noble puffery at the top; This happened in our rush to pack as much news as possible into our paper, because that's what drives us, dear reader.

I sure hope that guy answers my email.

Becky said...


Anonymous said...

I came across your site a couple of days ago and just wanted to leave a quick comment to say I enjoyed your writing. I wasn't sure whether you were only critiquing mainstream newspapers over their "all negroes look alike" stance, but on the February 24, Getty Images coverage of the Queen Latifah Vibe Hollywood Gala, they have Christina Milian misidentified in 2 photos as Rihanna (with properly labeled photos of Rihanna on the same page). I am constantly amazed that mistakes like this happen all the time and that it tends to happen to black people even when they're ostensibly famous, also because I really don't think Christina M and Rihanna look anything alike; one has clearly shorter and straighter hair than the other. I doubt we'd ever see a picture of Kelly Osbourne misidentified as Pink even though they're arguably more C-list than Christina M and Rihanna are...

bill said...

Does Felicity Huffman get an honorable mention for her performance at the Spirit Awards? She mispronounced Shareeka Epps twice. Calling her "Shakira" when reading the nominees and again when reading the winner for best actress. Upon reaching the stage, Epps first words were: "Oh, my name's Shareeka by the way."