Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Whatever Happened To Journalistic Integrity?!?

Athletes are often criticized for being dismissive, and somewhat hostile to the press. Barry Bonds more or less ruined his shot at the Hall Of Fame by being perceived as standoffish and confrontational with those whose job it is to cover him. It's easy for those of us who live normal lives that nobody's interested in to find fault with Bonds' actions, but seriously, how many of us would be outwardly hospitable to people who might have made up total and complete lies about us? I'm not saying Bonds was right, but come on. Yes, those in the press have a large bearing on how the public perceives athletes (and any public figure for that matter). But reporters also should have some level of integrity and be certain that what they are reporting is both correct, and in reasonably good taste.

This weekend, on Father's Day no less, The Washington Post published a wordy expose on Kentucky point guard John Wall, a guy who will likely be the Washington Wizards #1 pick in Thursday's NBA draft. For even the casual DC sports fan, Wall's arrival is being trumpeted as the coming of a savior, as players with his level of talent and off court magnetism can lift a miserable franchise like the Wizards from mediocrity. He is the best pure prospect to enter the NBA since Lebron. Or at least that what the folks trying to sell me season tickets are saying. Doesn't matter, I'm buying anyway.

Anyways, if you're not familiar with Wall's backstory, it's sorta interesting. Raised by a single mother in my hometown of Raleigh, NC, Wall had to overcome a huge personal tragedy early in life when his father died due to a bout with liver cancer. Wall's travails with overcoming teenage years full of displaced anger to become the best college basketball player in the nation last year have already been well covered. Likewise, the fact that Wall's father spent many of Wall's formative years in prison is well known. What's never been discussed is exactly why his dad was in prison.

The Post story started out as a very well-intended expose on Wall's relationship with his long deceased father, and how the kid's admiration of his Dad has turned him into the man he is today. But somewhere along the way, Post reporter Eric Prisbell decided to probe a bit too much into why Wall's father was in prison, and in my opinion, made the sort of journalistic decision that makes both athletes and readers not trust newspapers anymore.

Wall's mother, for probably lots of very obvious reasons, made the decision to not tell her kids why their father had been incarcerated prior to his death. Yes, all of this stuff is public record, and thus easy for anyone who cares to go look up. Wall's mother didn't tell him, not did Wall want to know. Prisbell, the reporter, decided instead to go dig up the information himself (without the family's consent) and more or less "spring" it on Wall during a casual conversation as part gathering info for the story.

Turns out Wall's father was charged with 2nd degree murder.

So now, Wall begins a new career in a new city with the specter of everyone knowing his belated father as a killer. That information would have been hard enough for an adult to willingly discover. For a 19-year old to have that information unwillingly dumped on his lap, against the wishes of his family is downright callous. For the Post reporter to do this is classless, and oddly enough, really didn't add anything of value to any otherwise decent bio. It was the ultimate cheap shot, and the Washington Post should issue an apology and reprimand Prisbell.

If John Wall mysteriously stops speaking to the Washington Post at some point in the future, could you really blame him?

Question: Did the Washington Post reporter overstep the bounds of solid journalism by informing Wall that his father was a murderer? Would you want such personal information to be disclosed in the newspaper against your will, or is this sort of treatment merely part of being a famous person?

Despite the angst that his father's jail stint and death created, John Wall reveres him [WashPost]

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