When Bob Woodward exposed Watergate, he used a brand of journalistic ethics that ultimately impeached President Nixon. For Woodward, the task was clear: pursue the truth and damn the consequences. Journalists, whether they are reporters, newsroom announcers or just plain old “fans with typewriters”, i.e. bloggers, have a responsibility to the people to whom they are disseminating information, as well as to themselves. In the field in which I work, attorneys have a responsibility to ensure that they do not provide information to the Court that they know to be false, i.e. suborning perjury. I believe that journalists, like attorneys, have a responsibility to ensure that the information that they disseminate is fair and honest, and that it is the truth.
Two instances within tennis have raised serious questions about the integrity of those who cover the sport. The first is Ben Rothenbergof the New York Times’ piece on the serial plagiarism of Neil Harman of the Times UK. Rothenberg undertook an investigation into allegations of plagiarism in the Wimbledon Yearbook, published annually by the All England Club. Mr. Rothenberg identified 52 instances of plagiarism by Mr. Harman in several issues of the Wimbledon Yearbook. As a result of the allegations Mr. Harman resigned as a member of the International Tennis Writers’ Association (“ITWA”) and at the time of this writing, deleted his Twitter account and has been suspended from the Times.
As someone who has worked in the legal fraternity for close to 30 years, I wondered about the following upon reading Mr. Rothenberg’s piece:
1. When did the journalists who were plagiarized realize that their work had been stolen?
2. When did the plagiarized journalists make Mr. Harman aware of his plagiarism?
3. What was Mr. Harman’s response to his colleagues whom he had plagiarized?
I ask these questions because from what I read in Mr. Rothenberg’s piece, the plagiarizing by Mr. Harman had been going on for a considerable amount of time. Why did none of the journalists, who are charged with truth telling as part of their professional responsibility, bring their story to the public’s attention? Why did the issue come to the forefront of tennis this summer? Did the journalists whose work were stolen have no obligation to reveal to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (“AELTC”) that they were publishing plagiarized work? If they did inform the AELTC, when did they do so and what was the AELTC’s response to learning that they were profiting from stolen work? As a matter of fact, was the ITWA informed of this situation, and if so, what action, if any did the ITWA take in order to resolve this issue?
The second instance is an article published on Tennis.com by Joel Drucker about Serena Williams. Recently, Serena suffered what can only be considered a mind boggling incident at Wimbledon which led to both she and her sister Venus Williams having to withdraw from the Championships due to illness. Drucker, using innuendo, unnamed sources, scathing diatribe and all out disgust, fanned the flames of hatred and suspicion against Serena regarding the reasons for her strange behavior. He even went so far as to call her a “press conference bully”. I don’t know what a press conference bully is but I would be glad if someone could explain it to me. I found his article and many like it since Wimbledon to be disrespectful, libelous, and irresponsible.
For years the tennis media have cast the Williams family as villains. They continue to construct a narrative that suggests the family is unwelcomed and not worthy of respect. Who can forget Serena’s dancing on the lawns of Wimbledon when she achieved her dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in singles? Every journalist worth their salt spent more time calling her celebratory dance an ode to gangsterism than writing of her triumph.
if you are a journalist and you are suspicious of Serena’s injuries, then you have a duty and a responsibility to investigate and bring facts to bear on the issue. If it means getting into her inner circle to find the reason(s) for her withdrawal(s) from a tournament other than what’s stated in her press releases, then do so. Just as Mr. Rothenberg investigated and laid out the case for Mr. Harman’s plagiarizing, so too should Mr. Drucker and others like him. Why sit behind your keyboards and hint that Ms. Williams’ injuries are not legitimate? It does Ms. Williams and her career a disservice to make unfounded and unsubstantiated insinuations about her illness and injuries.
I read recently an article by Garry Doyle of the Irish Post about Paul Kimmage. Paul Kimmage was a former cyclist who rode in the Tour de France. He was also the writer responsible for the take down of Lance Armstrong and the systemic doping that was occurring in cycling. Kimmage believed there was systematic doping in cycling and risked his career and his reputation to expose it. For his troubles, he was ostracized from the sport that he loved by many of his colleagues. It is only now that he is being welcomed back into the cycling fold.
Kimmage speaks disparagingly about tennis as he believes that there is doping in the sport. I wondered if there was any enterprising journalists willing to follow in his footsteps and reveal tennis doping as he did in cycling. Then I read Joel Drucker’s piece over at Tennis.com and I considered how long Harman was allowed to plagiarize and thought no. It seems to me that tennis reporters have a code amongst themselves about what they deem appropriate to share with the public. The code that exists amongst tennis journalists does not appear as strongly in other sport. In many other sports in which I take an interest, there have been many instances of journalists exploring rumors in order to debunk or validate their claims. Look at baseball and Alex Rodriquez, the US$250M man for the New York Yankees who has been suspended from the MLB. In the NFL, there have many instances of players being suspended or even losing their jobs as a result of journalists conducting investigations.
Tennis on the other hand tries its hardest to show by the collective silence of those who cover the sport that everything is hunky dory until it is not. I sympathise with those writers whose hard work was stolen by Mr. Harman. However, my sympathy can only go so far as it is only when faced with its own internal crises that journalists even lifted a finger to tell us that they gave a damn.