Irish swimming champion victim of pack journalism

Media Watch

July 24, 1996|By MILTON KENT

Raymond Donovan, who served as Labor Secretary during the Reagan administration, once rhetorically asked where he could go to get his reputation back after he had been cleared of charges of wrongdoing.

Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, the latest victim of American pack journalism, did nothing more "criminal" than win two gold medals in the Olympics on American soil, beating out two Americans in the process, yet she must be wondering the same thing Donovan did.

With no substantiation, a number of U.S. newspapers and a television network took flimsy connections and used them to obliquely accuse Smith, who won both the 400-meter freestyle and individual medley, of bending the rules, if not outright breaking them.

Allegations about Smith apparently have floated around the swimming community since she married a man who is under suspension for his connection with a steroid controversy, and because her times are dramatically lower than they were four years ago, yet she has never tested positive in any drug test she has taken.

But journalism has reached the stage where the mere allegation of impropriety, even without proof, or just the presence of unusual circumstances is enough to get a charge out into the open.

The rationale for this goes that if one media outlet reports a charge, the door is open and an implicit permission is granted for all other media to get on the gravy train.

In the process, that train often runs over the innocent, in this case, Smith, and never goes back to see how badly the victim is injured. Here's hoping that somehow the train will take Smith to the place where she can get her good name back.

The good

It's shown far too late for most people to see, but NBC's late-night show, with hosts Jim Lampley and Hannah Storm, has carved out a nice little niche, with good pacing and an offbeat sensibility.

Even correspondent Ahmad Rashad, who is generally overmatched in most of his assignments, does well, turned loose on some of Atlanta's nighttime hot spots.

The bad

Is it just me or does it seem as though swimming analyst Summer Sanders' voice is the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard, particularly when she's excited, which is about every time an American female swimmer is close to winning a race?

And wasn't it bad form for Bob Costas to tease at the results of the women's gymnastics team competition when he and anyone who watched ESPN already knew the outcome, since the event was over by 7 p.m., which leads to . . .

The exceptional

Facing pretty difficult odds, given the restrictions on the highlights they can use, ESPN has done an incredible job covering these Olympics, with the smart use of still photographs and well-placed reporters like Steve Cyphers out and about getting stories behind the stories.

For example, the network did a great job of explaining why the facilities at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center have yielded such tremendous times so far, by getting the swimmers to talk about the unusually deep depth of the pool and, therefore, the relative lack of resistance.

Last night, while NBC was showing an hours-old competition, and hinting that it was live, ESPN already had reported the results of the gymnastics competition, with an interview with the injured Kerri Strug. It's good to have cable.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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