Floyd Mayweather, Michelle Beadle, and the Dangers of Reporting The Facts
A credential is perhaps the most important thing that any person covering a sporting event can possess. The credential provides access to the press box, to the playing surface, to the locker room. A reporter needs the credential to speak to an athlete or a coach before or after a game, to attend practice, to just be present.
It's how the reporter gets quotes used in stories, or receives background information. It's this information, these quotes, that are used to inform readers and viewers about how what happened happened, like how a guy was playing sick and was a step slow, or how coaches picked up something off of the video and implemented a special play to take advantage.
There was media outrage this weekend when ESPN's Michelle Beadle and CNN's Rachel Nichols were denied credentials to cover the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight. The primary cause for this appeared to arise from the fact that Beadle and Nichols had been outspoken in reporting on Mayweather's issues with domestic violence and the repeated beatings he has placed upon various women (there were several others who had their credential request denied, and they also reported on Mayweather's many misdeeds, but Beadle and Nichols were the most vocal when it came to the request denial). And while it's easy to see this as nothing more than a horrible person and his people denying access to his critics, it points to a more important issue, namely the desire that reporters -- beat writers in particular -- work as propagandists and not reporters.
It shouldn't need to be said, but the job of the reporter credentialed to cover an event is to report what happens. If something bad happens, it's the job of the reporter to report why that bad thing happened. Was the coaching staff arguing with the front office? Did the game plan not work? Did a player ignore a sign? Are the catcher and that night's pitcher not speaking to each other? Is a champion boxer a serial abuser of women who receives special treatment from governmental entities so that he can fight? This is information that must be reported if the sporting public is to understand why a heavily favored team lost in a huge upset or when a seemingly popular manager is suddenly fired. It's becoming increasingly more difficult for credentialed media members to accurately report on a team. Access is becoming limited with only certain players made available before or after events. Coaches and front office execs are more willing to speak to team broadcasters or friendly fan websites who are more willing to report the favored spin rather than ask and report on the warts. Post game press conferences are opened to friends and family of the coach or front office or team. Question time is limited.
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And there's always the risk of the credential revocation if unflattering information is reported. The thinking being that the loss of the credential will force the reporter to rethink his method of operation, make him more willing to report only team friendly information. The further thinking being that the newspaper, television, or radio outlet will be so desperate to maintain access that it'll be willing to replace the offending reporter with someone who will be more amenable to the requests of the organization.
I've been relatively lucky in my time covering Houston sports. I've had players shout at me because of things written by other reporters. I've had angry phone calls from general managers, and the occasional off-the-record behind closed door meeting with athletic directors and team owners. While covering an-out-of-town Houston Aeros playoff game several years ago, the opposing team threatened to revoke my credential for reporting unflattering information regarding the team's head coach. These type things happen to reporters all of the time, but as with what happened over the weekend with Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols, it's becoming more and more common for credentials to be denied and revoked for not toeing the line.
This probably sounds like nothing but inside baseball and whining to non-media people. But reporters being punished for doing their jobs, being denied access to events and/or participants makes it difficult to keep the public informed as to what's really happening, whether on the field or behind the scenes. Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols did nothing wrong. They reported public information on a public person who might not have been able to, and probably should not have been able to, participate in that fight. Perhaps it's time for Mayweather to be more concerned about his own behavior than in punishing those who report on that behavior. But then again, as long as sycophants like Stephen A. Smith are willing to spout the preferred propaganda, then change is highly, highly unlikely.