Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Doping in Sport Article in the New York Times (Part 3)

My response to Susan Wessling:

Dear Susan,

Thank you very much for your prompt reply.

I am aware that Professor Wailoo's essay referred to a cloud being cast over Sir Bannister's achievement. Indeed, given that the four-minute barrier for the mile was believed by many to be beyond the ability of mortal man to break, it is not surprising that some people believed that Sir Bannister could not have accomplished the task without the aid of enhancements. As you point out that Professor Wailoo's essay states, the cloud dissipated quickly. I do not disagree with that fact - or with the fact that such a cloud existed. My contention is - and was in my original letter - that while such doubts may have been raised regarding the accomplishments of both Sir Bannister and Marion Jones, those were recently proven in the case of the latter. Sir Bannister was quickly exonerated a half-century ago while Marion Jones is currently being forced to relinquish her ill-got Olympic medals. It is the case of Marion Jones to which I was referring when I made reference to "obliterating the sun" in my original letter.

As I am certain you are aware, one of the dangers of attempting to make comparisons between two potentially similar instances is that characteristics and elements of one story will doubtlessly be applied to the other, even if they are factually outside the realm of similarity. While both athletes' careers may have been clouded, Marion Jones was proven to have used performance-enhancing drugs, disgracing herself, her sport, and her country. Sir Roger Bannister, on the other hand, went onto a "distinguished medical career" and continues to be a champion of the importance of athletics and a role model to athletes around the world. Their pictures should not have appeared together beneath that caption.

While it is refreshing that you "credit readers with enough sense to understand that if they look at only a few parts of a package -- if they don't translate the shorthand by reading the article itself -- they're getting only part of the story," I believe that you are forcing them to shoulder what is ultimately the responsibility of the New York Times - to construe the facts of a story clearly, impartially and without insinuation. By emphasizing the specious similarity between Marion Jones and Sir Roger Bannister in spite of enormous incongruity between their stories, I do not think that you fulfilled your journalistic responsibility. Forcing your subscribers to carefully read the article in order to dispel the false parallels suggested by the accompanying pictures and captions - carefully selected by the New York Times - is an open invitation to misinterpretation and the spread of misinformation.



I'll continue to update as the correspondence progresses.

I've also forwarded these letters to Professor Keith Wailoo, the author of the essay and a professor of history and public health at Rutgers.

1 comment:

Nate said...

Reed, interesting stuff. I agree that it seems a bit disrespectful to Bannister's legacy that he is pictured next to Marion Jones, although it doesn't seem like a huge deal to me (she made some sense in her reply.) Good luck with the campaign, though.

I did enjoy the piece on the homeless man. Almost makes me want to spend more time in the sketchy parts of Atlanta…