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JIM MURRAY

When Events Dictate Coverage, All Suffer

October 16, 1994|JIM MURRAY

While, basically, few things in the world of sport shock me anymore, I must confess to being taken aback by the actions of one of my favorite golfers, Tom Watson.

If you've been paying attention, you know that Watson is the poison-pen letter writer who started the chain of events that got announcer (and fellow golfer) Gary McCord fired from his post as one of the broadcasters of the Masters golf tournament.

Tom apparently sent the letter to the Masters chairman, Jackson Stevens--and to McCord's boss, network golf producer Frank Chirkinian--complaining about McCord's commentary and likening him to shock jock Howard Stern and urging, "Get rid of him now."

Now, what makes this extraordinary is that Tom Watson has never been one you might identify as a card-carrying member of the Moral Majority. Stanford graduate Watson has mostly been identified as one of the Liberal Minority on the golf tour, where the political persuasion of most players is to the right of Rush Limbaugh. Your average touring golfer is more interested in removing Bill Clinton than Gary McCord. Watson is one of the few in a golf locker room not registered as a Republican.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 18, 1994 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 8 Column 1 Sports Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Jim Murray--A reference in Sunday's editions to the Fourth Amendment was incorrect. The Amendment in question was the First.

But the shocking story is not that Watson objected to McCord's presence, it's that the Masters, acting on Watson's protest, got CBS to remove McCord. It's that the network acceded to pressure.

First of all, it's a violation of the Fourth Amendment, freedom of the press. McCord is entitled to the same Constitutional protection as, say, Arthur Krock would be. Or George Will. Or Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw. A sitting president can't get them removed from their jobs whatever the provocation.

The Masters is hardly a government organization, but it should have as little to do with how it's handled by the press as any other public event. It can bar the press, it can't manipulate it. Or shouldn't be able to.

The Masters has a straight-line reputation as an autocrat among sporting events. Not too many years ago, it was able to bar commentator Jack Whitaker from its telecasts because he referred to an unruly gallery as a "mob."

That was unconscionable. Whitaker is as elegant, non-controversial, high-class an individual as broadcasting has developed.

When that bit of despotism worked, I guess the Masters thought this was a tap-in. A slam dunk from here on out.

You know, in my business, the notion that a story subject didn't like you or what you wrote--or said--was worn like a badge of honor. It meant you were doing your job. No self-respecting city or managing editor would ever take a man off a beat because the police or D.A. or Congress or White House--or sport franchise--didn't like what he wrote. A newspaperman who did that earned the contempt of his craft. We're in the truth business, not the public relations business. We are, great city editors used to tell us, "the palladium of democracy."

The Kremlin can't dictate press policy anymore. Why should a golf tournament?

And, suppose the practice spreads? Suppose we have to watch what we write, say only positive things, take care not to offend? I can just see it now:

"World Series, 1995--Barry Bonds missed a third strike in the ninth inning with the bases loaded in Game 7 today, but it should be pointed out that the ball curved. Bonds simply swung an inch above it. The unfortunate event gave the Yankees the World Series, but it was noted Bonds was trying hard. 'I was hoping for fastball,' he said. 'The guy just double-crossed me. Curveballs should be illegal on 3 and 2. I'll get my lawyer.' There was some sentiment in the game to make pitchers declare what kind of pitch they were going to make--on the legal principle of discovery."

Or,

"World Series, 1996--The Texas Rangers lost the World Series today in the ninth inning of Game 6 when a fly ball dropped safely in center field. Actually, the ball didn't exactly drop, it ricocheted off the head of Jose Canseco and over the fence for a bases-loaded game-winning homer. 'Well, we got Jose for his home run power,' acknowledged the Ranger manager. 'He got a good jump on the ball. My question is, who gets credit for the homer, Jose or Mike Piazza who only hit a routine fly? Jose will probably want the RBIs credited to him in contract negotiations next year. In a way, he's right. Jose's simply a better hitter than he is a fielder. He doesn't even need a bat to hit a home run.' "

"U.S. Open, 1995--Greg Norman lost the Open on the 72nd hole here today when he left a 15-foot putt short--twice. His first putt bit off seven feet, his second five more. 'I didn't misread the putt, just the distance,' Norman said. 'I had it on line all the way.' Norman maintained his composure until dinner that night when the waiter incautiously recommended the artichokes. Norman screamed, 'What did you say?' The waiter will recover. Norman's punches were short too."

"NBA finals, 1995--Patrick Ewing missed six consecutive free throws in the final seconds of the seventh playoff game tonight. But he hit the rim on one of them. And some of the others had nice trajectories. Spike Lee blamed the referee. 'He should have given the foul to Hubert Davis. That's what Hue Hollins did last year.' Houston won the championship. Spike Lee said it was unfair. 'Patrick has to play Hakeem Olajuwon every year. I may do a movie exposing it.' "

Finally:

"NFL Playoffs, 1995--Tom Watson argued that the network should remove announcer John Madden from the broadcast booth. 'He keeps reporting Joe Montana getting sacked. We don't need that kind of negative reporting. Let's just get some kind of upbeat guy who will report that Joe just had an incomplete pass. Because no one was open. Including him.' "

On second thought, maybe Watson is right. Maybe telling-it-like-it-ain't is exactly what the country needs. Washington found that out years ago.

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