Field of vision

Reporting ‘the best attainable version of the truth’

By Marc Katz

Years ago, when I was still an everyday working journalist, I remember a friendly athletics director—Jim Jones at Ohio State—who used to say, “Never get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

That was his way of showing some respect for the profession. There does not seem to be as much respect for my profession now, and I think everyone knows the headmaster of that cause.

But let’s make this very clear: not every print or spoken word over time has been the exact truth, which doesn’t mean the untruths are outright lies. Some of them are just mistakes. Sometimes, subjects just don’t like what’s said about them, especially in sports journalism.

I have this quote running around in my head: “For 25 cents, you’re not going to get literature every day.”

I used to think the late, great Mike Royko wrote it, but there is no record of that. At any rate, it was a long time ago. Twenty-five cents a day?

And then there was the famed late editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, who said, “…treat anybody’s first version of the facts with skepticism, if not suspicion.”

I remember back when I worked for the Sandusky Register and found myself at what became a contentious Erie County Commissioners’ meeting.

An argument broke out with the guy from the local radio station shouting down the Register reporter I was shadowing.

“At least people aren’t going to line their bird cages with the radio,” the radio guy said to my man. “A lot of them have tried,” my guy replied.

I’ve been places I haven’t been wanted, like the day former Wright State basketball coach Paul Biancardi announced his resignation because of his part in an Ohio State recruiting scandal that took place a few years prior.

Biancardi had been reluctant to talk during the resulting NCAA investigation, and on his resignation day, said he’d only read a statement, not answer questions. Well, I had already driven the 12 miles out there, and my throat didn’t hurt, so when Biancardi finished his statement and got up to leave, I asked a question.

“I knew you would,” Biancardi said as he went out the door. For the record, he was a royal pain to cover, but I always thought he was a nice guy.

Many years earlier, John Ross was coaching WSU. This was in the early days, when the school was just getting started and was playing Division II. Something was written in one of the newspapers—gosh, we had the Journal Herald in the morning and the Dayton Daily News in the afternoon—and Ross, who became quite a friendly man in his later years, didn’t much like talking with the media.

He certainly didn’t want his players talking to the media. What did his players know?

If something Ross didn’t like was written about one of his teams, he didn’t forget.

One day, in the mid-’70s, he decided there would be no player interviews. Newspapers ran on quotes in those days, so there was a mild uproar and WSU athletics director Don Mohr called a meeting with the sports editors, beat guys, and Ross.

Dave Stahl, the Wright State sports information director, presided. The way he remembers it, none of the editors showed up. This was Division II basketball, remember.

Ross spoke first, and had a yellow legal pad full of stories about what the media had done to him. He even quoted from a 1964 story that said his State Champion Belmont team ran up scores.

He wasn’t saying all the stories were untrue, just that he didn’t like them.

At the finish of his presentation—and it lasted a while—Ross said despite all this, he was going to allow his players to talk to the media. The ban was over.

Smiles were all around until I asked Ross, “This wasn’t your idea, was it? It was Don Mohr’s. You still don’t want us quoting players.” Ross immediately said that was correct, and the smile melted from Mohr’s face. I didn’t want Ross to think he was fooling us and lifting the ban gladly. Mohr, more used to smiling, looked a bit glum, but admitted he had orchestrated the meeting and insisted on an open locker room.

We laughed about it later—and so did Ross—and nothing about the meeting ever made the news. It was just between us, with nobody shouting at each other. That isn’t to say I haven’t had players and coaches and managers shout at me a time or two.

The point is, not everything you read or see is true, or the way a subject wants to be profiled. For the legitimate media, it’s usually close.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein called it “the best attainable version of the truth.”

I’ll go with that.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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