The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 23, 2013

Media culpable in Pistorius saga

By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Oscar Pistorius, the so-called “Blade Runner” is now the Bailed Runner. Pistorius is the latest in a line of exalted sports icons to come crashing precipitously back to Earth with a sickening thud.

The feel good story of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Pistorius currently finds himself free on bail after being charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of his model-girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day.

The South African enthralled the world last summer by earning a spot on South Africa’s 4x100 relay team despite being a double below-the-knee amputee. He got his nickname from the prosthetic devices he used.

He didn’t win gold (although he did win gold in the Paralympics), but the fact he made the team was the heartwarming story of the games.

Who would know just a few months later he would be charged with the murder of Steenkamp? The only question that remains to be answered in the criminal trial will be whether he is a murderer or a grieving boyfriend, who mistook his girlfriend for an intruder  who shot her three times through the bathroom door.  His trial will likely be a worldwide soap opera.

But his guilt or innocence isn’t the only question that need to be addressed. In fact, a serious question needs to be asked of the media in its coverage of Pistorius prior to his making news headlines.

It seems all the while the world was being presented a picture of Pistorius as a feel-good hero, the media, or at least some members, were aware of Pistorius’ penchant for raging anger, yet never mentioned it. Is that how a journalist is supposed to cover a subject? Of course, it also draws attention to the blurring of the lines between journalism and entertainment. Or, more accurately,  shilling.

NBC Sports “correspondent” Mary Carillo is only now coming forward about her remembering Pistorius as “jumpy” and “paranoid about security.” She told David Gregory in an interview this past week on the “Today” show about an incident where she saw Pistorius berate his housekeeper for an extended period of time in front of the NBC crew after finding his garage door open. It was left open by the NBC folks.

Carillo conveniently never reported this, nor her observations of Pistorius’ “paranoia” as it did not fit the NBC narrative for their fluff piece. “I had this guy as a Nobel Peace Prize winner one day, and now he could be spending the rest of his life in jail,” she said. That is precisely the point. She saw first-hand another side to the man, but filed report after report that only painted him as a hero. That is not to say his anger should have been the story, but to only mention it now seriously brings into question Carillo’s journalistic ethics. Don’t call yourself a journalist when you are no more than a TMZ-style shill.

But Carillo isn’t the only media member who consistently glossed over or ignored Pistorius’ other side.  British radio journalist David O’Sullivan was aware of Pistorius’ rages, yet never bothered to report any of that. Like others, he turned a willingly blind-eye to Pistorius’ darker side.

Now, none of this is to suggest had Carillo or O’Sullivan reported their full observations that Pistorius would not have shot his girlfriend.

But it is clear they each preferred to cozy up to their subject, rather than fully vet a news subject. In the reporting aftermath, wouldn’t it be better to be able to say ‘I told you so’ rather than ‘I wish I would have said something?’

But this is what we get from info-tainment disguised as journalism that serves no useful purpose other than to build up false idols. And ratings.



Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.