Thursday, February 05, 2009


Boy oh boy, I really hate morning news shows. From CNN to the major networks, they're all awful trash bloated by frequent commercials and local traffic updates.

Each show begins with the main news story, which is the same across all networks 90% of the time, and usually features an interview with a relevant expert. However, in the age of risk communication and public relations training, "interview" really means "opportunity to repeat prearranged sound bites". Chances are, the last time you saw a "Today" interview question answered in an enlightening or unexpected way, Hugh Downs was the host.

When they're done with their news briefs -- 30 or so seconds each on run-of-the-mill wildfires and global suffering -- a female co-host speaks directly to America's moms, instigating the daily panic for their children's welfare. No matter the subject the message is interchangeable: your kids are probably going to die. These are usually health-related stories (peanut allergy, autism, lead, outbreak... but occasionally you'll hear about something happening in China that has no bearing on the US, or one abducted child in the past two months in the entire country). When the stories intersect with my profession, I almost always find an error or two in their reporting; I shudder to think of what lies I'm absorbing during the stories outside of my areas of expertise.

BUT ANYWAY, this comes up as most things do, because I subscribe to the blog feed of a woman I don't know but two of my friends know even though those friends don't know each other who I think has once commented on this blog flipped from "Good Morning America" to "Today" this morning, and witnessed some heartwarming, tear-inducing light news. Here's the USA Today version of the story:
Maine player with Down Syndrome wows the crowd

CUMBERLAND, Maine (AP) — The team manager for Maine's Greely High School boys basketball team fulfilled a longtime dream when he went from the bench to the starting lineup.

Patrick Thibodeau, who has Down Syndrome, trotted onto the floor Tuesday night for the team's final home game of the season. When the time came to shoot, he nailed a 3-pointer for the second basket of the game. He hit another at the final buzzer.

Patrick, a Greely senior, has been the team manager for years, and the players decided his time had come to put on the No. 3 jersey and play.

His father, the team's statistician, was released from a hospital early -- he suffered a stroke two weeks ago -- so he could witness the event.

Greely won 61-43 against Gray-New Gloucester.

In another game Tuesday, a student with high-functioning autism who is the team manager for Auburn's Edward Little High School was also given a chance to play.

Wearing No. 27, Josh Titus entered the game in the fourth quarter and made four baskets, including a 3-pointer that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.

Edward Little won the game, 63-38, over Leavitt High School.

Let's take the second party of the article first. As Tornado Slide has already established, there is nothing that prevents and autistic teen from shooting hoops.

Despite all of this expertise, I didn't know if it was more difficult to succeed in throwing round balls through ten-foot-high circles for someone with Down's, compared to the average Joe, or compared to the exceedingly above average Joe Johnson. My research led me to the authority on medical matters, Wikipedia:
Many of the common physical features of Down syndrome also appear in people with a standard set of chromosomes. They may include a single transverse palmar crease (a single instead of a double crease across one or both palms, also called the Simian crease), an almond shape to the eyes caused by an epicanthic fold of the eyelid, upslanting palpebral fissures (the separation between the upper and lower eyelids), shorter limbs, poor muscle tone, a larger than normal space between the big and second toes, and protruding tongue.

Aside from the muscle tone issue, I don't see any condition that would preclude tossing the ol' rock into the basket. In addition, the odd photo that accompanies the Wikipedia article

(that was posted to the site by the photo subject's father? Let's make that "very odd".) supports the conclusion that Down Syndrome has little effect on physical ability. (FUN FACT: Carpentry is often called "Handyman Basketball".)

SO ANYWAY, let's distill this story to its essence:

*Two benchwarmers were given the chance to play Tuesday night, but neither player influenced the outcome of his game.

That's nice. As a fan and as a former benchwarmer, it's fun to see the scrubs get some time on the court. But it is not news.

*Both scored more than once, and both recorded 3-point goals.

The USA Today repeatedly stresses the long-range shots, wanting us to believe a made 3 is a great feat, something on par with baseball's grand slam. In truth, it's just another shot, slightly more difficult than most field goals, slightly less impressive than baseball's double. They want my reaction to be, "Wow! 3-balls! Waaaaaay outside! From downtown! Amazing!" Instead, it's, "Huh. These two guys each made a very common shot that they've attempted thousands of times before, a shot that even bad players can make at a 25% clip, a shot that a sixty-year-old woman taken out of the stands at halftime might attempt to win a free Pizza Hut personal pan pizza."

*Both have non-physical medical conditions.

Here we are, finally. The inessential impetus for the story.

I suppose Tuesday could have been a pretty special moment for both Patrick and Josh. They got to play. They got to shoot. They got to score. They won. They could have woken up the next morning, grabbed the sports section, and saw their names and stats in the box score. If they were lucky, they might have seen their names in the brief recap of the game -- "Titus added 9 points on 4 of 6 shooting in the final quarter, as the Falcons soared to victory," or something like that.

Instead, these athletes were insulted with this fluff piece bullshit. They got the journalistic equivalent of "You went to the bathroom ALL BY YOURSELF! I'm so PROUD of you! You're quite an independent little man!"


Annie Parsons said...

Um. Are you serious.


Now that that's out in the open, I feel OH so much better.

Anonymous said...

loved the news rant. i don't even attempt to watch 'news' anymore...i feel like if something's actually important & will affect my life, i'll pick up on it through the stream of consciousness. or the cult of personality.

and i would argue that 3-pointers have actually become less impressive. watch anybody shooting hoops or even practicing in some structured way, & tell me how many 3's they take and how many times they pull up for a 9-foot jumper.

i do however think the down's kid might deserve a few more props than the autistic kids... it seems like down's affects vision. although, we are not told how many shots he took -- maybe he went kobe or iverson on it & had like 40 attempts. and what about the kid who has to guard him? how big a prick would you have to be to block the down's kid's shot? i feel like there could be a will ferrell vehicle somewhere in this story...


dn said...

I watched the video (available at NBC's Today site), and it appears he missed his first shot, then hit two uncontested 3's. Like you said, it would be the height of prickness to play tenacious D against the kid.

I was thinking what would make this story newsworthy, and I decided it definitely isn't 3's. If he would have faked a 3 and drove the lane, rising over all defenders to execute a powerful gorilla jam, scoring and breaking the backboard, THAT would have been newsworthy. In fact, I would love it if somebody would CGI the footage so I could witness that.