Accuracy in Media

Back in 1995 CBS golf analyst Ben Wright made headlines by reportedly saying there were lesbians on the women’s professional golf tour and that they were hurting the sport. The media weren’t interested in whether this statement was true or not. Rather, the issue became whether Wright had made it or not. When the comments surfaced in The (Wilmington, Delaware) News Journal, Wright didn’t admit making the statement. In fact, he and CBS network officials spent the ensuing days and months attacking the accuracy of the story and the journalist who reported it. Eventually, however, because of the controversy, Wright was canned.

Now, three years later, Wright has not only admitted that he made the comments, but that CBS officials told him to deny making them. In other words, they encouraged him to lie. “I was so bloody stupid—stupid, naive and weak,” he now says. “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t regret how I reacted…The most stupid thing I did was remain silent. I should have come out and said, “Hey, I said all those dumb things, and they were wrong.’ I let myself be overpowered, hoping CBS executives were right, but it was a horrible mistake.” Wright seemed to be saying that he had been persuaded by CBS officials to ride out the storm and let the issue die. It didn’t.

Wright has admitted his lie in a conversation he had with Sports Illustrated magazine. He also called the News Journal reporter, Valerie Helmbreck, and apologized to her. But CBS has not apologized, and it denies that it told Wright to lie. A CBS official said, “We never told (Wright) to lie or to alter any truth. When we found out he had not told the truth, we had to act on that.” Wright’s agent said that while he didn’t believe CBS told him to lie outright, the network told him “not to talk about it” and “to shut up.”

In other words, CBS wanted him to stonewall, to make it seem like there was some serious doubt over the truthfulness of the reporter’s story. This is just another form of lying. It was during this period of time that both CBS and Wright were attacking the reporter, insisting she had gotten the facts wrong. This led to what USA Today called a three-year ordeal, during which Helmbreck had been criticized for journalism that turned out to be factual and accurate. Clearly, she is owed an apology not only from Wright but from CBS.

On top of this fiasco, consider how CBS has handled pro football star Reggie White, after he gave a controversial speech to the Wisconsin state legislature. White, who has led an all-star career in the National Football League, was being considered for a position as a sports commentator at CBS. But after his speech, CBS promptly canceled plans to hire him.

It’s true that White made some stereotypical remarks about certain minority groups, but they were obviously made with no malicious intent. What really got him into trouble were his statements that abortion and homosexuality were sins. The latter is an issue that will sink your future at CBS.




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