The odd obsession of CBS Sports

There is so much going on right now; what should I write about:

Yeah, that’s it: what is it with CBS Sports and the wives and children of PGA golfers?  It’s seemed to me for some time that Jim Nantz and the CBS golf broadcast are inordinately interested in naming, and showing, the wives/girlfriends/children of PGA pros when they win a tournament.  Frighteningly so.  Obsessed, even.

Not that I paid as much attention to golf on television then as I do now, but I don’t remember seeing Nicklaus’ and Palmer’s wives and kids showing up on the 18th green to hug daddy after a win.  Maybe it started with Tiger.  Tiger was such a phenomenon: so young, and so good, a new kind of golfer.  Way back when, the revered amateur golfer Bobby Jones* offered quite a compliment when he said young Jack Nicklaus played a game with which he was not familiar, and Nicklaus famously said the same about Tiger.  And when young Tiger would win, he’d walk off the green and hug his mom and dad.  It was kind of heartwarming, yes…but the TV couldn’t stop there.  Next it was Tiger hugging his bikini model-girlfriend du jour; then it was his fiancée, then his wife, but still his mom and dad.  And then after his dad died, just his wife.

(By the way, the CBS guys only ever call him “Tiger,” no need for last names…it shows they’re tight, I guess. Even if some bluenoses like me think it’s inappropriate for people covering a news event—even a sporting news event—to be quite so familiar with the people they’re covering—or even worse, to appear to be fawning over the people they’re covering—for fear that the presumption of objectivity and fairness will disappear.  Others say it’s better to be honest and not feign objectivity or pretend they don’t have favorites, and that may be the most charitable explanation I can offer for the overly familiar references from CBS, and the rest of the golfing press and TV, too, to be fair.)

Or maybe it was Phil (again, no need for a last name here) because he was hugging and kissing his pretty blonde wife, and later his pretty blonde kids which called to mind the legacy of the 1999 U.S. Open when he lost to Payne Stewart just before his first child was born.  And then even more so when Amy (yes, even some of the wives are first-name only) was being treated for cancer and she showed up to congratulate him at the 18th after a win, and that was sweet, too.

Somewhere along the way, the CBS golf producers got it stuck in their heads that the money shot from any tournament coverage was the winner being greeted by children and wives after sinking the final putt.  Eventually I realized it was happening at every tournament, every week, seemingly without exception.  Yes, some golfers have their wives/girlfriends/families with them on the road all the time; some of them are lucky enough to win a tournament being played near where their families live; but for the wives and kids to be there ever single week?  Too much.

Yesterday at The Barclay’s, the first playoff event for this year’s FedEx Cup, and Hunter Mahan is winning…yep, Cinderella story, comin’ outta nowhere…and Jim Nantz slides into that here-comes-the-fairy-tale-ending tone of his as he almost giddily whispers to a national TV audience that “hey, Hunter’s wife and daughter are HERE—I mean, they ACTUALLY FLEW HERE FROM ANOTHER STATE last night or this morning when it looked like he might win.  Have you ever seen such a thing in your whole life ever?!”  He even managed to slip in that she “NetJet-ted in.”  Imagine, if you can, the frontier grit it took for that woman to actually go to a local airfield and climb aboard a private luxury jet operated by one of her wealthy husband’s sponsors and ride in it all the way from Dallas to Teterboro?  (Yep, Nantz even told me which New York area airport she utilized!)

Mahan made his last putt, congratulated the others in his group, turned to walk off and you could see a little smile of surprise and recognition when he saw his wife and daughter on the other side of the green.  He was also trying to be a considerate competitor and get off the green as quickly as possible because there were still golfers on the course behind him waiting to finish the hole, but the cameras were in his way, hawking around waiting to capture the de rigeur heartwarming image of the man picking up his toddler and kissing his wife.  The camera even followed behind the little family as Mahan walked to the official’s tent to sign his scorecard, and we got to overhear as Mrs. asks “Weren’t you surprised to see us?”  A few minutes later the last group on the course finishes up and Mahan’s win is official; so, cue the CBS reporter for the perfunctory post-tournament “interview,” and damned if Peter Kostis didn’t make it part of the premise of his first question!

Today on my way to lunch I heard on CBS radio that Mahan won the Barclay’s AND OMIGOD HIS WIFE AND LITTLE DAUGHTER WERE THERE TO GREET HIM WHEN HE CAME OFF THE 18TH GREEN—WOWSERS!  This afternoon I was checking facts for this post, and this was the prominent picture on the front page of CBS Sports’ golf section:

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Pul-leeze, give it a rest.  You’re trying way too hard to prove…what is it that you’re trying to prove again, exactly?  Look, the journalism bar is much lower for sports than for news, but there still is a bar, or there should be.  We tune in to watch a golf tournament, not a reality show/soap opera about the golfer and his family.  Nobody’s buying what you’re selling here…not even you, I bet.

(*updated: quote originally, and inaccurately, attributed to Ben Hogan — PR)

Lying numbers, the people who use them, the people who count

The trouble with reporting numbers in the news is that the people who provide the numbers have an agenda and the people who write the news don’t pay enough attention to what they’re being fed.  We have a great example here in Texas—great in the sense of being a good example, because in fact children and taxpayers are being hurt.

100714_PRESS_JournalismByNumbers Last week I ran across a piece from Jack Shafer in Slate praising a new book that reminds us to be skeptical of the numbers.   “No debate lasts very long without a reference to data, and as the numbers boil their way into the argument, you must challenge them or be burned blind by them,” warns Shafer, and he highlights some of the authors’ examples of cases in which funny figures are used for moral and political suasion.  He’s reminding us all to be vigilant; he reminded me of a case that makes the point.

This came to my attention earlier this month in a column by Rick Casey in the Houston Chronicle.  He wrote about  Houstonhochberg state representative  Scott Hochberg, regarded across Texas as the man with the best understanding of our school finance system, and his discovery that the Texas Education Agency was manipulating statistics to show dramatic improvement in the number of schools with better student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the standardized test of primary and secondary students’ mastery of basic skills.

How could they do that?  Through use of a statistical tool called the Texas Projection Measure, which was developed by a national testing company.

Hochberg asked…how many correct answers a fourth-grader with barely passing math and reading scores at Benavidez Elementary in Houston needed to be counted as “passing” the writing test.

The unbelievable answer Hochberg had reached himself was confirmed…The child needed zero correct answers for his or her teachers and administrators to get credit for his or her “improvement.”

That’s right: zero.

Under questioning by someone they couldn’t bullshit, the TPM developers had to admit the tool considers inappropriate data to come up with this remarkable result.  That made news (here and here and here), and not just because the state’s education commissioner failed to attend the hearing.  The governor’s appointee sent staff to defend the use of a statistical tool which, we now know, translates the reality of continuing poor performance by students on standardized tests into the appearance of improved performance by schools and the bureaucrats who run them.

And all just months before the governor stands for re-election.

So there’s no real surprise that the education chief now opens his mouth (via e-mail), resorting to one of the favorite tactics of the governor himself: accusing anyone found not to be in lockstep with the powers that be of trying to harm the state and the little skoolchirrun of Texas.  He also says he’s considering new ways to use TPM: maybe use it less, or leave it up to the independent school districts to decide if they want to use it.

What?!  The TPM is flawed; it’s designed to let school administrators pad the TAKS results to make it appear that their schools—and they themselves—are doing a better job.  Casey sums it up well:

That the commissioner would allow a system such as the TPM to be put into place without serious evaluation, and then defend it as “reliable and accurate,” tells me that neither he nor the governor who appointed him take seriously the most daunting and vital challenge facing Texas: building up Texas by educating our children.