This was embarrassing. The big early story at the French Open, the thing that had gotten attention in the U.S. more than Venus or Serena or Rafa or Roger or Novak, was this:
“Reporter makes absolute worst mistake ever.’’
Wow. That was the headline that rotated on the main billboards at AOL on Tuesday. I could only imagine. I had to click on it. It came with a video of that mistake, and another video of someone analyzing the video of the mistake. That’s a lot of clicks.
And here’s what it was all about: Nicolas Mahut lost to Mikhail Kukushkin in four sets in the first round. Longtime U.S. tennis reporter Bill Simons, in an interview room, started talking to Mahut by saying – get ready for this and believe it or not — “Congratulations.’’
“Congratulations?’’ Mahut said. “I lost.’’
“You lost?’’ the reporter said. “Oh, OK.’’
That was it. Absolute worst mistake ever? It went viral, not just on AOL, but also on other sites. It surely embarrassed Simons, who became a bigger story than the people he was there to write about. So let’s look at it.
Yes, it was a reflection of media today, but not of Simons. The coverage of the story was far more embarrassing than the story itself.
Look, this wasn’t about a mistake. It was about something done on purpose. A reporter made one of those little embarrassing mistakes that anyone can make. It was dumb. Fine. Also, it was irrelevant.
This tiny thing was just barely enough, with video, to produce a massively overblown headline that was unquestionably untrue in nature and in fact.
Is that really what we’re about? The worst mistake in American journalism history was that a writer did not write that Mahut had won, did not publish it. He asked a question, found out, embarrassingly, that the premise of his story was wrong and apologized.
Worst mistake ever.
Worse than “Dewey defeats Truman.’’ I once covered a college basketball game and wrote that it was thrilling for the final 3 minutes, but boring for the first 57.
College games last only 40 minutes. Worst mathematical mistake ever!
On the video that ran with the AOL story, in Huffington Post, the analyst pointed out that Mahut was the same guy who played the marathon match a few years ago at Wimbledon against John Isner. Only, he said it this way:
Sorry, but it’s Is-ner.
And that was the worst fumbled pronunciation of all time, after John Travolta trying to introduce Idina Menzel at the Oscars, of course.
I am not in Paris this year, but I have a pretty good guess as to what happened. I can guarantee you that Simons was not writing a column about a match as irrelevant as Nicolas Mahut vs. Mikhail Kukushkin.
The winner was scheduled to play Isner next. That was the peg. Best guess is that French Open officials announced that Mahut was in the interview room. The reporter asked someone if Mahut had won. He was told that yes, he had won. And Simons then ran to get some comments about how the Isner marathon affected Mahut’s life.
When he found out that Mahut had lost, he still had the floor, but didn’t have anything to ask or write.
Yes, he should have looked it up somewhere first. Big deal. But other media outlets jumped all over him. One called it a “particular brand of stunning laziness.’’
If you want to put up that video because it’s funny, then fine. It is kind of a funny little slip-up. But at least be honest.
I am as much of a sucker for these click-magnet things, too. (No cat videos, though). At the Australian Open a few years ago, I wrote a quick thing after player Donald Young told me his match had been delayed when a ballboy peed on the court. The kid ran off and they had to bring out blowers to dry the court.
Just silly. It was not the biggest accident in history.
I should point out one more thing: For nearly two years, I wrote for AOL. It was a great job, actually. In fact, it was the greatest job in the history of the world!