FRENCH OPEN: Massive Reporting Blunder Dominates…Uh, Little Mistake Goes Viral

 

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:

“Eye-sner.’’

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!

 

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

4 responses to “FRENCH OPEN: Massive Reporting Blunder Dominates…Uh, Little Mistake Goes Viral

  • John Mahut (kidding cuz I prefer to remain anonymous)

    You made some good points, Greg. We all make mistakes and the episode got overblown in a media-starved world. Mr. Simons has been an editor of his monthly magazine for 40 years. I have seen him ask questions in many an interview room. I completely agree that the peg was about the potential for the next Isner/Mahut marathon. The double fault is not the factual error; it’s that after blowing his first serve, he asked a completely inane, superficial follow-up question: “What happened out there?” He could care less about how the match was played. (This is a guy who puts Nelson Mandela on his covers.) Why not just ask the question you want answered instead of some silly platitude, followed by some off-the-wall counterpunch? Why not let the reporters who really need to know how it went out there, go first?

    • gregcouch

      I agree with you, mostly. But he was there, theoretically, to ask Mahut about his feelings about playing Isner. So he started by congratulating him. Then, on finding out there wasn’t going to be a match against Isner, he couldn’t ask about that anymore. He probably just didn’t know what to do or say. That said, “What happened out there?” probably shouldn’t have been on the short list.

  • JohnJM

    And the double fault is still nothing. The guy was caught out in an embarrassing mistake and got nervous. That’s it. You can tell by the follow-up question he was stunned. It’s easy to armchair quarterback it, but you weren’t the one hot-faced in front of your colleagues, on TV, left not knowing where to go from there.

    AOL is RIDICULOUS with the click bait. And people who commit minor faux pas have to deal with the fallout, victims of a desperate grab for viewership. Pisses me off, b/c they’re a garbage mill with no standards. I wonder how much heat Simons has had to put up with because of two-bit journalism outfits like AOL, HuffPo, etc.

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