6.02.2005

Enter the Groundskeeper

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There's something that you learn early on when you begin working at a news publication: journalism is about facts. And facts, as President Reagan attempted to recall, are stubborn things. Baseball is also about facts: balls and strikes, runs and outs, wins and losses. When you traffic in a large number of facts, you are bound to, from time to time, make mistakes. That is why the high editorial directors of Yard Work asked me to leave my post as the Public Editor at The New York Times and lend my services here, at the most vital and exciting new site on the entire World Wide Interweb. Yard Work needs a watchdog, I like baseball (as evidenced by my many great books and articles about our national pasttime) and I like correcting people. Enter The Groundskeeper, minder of the Yards, ombudsman to the oracles.

Some of you may know that when I left the Times, I went out swinging (just like every good hitter should). I didn't much care for the slavish celebrity-splooging of Ms. Maureen Dowd. As for self-styled Nobel Prize candidate Paul Krugman -- let's just say I would have been remiss in not tugging at the beard of such a shameless manipulator of official statistics. But these dastardly journalistic contagions aren't quarantined to the pages of the Great Gray Lady. Sadly, in reviewing the output of my new colleagues here at Yard Work, I see many of the same tendencies I so emphatically decried at the Times facing me once again. So let my swinging commence anew.

For example, surely nobody needs to be reminded what a shameful weeping sore of vapid pop-cultural references the so-called Sports Guy serves up on an increasingly irregular basis (they're called deadlines, Bill). It's Dowd-ism run amok. Many strange things can happen in the amateur draft, but I'm not anticipating that the Red Sox will be selecting Seth Cohen. Desperate though they may be, the Yankees won't be seeking the assistance of Andy DuFresne, and the Cubs won't be calling upon Ellis Boyd Redding to rescue their deeply fatigued pitching staff (though perhaps they should). It is my fondest wish that the Sports Gal might give the Sports Guy a nudge back toward the realm of balls and bats, lest he become simply The O.C. Guy.

Moving on, the shadow of Krugmanism stalks the work of Eric Karabell. What is it about these supposed shamans of the statistical record that leads them to suppose they and only they hold the keys to unlocking all that a set of numbers might suggest? Mr. Karabell also commits the unspeakable sin of insularity -- your personal fantasy league is not The Matrix, sir. I'll be watching you, and though unlike Krugman you lack a manly thatch of facial hair by which I can thrash you about, trust that if you insinuate again that Bernie Williams is anything other than a stud, I'll be standing astride your cubicle here in the Yard Work offices to twist you around by your foppish bangs until you cry "uncle" -- and issue a correction.

Alas, the time has come for me to tie this column up with a pretty little bow, for not only is journalism about facts, it is also about space, and we do our best to use it wisely. However, though the debut installment of The Groundskeeper has drawn to a close, you may rest assured that I will be ever vigilant against all manner of fact-fudging, stat-bending, photo-altering, and any other species of editorial malpractice. It is my solemn vow.

Until next week,
D. Okrent.

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