Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fact-Checking Is for Sissies?

First, congratulations to Tayler Hill, who most assuredly now holds the all-time Minnesota high school scoring record regardless of gender.

But, second, could her record-setting performance have been handled any more poorly by the adults? South High sources claimed that she had broken Katie Ohm's record on Feb. 17 in a game against Mpls. Roosevelt, but could not provide the evidence to support that claim. A review of published box scores showed that she was, in fact, 103 points short of the record at that time. Some leaped to Hill's support, saying that it was possible that some of the published box scores might be incorrect. But aside from the fact it was theoretically possible for some box scores to be incorrect, there was no actual evidence that any of them were.

A week or so later, the MSHSL ruled that indeed Hill was still short of the record. So she broke it (some would say, again) in the Twin City game against St. Paul Central. 

What was really troubling in all of this was the role of the mainstream media. Several prominent media outlets simply reported that Hill had broken the record on Feb. 17. One reporter responded to an email by saying, Well, we're in a tough position here. South High says she broke the record, so that's what we reported. And this was after the records of every game from Hill's illustrious career had been compiled and published in widely available sources.

But, what was worse were the subtle attacks upon those who had the ambition (or the gall, depending on your point of view) to do the media's job for them--that is, to check the facts. Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere (or, rather, his headline writer) wrote, "Just give her the record, already." Sansevere chastised the "historians" (his quotation marks, as if to say "so-called historians") who actually looked up the records for being spoil sports. And he jumped all over the "the published box scores could be wrong" bandwagon. He said, well, what if somebody transposed a 1 and a 2, and a 2 and a 3, or dropped a digit. I've already accounted for 36 points in errors, he said, and that's just three games.

Forget, of course, that he had imagined and invented these errors out of whole cloth. But, c'mon, he seemed to say, she's just a kid. Give her a break. Besides, it's just sports. And it's just high school sports at that. Who cares?

Well, fortunately, some people cared. Kevin Anderson and Matt Peterson, who researched the box scores. The MSHSL, which had the courage to make the call. But no thanks to the mainstream media and to those "sports reporters" whose attitude seems to be that, where sports is concerned, fact-checking is for sissies, and why let the facts get in the way of a good story?


  1. Here is a fact the nobody has pointed out, the MSHSL is/was looking into Katie Ohm's high school total at the same time they looked at Hill's. Any word on that?

    What the whole "sissy" thing boils down to is that the MSHSL keeps no records, gathers no records, and worst of all does not require information to be sent in to keep records.

    Kevin and Matt I am sure do a great job but I have to agree with the view that the box scores in the paper are way less accurat then you would think.

    And to show this point, L. McKinnzie made the U of M box score a few weeks back, while he has completed his 4 years and is playing overseas right now. How about that for accuracy!

  2. Once again the argument seems to be that box scores could possibly be wrong, and therefore any one number is just as good as any other. I'm not buyin' it. You use the best evidence you've got. And, in this case, the box scores are not only the best evidence, they're the only evidence. South says scorebooks from two of Hill's earlier seasons have been mislaid. Maybe they could go check the opponents' books. But there's also the fact that three years' worth of scorebooks remain, and no one has shown a single box score over those three years to be in error.