Sunday, May 21, 2006

Barbaro Breaks Down at Preakness, and NYT Triumphs

Truly unexpected big news is not that common, but when it happens, as in the Sputnik launching by the Soviet Union in 1957, it is vital for newspapers worthy of note to play it for all it's worth.

We see that illustrated this morning in the New York Times play of the Preakness story, the breakdown by the favorite Barbaro in the first seconds of the race with what turned out to be a compound fracture of the horse's right hind leg. The NYT played it on Page 1 of its A-section, with two more major stories in Sports.

Also, NBC's on-scene coverage of the tragic event, was superb. In the NYT's television story this morning, by Richard Sandomir, Sam Flood, NBC's producer for the Preakness and in the past a producer at the Nascar auto races, is quoted as saying, "Nascar always taught me to have a crisis plan, and this was a crisis." He immediately redirected key reporters to the scene, and by the end of the broadcast the network had secured an interview with the on-call veterinarian at the track, confirming that the injury was significant and possibly life-threatening. Announcer Bob Costas, on the victory stand, caught the prevailing emotion when he described the outcome of the race as a sad moment.

The Los Angeles Times did not measure up. It has a Barbaro picture on Page 1, but it played the actual story back in Sports. It had a perfectly suitable column by Bill Dwyre, the former sports editor, but it failed to put that on Page 1, where it should have been.

This is the latest instance in which the New York Times displayed for the world to see the hair-trigger mindset of its editors. They knew how to play a story when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk nearly a century ago, they knew it at the time of Sputnik, and they still know it. They are nearly always ready for an emergency. They bannered the Titanic and Sputnik, and they played Barbaro very prominently. They wrote excellent headlines on all three stories. The banner on the Titanic sinking was one of the great headlines in newspaper history.

Alas, that is not the case at the L.A. Times. The editors decided to play Sputnik at the bottom of Page 1. They allowed the Washington Post to eclipse their coverage of the Robert Kennedy, assassination, printing a story the next morning that was inferior to that of the Post, despite the fact the Times had a three-hour time advantage.

Of course, I'm not privy to the LAT editors' mind processes on Saturday afternoon. Not everyone may agree with me, but I think the right decision would have been to go with the story as the leading news event of the day, which means Page 1.

There are some paragraphs in both the New York Times lead story, by Joe Drape, and Dwyre's Los Angeles Times column, which are truly memorable in their poignant descriptions of what happened to Barbaro.

Drape wrote, in just the third paragraph, "As the eight remaining horses disappeared into the first turn of a race that Bernardini eventually won, the real drama was unfolding in the opening straightaway. Barbaro was holding his awkwardly bent leg aloft as an equine ambulance raced to his aid."

And later on, in Drape's story, he wrote, "This was one of those afternoons that everybody dreads. It underlines the fragile nature of sports, especially a sport whose primary players are animals."

Also, Drape wrote, "Although it may sound insensitive, many owners will point to this type of accident to rationalize why they race their horses lightly, why they don't enter their horses in Triple Crown events they feel they cannot win, and why they decided to breed their horses at the mere hint of an injury. It also lends weight to the argument that contemporary horses may be faster, but are more fragile."

Dwyre also has his moments today. His lead was, "In the time it takes for two bones to break, like snapping your fingers twice, the 131st running of the Preakness turned from celebration to catastrophe...Oh my, a horse had broken down. Oh my, it couldn't be Barbaro, could it?"

And, "Almost hauntingly, the night before, over a dinner of Maryland crab, (jockey Alex} Solis had talked about the worse thing about horse racing, when he sees a horse break its leg...You see the pain in their eyes, the fear," he said. "It's awful."

I've always wondered in horse racing how intelligent the horses were. How did they understand the race? What did they feel about it?

At Pimlico race track in Baltimore, yesterday, one could not but feel for the horse. What a tragedy!

3 Comments:

Anonymous H.A.Page said...

Well, Barbero hopefully will be a great stud.

Wrote about horses and cycles, dark horses and combacks in today's MotherPie ramble...

As a horse lover, it was just awful to watch Barbero's injury. Very much appreciate your media analysis of the Barbero coverage.
Cheers.

5/22/2006 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbaro. The horse's name is BarbAro. Surely such a great horse deserves having his name spelled correctly, Ken. Otherwise, I agree with your sentiments.

5/23/2006 5:45 PM  
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6/01/2006 4:30 PM  

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