In today’s news where ratings matter as much as content (and perhaps more), sensationalism in the press is expected. This has been especially true with regards to this year’s NBA free agent class, as some of the game’s biggest stars will reshape the league in an extraordinary fashion in the coming weeks. Given the players’ reluctance to name their potential suitors and the teams’ inability to talk about players signed to other teams news outlets have been left with little actual facts to report on.
Typically when the press is shut out to a story that the public wants to hear about, reporters will seek out “sources” (who frequently wish to remain anonymous) that may have inside knowledge. By getting an insight on the thoughts of the people involved, they can circumvent the cone of silence and provide information to the public. However one problem with this type of journalism is that their sources never have to deal with the consequences of their words. For instance an anonymous source may bend the truth (or invent it) in order to manipulate outside events. People or organizations may leak information (that may not be true) to a source knowing that they will hand it over to the media. Or worse, a reporter may invent an anonymous source to lend a piece some credibility.
Stories with anonymous sources are best taken with a grain of salt. Depending on the reader and the content, some people may swallow the article as truth more easily than others, especially if it fits with the reader’s view of the topic. So in some sense a part of the success of an article quoting an anonymous source is the believability of it.
So enter SNY.tv’s article titled “Source: Knicks eye Johnson, not James.”
The Knicks are targeting Joe Johnson as their No. 1 free agent choice and believe he’s a better fit for the team than LeBron James, according to an NBA source with knowledge of the team’s plans.
“Yes, we think he’s a better player,” the source said of Johnson. “He makes other people better. With LeBron’s people running the locker room that hurts the organization.”
he source also mentioned concerns about James’ entourage taking over the franchise.
“I don’t care what most people think,” the source said. “I’m not saying that LeBron is not a good player, but other stuff comes with it. LeBron’s friends want jobs. You’re gonna lose running your organization. As time goes on you got to hire this guy, you got to hire that guy.”
The source says the Knicks think Joe Johnson is a better player than LeBron James. It’s hard to believe that anyone would think that Johnson is a better player than James. If I had to pick a quick metric to show the disparity between the two I’d say that basketball-reference.com calculates James’ probability of making the Hall of Fame at 98%, and Johnson’s at 6%.
But just as interesting is the person who said that. The author Adam Zagoria, describes him as “an NBA source with knowledge of the team’s plans.” So the source sounds like someone who works closely with the NBA and has insider access to the Knicks, but doesn’t work for the team. But the quote uses the word “we” to describe the Knicks, which implies he’s part of the organization. For instance if the source was Donnie Walsh’s barber, he would have said “they think”, not “we think”. To use “we” implies the guy actually works for the team. So why wouldn’t Zagoria just describe him in a less wordy way as “a source who works for the Knicks?”
Those aren’t the only parts that don’t make sense. The source claims the Knicks are avoiding LeBron James because they’d have to hire some of his friends as well. Let’s just assume that I can’t possibly know if this is true (but a google search for “Cleveland Cavaliers hire LeBron’s friends” results in naught). Does anyone think that hiring 20 of LeBron’s friends at $50k a year mean anything to a team that has paid Eddy Curry $20M to play in 10 games over the last two seasons? Put it this way, if there was no salary cap, would there be any doubt that the Knicks bid would go well over the current maximum price for James? (At least enough to cover cushy jobs for his entourage.)
To summarize the article, the Knicks think Joe Johnson will lead to more wins, they don’t want LeBron James because his entourage will demand jobs in the organization, and the source of this information can’t make up his mind if he’s just knowledgeable about the team or actually works for them. Any one of these facts are difficult to believe, nevertheless all of them combined. Imagine if I wrote an article with quoting a source with knowledge of SNY.tv who said:
“Adam Zagoria just called up his friend who has a John Starks jersey and occasionally gets off his meds. Feeling self defensive about LeBron going to another team, the guy began to rant about how Joe Johnson was better anyway. Hoping to make a big name of himself with such a controversial headline, Zagoria decided to run with the story quoting his mentally unstable friend as an NBA source with knowledge of the team. (This wasn’t such a stretch, since his friend once saw Donnie Walsh exiting the Garden & yelled “Are you going to sign LeBron?” To which he swore that Walsh gave him a wink.). The editor at SNY.tv, too busy with his Hijack Armored Bank Truck in Mafia Wars and pushed the story through without really reading it.
Such an article would be laughed at because it’s so unlikely to be true. I think.