Munich Olympics Massacre

Sometimes publication bias is just plain cruel. Not the problem of failing to publish important ‘non-events’, but ‘over publishing’ events because they are fascinating even if they might cause pain, problems or perjury. Sometimes failing to publish is the right thing to embrace.

Last week, I listened to a touching account by Former President of NBC West Coast Don Ohlmeyer of how sometimes failing to publish is simply the decent thing to do.  The keynote at the Sports Video Group’s Sports and Entertainment Summit where Don spoke. SVG Editor Carolyn Braff recounts…

“He told a story about the changing immediacy of communication and how that change has affected sports and entertainment programming. ‘When we did the Olympics in Munich in 1972, there were no 24-hour news channels,’ he explained. ‘When the massacre occurred, it was totally on the shoulders of ABC Sports to handle what was an incredibly difficult situation.’

“He compared the coverage of the 1972 massacre with that of the recent shooting in Tucson, AZ. Within minutes after the event, NPR was reporting that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead, and all the other networks picked it up — and were wrong. In Munich, the ABC Sports team knew for two hours that the athletes were dead, but ABC Sports President Roone Arledge would not allow the announcement to be made until the German government had made its announcement, because one of the athletes was from Ohio and ABC Sports was the official news source for that young man’s parents ‘Roone was concerned that we were their connection to what would happen with their son,’ Ohlmeyer said. ‘Roone wouldn’t let us announce it until the German government announced it to make sure that all the information we were getting wasn’t wrong. It was a simpler time then,’ Ohlmeyer said, ‘and maybe a better one, when broadcasters showed that kind of concern for people in the audience.’”

MSNBC’s Helen Popkin highlights this concern over publishing every barking dog despite any collateral damage in her recent coverage of ‘Texting fountain lady’…”our growing habit of dumping humiliating videos on YouTube, with no thought to the unsuspecting "star," is also pretty obnoxious.”

Some things are better left unsaid and unpublished. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart has regularly decried the amplified bias in current media with intensified pressures to not only report something, but for it to be exciting and stirring. Not only is the ‘dog that didn’t bark’ being more ignored than ever in a distorted narrative of what it happening the world, the media is actually poking the dog to make him bark.

My recent examination of Publication Bias stems more from the theme of ‘embracing failure’ (embracing the data points and stories that fail to make a headline, fail to pander to a fear, and fail to support a hypothesis). But Ohlmeyer’s story brings up a Leader/Manager distinction: Leaders get the scoops; Managers check the story (and its impact). Both are needed in balance for the most sensible and sensitive coverage.