Monday, March 18, 2013

Raymer (and Media) Caught in a Sting

Well, Friday was certainly a disappointing day in our little poker world. I suppose for me the disappointment was threefold.

It was just after midday when the news broke that Greg Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, had been arrested along with five other men following a “prostitution sting” operation conducted by undercover law enforcement in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

NC news stations initially reported the operation to have been a “male prostitution sting,” then after about 45 minutes a correction was made to clarify that Raymer and five others had been arrested at a hotel after having been duped into thinking they had arranged liaisons with female prostitutes. Raymer’s arrest actually happened back on Wednesday, with the story breaking two days later.

Thinking initially of poker’s image and the always uncertain place the game occupies in the culture, it was a bummer to consider how the news might play among the general public moving forward. Such thoughts were compounded by the fact that Raymer has for many years served as a good representative of the game to the larger public -- a guy who most would agree has been “good for poker.” It’s hard to estimate, really, whether such a story will have any significant, tangible influence on people’s opinions about poker or about poker players going forward. But it seemed pretty certain whatever effect it had would not be positive.

So that was one cause for dismay.

A second arose for me thanks to the fact that as a North Carolina resident, I’ve been getting to read over the last few days lots of commentators enthusiastically characterize my state according to standard stereotypes associated with the South. You know, the usual stuff about everyone here being hopelessly backwards, uneducated, “Bible-thumping hillbillies” and so forth.

I’m hardly sensitive about such generalizations. (In fact, in some cases, they can be difficult to refute.) That is to say, I don’t blindly support my state or the region and like most rational, thinking adults don’t always agree with everything my neighbors believe or support.

But that doesn’t prevent me from getting a little weary sometimes at the dismissive way people look at “North Carolina” or “the South” as representing something unspeakably dreadful, a cultural wasteland where not only is poker (mostly) illegal but all of the worst kinds of intolerance is unequivocally supported. Which just ain’t so.

Finally, a third disappointment arose from the bungled way the story of Raymer’s arrest was reported (and re-reported). I followed it all closely Friday afternoon, including constantly checking the NC television stations’ websites as well as the gleeful, excited repetitions of the news that quickly circulated through several national outlets as well as on poker news sites and forums.

The initial mistake about “male prostitution” was of course repeated everywhere. When the correction was made, WTVD and WRAL silently edited their reports without making any reference whatsoever to the earlier mistake. Most of the cut-and-pasters on the other sites did the same, with some letting several hours pass before making the fix.

It was appalling.

This is a personal blog and not a news site. I don’t really report news here, but will sometimes reflect on what gets reported elsewhere. Even so, I do try to maintain a standard when it comes to how I communicate with my audience. When I publish a post then later decide to add or correct something, I indicate my having done so with a big, bold reference to an “EDIT” being made.

Now if I’m fixing a typo or making some other less substantive, surface-level alteration, I won’t bother cluttering the post with such disclaimers. But say I make a mistake about something, or overlook an important detail and feel the need to comment on it later. I feel it is only fair in such cases to let my readers know about such additions or revisions.

Meanwhile, actual news outlets have to recognize such an obligation, otherwise their credibility is reduced to zero. If a site can fundamentally change its reporting on the fly in substantial ways with a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks, how are we to accept anything they report as accurate?

I know others are today thinking about and wanting to discuss Raymer’s family life, engage in debates about prostitution, or even discuss sexual preferences (the latter topic triggered by that misreporting), with a few in the poker world also wanting to focus on that initial point I brought up about poker’s image perhaps having taken a hit here.

But as someone who writes about poker for a living and who has found it necessary to accept certain restrictions that come with writing for an audience, it’s the way this story brought out into the open all sorts of fundamental problems with today’s media that occupies my thoughts most prominently three days later.

The arrests resulted from a so-called “sting” in which Raymer and the others were provided with a story. They then responded in ways that gave authorities cause to make arrests and thus expose them.

I almost feel like the incident itself has functioned kind of like a “sting” insofar as it provided an occasion for media outlets to respond, and in doing so the way they did, they too were exposed.

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