Saturday, March 30, 2024

Some thoughts about the Kim Mulkey story

The Kim Mulkey story by the Washington Post's Kent Babb, the kerfuffle leading up to it and the instant reaction to it is probably a good reminder for journalists to operate under the assumption you have even less control over your work than the pitifully small amount you might have thought you had.

I'm kind of amazed by the number of people on Babb's X account calling his piece a "nothingburger" or in other ways disparaging it for not living up to *their* expectations. Or referring to the "hype" over it.

But those expectations weren't set by Babb or the WaPo. Nor was the supposed hype. They did the smart thing and kept their mouths shut after Mulkey's outburst last week.

It was Mulkey who set those expectations with her combative and, frankly, ignorant comments (though arguably smart from a PR standpoint because she was able to provoke these reactions).

Then there are those that begin, "After two years ..." as though that automatically should have resulted in the modern equivalent of "War and Peace." But that's a combination of Mulkey's bluster and a lack of understanding of how things work. I've had many stories that took "years" if you measured by when I started researching them and when I finished. But if you just aggregated the time I spent, it would just be weeks or months.

Babb obviously was not working on only this the entire time. And it does take a long time to contact the numerous sources (probably at least twice as many -- likely three, even four times as many -- as you read about) and try to get some of them to talk. Often, you never see those other people because they are there to make sure what you do see is the right stuff. I used to tell students, you'll never use 90% of what's in your notebook. It's there to make sure the other 10% is exactly right. Babb is a former student of mine*, and I have no hesitation saying this is his M.O.

Besides, don't forget that a lot of this "two years" (Mulkey's words) was because of Mulkey's refusal to talk to Babb. So a careful reporter in those cases takes even more time to back things up.

Sure, I would have liked to have seen a bit more peeling back of her layers and more direct sources. The piece probably could lose a few hundred words. And it's a shame it had to rely so much on printed stuff from Mulkey and others. But it was a well-written, richly developed look into Mulkey and her life that left me knowing a lot more than I knew before.

Babb and the WaPo didn't promise anything else -- because they didn't promise anything at all.

And had this dropped "normally," as many such stories do throughout the year but especially at tournament, Super Bowl, World Series, etc., times, it would probably have gotten a different reception.

As for the USA Today column saying Mulkey never would have been subjected to the same treatment as a man, BS. She is one of the most outspoken, successful, polarizing and, it would seem, feared coaches in basketball -- women's or men's -- today. It's not that she's a woman; it's that she is Kim Mulkey.

And what she is, apparently -- other than obviously being a good coach from the W/L standpoint -- is someone who likes to spout off and bluff, but when her hand is called, folds.

(*Student, as in he was in my classes and politely nodded while I babbled on. You don't teach someone like Babb. You just try to give them a little guidance and then get out of their way.)


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