The New York Times on March 25, 2012, ran a front-page article titled (online version) “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys” by Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara Miles, and Griffin Palmer. As indicated by the title, it was a highly unfavorable depiction. Not surprisingly, reader comments were overwhelming anti-racing and many commenters called for an outright ban on the sport.
Like my website Horse Racing Business, the New York Times writes with a point of view, even outside its editorial page. If you disagree with their slant, you have a few options: complain in an email or a letter to the editor; not buy the newspaper; or cancel your subscription.
But keep in mind that front-page articles offered as reporting and analysis–like “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys”–are the direct result of flagging readership. Simply put, The New York Times needs to sensationalize in order to attract readers.
The facts are: The New York Times Company has seen a continual dramatic decline in its subscriptions, with its revenues plunging. The company now has negative earnings per share and its stock price has retreated from $51.50 per share in 2002 to less than $7 a share today. The newspaper has become so desperate (and evidently resentful of its fate) that its editorial page has turned into an attack machine on people and groups it does not happen to agree with. Recently, for instance, the Catholic Church and Mormons were savaged by an angry female columnist. Any pretense about dispassionate journalism and reasoned editorial analysis has long since been dispensed with.
Even the paper’s traditional motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is an anachronism. If horse racing is (supposedly) a dying sport, the Times has a more advanced illness, with a foot in the print grave in the digital age.
The kind of article produced by Bogdanich et al. could easily have been written about head injuries in the National Football League, drug use in Major League Baseball in particular, but other human sports as well, punch-drunk former boxers, and the perils of auto racing. Indeed, some of these topics have been addressed because they sell papers. However, the major sports leagues have the financial wherewithal to return fire with their own publicity, whereas horse racing is decentralized and makes for an easy target for failing newspapers trying to gin-up sales.
In spite of The New York Times’ pecuniary motivation and bias, the issues raised in the Times article of March 25 and elsewhere are not without merit. When esteemed racehorse owners like George Strawbridge and Charlotte Weber publically protest about lax drug policy in 2-year-old graded stakes races, people should take serious note. These folks are not out to sell anything, but rather, are expressing anguish about the direction of a sport they love.
While justifiably railing against the New York Times may make you and me feel better, venting won’t do anything except expend negative energy. People who genuinely care deeply about the sport of horse racing–and the animals and humans involved—need to reform the sport, regardless of whose toes get stepped on in the process. Especially work to rid the sport of race-day medication and the thugs who give racing a bad image. Especially do everything possible to make racing surfaces safer for jockeys and horses. If a racetrack surface temporarily goes bad due to weather, or whatever, cancel the day’s races.
Horse racing will never be a 100% safe sport, and never 100% free of thugs, which also happens to be true of other sports and living per se. The reasonable and necessary goal must be to institute reforms, sooner rather than before it is too late. That way, horse racing will not be such an easy target for journalists looking to hawk their stories and do-gooders looking to bring down an elegant sport and large-scale agribusiness employing lots of people.
Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business