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Making Sense of the Donald Sterling Case

May 4, 2014

Credit tmz.com

After decidedly racist comments by  Donald Sterling, owner of the L-A Clippers basketball team, were made public by the gossip website TMZ, the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved quickly to ban Sterling from the game for life. 

Sterling's comments were secretly taped by his girlfriend. 

We do not know if TMZ paid her for them. But the manner in which these recordings went public does make some mainstream journalists a little queasy - including Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project."

"We still don't know a lot about why she was recording it. I mean, obviously, she was in a  fight with him, but was her intention from the beginning to get him? I think we should be a little queasy about a recording made secretly when you a might have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Yeah, there's a little bit of queasiness on my part," said McBride.

However, having a gossip site or a tabloid break significant national news in an unconventional way is not new.

"This has been happening for years and years and years," explained McBride. "This is the world we live in now where tabloids or online news sites that maybe have a different set of ethics, probably are willing to pay for information, they are going to break stories that other organizations aren't going to be able to break."

If any news organizations are going to come out looking bad in the Sterling reportage, McBride said that it is probably the sports media, which has some questions to answer about how they have covered Sterling over the years.

McBride wondered, "If you knew he was such a bad guy, why did you only talk about his bad management of the team? Why didn't you talk about what a horrible human being you knew he was?"

But McBride said the sports media redeemed itself during the news conference in which NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Sterling was being banned from the league for life.

"At Poynter, we spend a lot of time teaching reporters how to ask questions," McBride said. "We usually turn to press conferences for examples of how not to do it... How not to bloviate or pontificate or make an argument with your question. We tell people just ask the question - ask a straight, open-ended question. And, to a person, reporters in that press conference asked straight-forward, really great questions. If you contrast that with a White House press conference, you will see the good and the bad of reporters asking questions at press conferences."