This may shock you to hear, but I do not edit The Dream Shake full-time. As wonderful as our readers and community are, we’re a free website, plan to stay that way, and don’t make nearly enough money to support anyone’s living.
This is a hobby. Professionally, I’ve been a news reporter for more than five years, covering crime, courts, local government, and business. And, like many in the media world, both full-time and part-time, I am keenly aware of how many people read my stories, and which kinds of stories get very good traffic numbers.
This is why Donald Trump got such crazy coverage in the presidential campaign last summer before the polls justified it: stories with the words “Donald Trump” in the headline got clicks and pageviews that made Jeb Bush look like covering your local assemblyman. It’s the reason seemingly every outlet in America, from TMZ to Vox.com to the Washington Post, wrote not one, but multiple stories about the Kim Kardashian/Taylor Swift Snapchat snafu. I mean, just look at this nonsense:
The same paper that took down the Nixon Administration posted six different stories about a stupid Snapchat video in two days. Six. By the way: the drinking water in D.C., where I live and where the Washington Post is the only daily newspaper that doesn’t cover exclusively politics is based, is just as lead-poisoned as that in Flint, and has been for more than a decade. But I digress.
Moses Malone, Jr., went on Facebook a few weeks back to criticize James Harden for charging $250 to attend his basketball camp. Moses Malone was beaten and robbed of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. Four men have been arrested and charged with this crime. This is where the facts end.
Here is the headline for the local ABC affiliate that broke the arrests: “Four Suspects Charged In Beating Of NBA Legend’s Son Outside Houston Nightclub.” This is a good, accurate headline.
Here is Deadspin’s headline: “Moses Malone Jr. Said He Was Beaten And Robbed For Criticizing James Harden.”
Bleacher Report: “Moses Malone Jr. Allegedly Assaulted over Criticism of James Harden.”
Yahoo Sports: “Moses Malone Jr. accuses James Harden of orchestrating aggravated robbery.”
Notice the escalating tone and candor of the national stories. This is the last line in Deadspin’s story: “James Harden has not been charged with or accused of any wrongdoing, and has not yet made any public statements about the incident.”
Look, I get it. I wrote one story about James Harden dating Khloe Kardashian — one — and the entire point of the story was about how dumb the whole thing was, how I hated that it was part of being a Rockets fan and about how I wouldn’t write about it again. That story is one of the five most-read stories in TDS history. The temptation for sensationalism is very, very real.
Because SB Nation is very good to me, they have never asked me to cover anything other than basketball. All I got was good-hearted ribbing from my fellow site managers.
The guys at Gawker, Bleacher Report and Yahoo Sports aren’t so lucky. They are under constant pressure for clicks, to beat each other to the buzziest news of the day, to be the story that your average Googler clicks on when the search results come in. The more tantalizing a headline, the theory goes, the more likely you are to win that battle. Many of these writers are doing this for a living. I am not.
But, there remain only two facts in the case. Moses Malone Jr. criticized James Harden. Moses Malone Jr. got robbed. Everything else is hearsay. And, I’ll remind you, hearsay coming from an aggrieved party who is now, allegedly, worth $15,000 less than he was before the incident.
Malone also said that one of the men charged with his assault referenced the Facebook post. He said he got a threatening text message from a friend of Harden’s before it happened regarding the post. He said, he said.
Now, I don’t pretend to know what happened that night. Neither should anyone who wasn’t there. I also don’t know the son of one of the three best players in Rockets history. I don’t know his circumstances, I don’t know what he’s like. I hope he’s healthy and OK and I hope he’s grieved the loss of his father to the best of his abilities.
I also know that James Harden is a very wealthy, 26-year-old black man. Guys like him have been targets ever since people realized you can sue other people for their money.
The sites above weren’t totally irresponsible with the way they covered the story — the text of each were far more nuanced than the headlines, which is always the case — but they spawned far worse. Don’t feel that you have to click on those: each one uses the term “goons.” The men have no reported affiliation with the Rockets’ superstar.
This is why it’s irresponsible. You can’t take back these headlines, which are what most people exclusively read anyway. What happens if, if the case even goes to trial, the jury exonerates these four men? What happens if Malone retracts his accusations? Will these sites take their stories down? No, that’s not how this works.
Here’s how this works: unless more facts that reveal a more nefarious plot — which, I’ll admit, is a grim but legitimate possibility — this will go uncovered from here on out in the national media. But the damage will have been done. In many corners of the online sports landscape, James Harden now has goons who assault people.
And that’s just unfair, and it’s irresponsible. Highlight the facts, people. Don’t drag an innocent — as we all are until we are proven otherwise — young man through the mud for clicks.