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Monday, May 29, 2006

Bizarre Reporting by Rhoden

- I received some thoughtful comments on my post on the NY Times column by William C. Rhoden last week about the “unknown” filly who died of a heart attack at Belmont on Wednesday. Particularly interesting was the commenter who relates that he/she had been interviewed by Rhoden that day, but that those responses didn’t make it into the piece.

He baited me with the comment that everyone seemed to care about Barbaro, but no one seemed to care about this "anonymous" filly. I told him, "No one cares? I can assure you, sir, that this filly's connections were grief-stricken." He asked who those connections might be. I told him "the assistant trainer and groom ran out there immediately, to be by her side. To the people who spend every day of the week with her, she was as special to them as Barbaro is to the Jacksons".
These remarks obviously didn’t fit into Rhoden’s agenda, and thus ended up on the cutting floor. I had complimented the columnist on at least his reporting skills that were on display, but this revelation shows that he was equally adept at skewing the results of his endeavors towards his point of view (and reader Steve D makes a fair point to the effect that he feels that this is common practice for a newspaper that he, and others, consider to be at the forefront of what they consider to be the liberal media).

On Saturday, Rhoden wrote another column that bashes the industry (again, subscription only, sorry), claiming that in the wake of the Barbaro injury:
..questions have begun to percolate about a bizarre thoroughbred industry, from its training methods to the medication to the routine treatment of horses who aren't superstars.
‘Bizarre?’ That’s a pretty bizarre way in itself to describe a sport that has been part of the mainstream in this country far longer than his beloved basketball has. Rhoden then segues into a discussion of horse slaughter in this country, and here, as opposed to what I considered to be skillful reporting in the prior column, the journalism is shockingly shoddy.

For one thing, he fails to mention that industry groups such as the NTRA and the NYRA have universally supported legislation to ban horse slaughter. Nor does he discuss the numerous private efforts, such as those by organizations such as Old Friends, to find homes for horses after their racing careers. No surprise there.

But worse yet, he writes that: The legislation has been doggedly and successfully fought by cattle associations and veterinarian groups. He never mentions the fact that legislation intended to ban the slaughterhouses was indeed passed by Congress last September. That law attempted to do so by prohibiting federal funding for required inspections of the plants. But the three slaughterhouses circumvented the law by appealing to the Agriculture Department, which subsequently allowed the plants to pay for the inspections themselves. This is one of the examples of the executive branch of the Bush Administration running roughshod over the legislative branch, and perhaps one of the incidents that has contributed to what we can definitely refer to as the "bizarre" sight of Republicans objecting to the recent FBI raid on Democratic Senator William Jefferson’s office. Frankly, I find it rather amazing that a columnist for the so-called Paper of Record would be so negligent with his research.

But despite the shoddy reporting, the column is not completely without its merits. Perhaps you will be as surprised as I am to learn that Dr. Larry Bramlage, the vet who told the Preakness audience on NBC to “say a prayer” for Barbaro, is opposed to current legislative efforts to permanently ban the slaughterhouses.
"We have to have to face the fact that there are unwanted horses, uncared-for horses and neglected horses.....It's a better scenario for the quality of the horse's life to assure that they'll be taken care of and assured that somebody takes the responsibility not to let them suffer. We don't promote the fact that people have to send their horses to slaughter. If there's any other option, we'd prefer they do that."
Bramlage described the process by which the horses are slaughtered as instant, humane death. "People think of half-dressed, unshaven people wielding knives," he said. Instead, the slaughterhouses use a bolt gun and a bullet that is on a spring and placed between the horse's eyes and ears. "It shoots out the end and springs back," he said.

This euthanasia system renders the horse instantly unconscious. "You watch the horse, their eyes don't change, they don't even blink and the ears don't even move," Bramlage said. "They drop straight down instantly."
Hopefully, Dr. Bramlage said a prayer for these horses too. His views reflect those of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, of which he is a member. Tom Lenz, a former president of the organization told Rhoden of horses who meet this fate: "They got there because they didn't meet somebody's needs."
Lenz said that those who own horses, those who buy horses and those who breed horses need to do some soul-searching and decide what their motives are for owning a horse and their capabilities of taking care of a horse.

"Outlawing processing is not going to solve the problem," he said.

Maybe not, but it's a start. Eliminate the slaughterhouse.

Let the horse die a natural death.
Now, there’s one thing that we and the columnist for the Times can agree on.


Anonymous said...

This guy reminds me of this winter's CNN feature about NYRA's troubles. They sent a film crew to the Big A on a Wednesday in January to gather footage of a typical day at a NYRA track. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Rhoden is writing these as a columnist, and not a reporter. That's an important distinction. He natually has a point of view and the columns reflect that.

Sources and subjects shouldn't be sandbagged or misquoted but you're essentially in there to make arguments for the column (or else you would end up on the cutting-room floor).

I'm a big racing fan, but the industry is quite bizarre in how it treats horses, bettors, patrons, and nearly all affiliated with it.

Tote Board Brad said...

the industry is quite bizarre in how it treats horses, bettors, patrons, and nearly all affiliated with it.

I agree, but the bizarre factor is not captured by the column. The sport and indusrty is bizarre (like I can't get a damn digital win photo!) in ways different than, and not as sinister as the column discribes.

Well done Alan. Btw, when are you turning pro? Hasn't some racing site tried to pick you up on waivers? There's rumor that Dan Illman might be traded to the Blood-Horse, then you could write the FormBlog.

Green Mtn Punter said...

Steve D is absolutely right- The Times lost whatever credibility it had, at least in my opinion, after Abe Rosenthal stepped down as managing editor- many years ago now. It's present role seems to be house organ for the far left, those who would naturally see horse racing as a cruelty -to- animals conspiracy run by and for the wealthy classes, so I am not at all surprised to hear of Rhoden's column. It's time for the old NY Herald-Tribune to be revived- I started reading it as a teenager and liked it- it was known as the Writer's Paper and was much more interesting and enlightening than the Old Grey Lady. Although I don't remember Joe Palmer, the Trib's legendary racing writer for 7 or 8 years following WWII, I have read the collection of his stories on racing published in book form titled "This Was Racing" and found them thoroughly enjoyable. Have you read the Joe Palmer book, Alan? I think you would find it very inspirational!