Frank Deford’s errors

Glenn F. Bunting is a damn fine reporter — at least as I remember his work with the old San Diego edition of the LA Times, so when Bunting accuses Frank Deford of playing fast and loose with facts, I pay attention.

Especially when some of Deford’s mistakes are whoopers:

“Deford did it again!” he exclaims on the morning of Nov. 6, 2002. Ed says Deford reported that no woman had ever before played in a men’s professional golf tournament. He tells me that Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias competed in the men’s Los Angeles Open in 1938 and 1945.

Bunting has done his homework, and he has a long list gaffes by Deford.

But then, so what? Sports reporting has long been disparaged as the “toy department” of journalism. And his transgressions certainly pale compared to the journalistic crimes committed by Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Stephen Glass at the New Republic, two writers who passed off outright fiction as truth. Also, given the hundreds of articles and commentaries Deford has composed throughout his career, couldn’t he be viewed as a slick-fielding shortstop who occasionally lets a grounder through his legs?

On the other hand, not all of Deford’s troublesome passages were mere exaggerations. Many were flat out wrong and had not been corrected in print. So, with the assistance of Los Angeles Times researcher John Beckham and my golf instructor, I set out to compile a list of inaccurate statements that have appeared under Deford’s byline in the past several years.

We document about four dozen excerpts that contain factual errors or embellishment. Most come from Deford’s weekly commentaries and columns. That strikes me as a high number, particularly for a writer of Deford’s stature. I know how hard my colleagues labor to avoid mistakes—and how journalists who play loose with the facts do nothing to enhance the public’s trust in our profession.

I’ll leave it to you to read Bunting’s account of confronting Deford with his errors and misstatements.

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