Fake News Is Real

In my experience the New Zealand main stream media adheres to pretty professional standards of journalism. But occasionally events occur that let the side down. One of those events is happening now. This lynch-mob trial of Anthony Peden is way out of line. Every night TV One reporter, Abbey Wilson, breathlessly bursts onto our screen with another salacious bit of gossip. Every night her report ends with the soap teaser that there is more to come. “Just watch tomorrow night.”

Wilson is charged with reporting the news, not broadcasting her trip into porn fiction. I dislike the impression of Wilson searching for a shot of Peden running through the Cycling NZ car park with his pants around his ankles, chugging a pint of Speights, chasing Sarah Ulmer on a bike. I’m sure Wilson was the lead cycling reporter at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. Her vindictive reporting of the Peden resignation makes me wonder if something happened at the Games that pissed-off Wilson and this is her revenge moment.

Did Paden tell her to bugger-off? Did he turn her down for an interview? Did he refuse her invitation to dinner? Did he decline her offer to skinny-dip in the Optus Aquatic Centre? I have no idea. But the way she has gone after the guy is not normal; certainly it falls short of the standards we have a right to expect from main stream journalists. If Wilson wants to report like the National Enquirer, she should work for the National Enquirer.

This weekend the excellent “Herald on Sunday” reporter, Andrew Alderson, brought some balance into the discussion.  He reported there were claims that the coach was being “hung out to dry”. The “Herald on Sunday”, he said, was told allegations against Peden are “a smear campaign” to destroy Anthony by people close to him.

Alderson’ source claimed “tall poppy syndrome” and jealousy” had seen many disgruntled ex-employees and former riders try to destroy Peden’s credibility.

To be honest Alderson’s report sounds believable to me. Until concrete proof is found to the contrary my advice to Abbey Wilson would be to keep her mouth shut. Because, as sure as God made little green apples, we are going to hear from a hundred more bandwagon jumpers in the next few weeks.

Typical of what we should expect is a report today by Ollie Ritchie for Newshub. His report begins:

Former New Zealand track cyclist Steph McKenzie has lifted the lid on the bullying and toxic culture under the watch of former sprint coach Anthony Peden.

Well that must rate as the world’s least fair and balanced introduction. Without a shred of proof and before any investigation Peden is accused and convicted of a “bullying and toxic” culture. And why? Because some cyclist was dropped from the squad and has decided now’s her chance to get even.

Except, according to Ritchie, McKenzie wasn’t dropped from the squad – According to Ollie Ritchie she was “dumped from the squad because she was deemed overweight.” You see when your only interest is sensational gossip “dumped for being overweight” is way better than “dropped for being too slow.”

And then we get some details. McKenzie’s best example of “ugly memories.of bullying and negativity” was Peden saying “skin folds, skin folds, skin folds” a couple of times a week. Well if that’s too much for the poor petal I’m delighted we are no longer paying her to be a professional athlete. McKenzie sounds like a spoilt brat who has taken advantage of a gullible journalist.

I’ve had examples of athletes who needed to lose weight. When Rhi Jeffrey came to New Zealand she was too heavy. We turned her weight loss into a competition between me and her. We would weigh ourselves each week and compare the weight lost. Inevitably Rhi won. She is after all and Olympic gold medal competitor. My way might have been more subtle than Peden. That probably means Peden is more honest. Certainly mentioning skin folds is not screaming “you fat pig” at dear Steph.

If this post sounds supportive of Peden I accept the charge. It is because, like most coaches, I have been on the rough end of swimmer’s gossip and it is not nice. For example on a trip to the Mare Nostrum meets in Europe one of my swimmers got sick. I took her to the doctor. He prescribed some antibiotics and told us to take the first meet carefully, but she should be fine for the second meet in Canet.

The day before the Barcelona meet, I told her I had scratched her from her longer races but had left her in the 50-meter freestyle. She could swim that event, but only if she felt up to the task. She said she wanted to swim, and I agreed. She swam. Her time was slower than her best but under the circumstances was a good swim – an indication of better things to come. The swimmer however, could not handle the modest result. She announced that she had spoken to her father and was going back to Florida the following morning. And that’s what she did.

The rest of the team swam the other meets in Canet and Monte Carlo. By the time we got home, the swimmer’s mother had filed a formal complaint with the Florida Gold Coast Swimming Association, claiming I had neglected her daughter’s ill health and had forced her to swim the 50-meter freestyle. It was rubbish, of course. Her complaint also said that I had sent the sick swimmer down to the shallow end of the Barcelona pool to practice turns. That lie was easily rebutted. The Barcelona pool doesn’t have a shallow end; it’s the same depth all over. Florida Gold Coast dismissed the complaint,

More serious was a complaint made by a female swimmer who complained to Swimming NZ that I had recommended female swimmers get pregnant to take training advantage of the early pregnancy increase in blood volume. I was then said to have told the female simmers to have an abortion just before the National Championships. The story was obviously made up but had its origins in a report that the East Germans had considered that procedure. Swimming New Zealand sensing a chance to hang me out to dry took the complaint seriously. The complaint and the swimmer’s credibility fell apart when the same swimmer published on social media topless photographs of her mate getting changed in the National Championships changing rooms. It seems like not even Swimming New Zealand could get around that honesty and IQ problem.

And so in the case of Anthony Peden I think it would be best for us to abide by the tenet “innocent until proven guilty”. Because it seems to me we are a very long way from reaching anything like that level of proof.

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