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Baseball’s irrelevance

Ken Fowler | Friday, October 13, 2006

Cory Lidle, a pitcher for the New York Yankees and nine-year veteran of Major League Baseball, died Wednesday when his Cirrus SR-20 crashed into a skyscraper in Manhattan. He was a human being.

For the first two hours of nonstop broadcast coverage of the tragedy, the news media focused on the fear of terrorism and the possibility of deaths in the building – along with the obvious question of how such a tragedy could have occurred.

The Associated Press had a 900-word, 27-paragraph story running on its news wire at 4:50 p.m. – 2 hours after the accident – when word broke that Lidle was aboard the doomed flight.

“A small plane crashed into a 50-story condominium tower Wednesday on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, raining flaming debris onto the sidewalks below and rattling New Yorkers’ nerves five years after the Sept. 11 attack,” the story read at 4:47 p.m. “Police said at least two people were killed.”

But after 10 versions of the crash story, the AP scrapped the entire article and began anew with the information about Lidle.

Here’s the entire story as of 4:57 p.m. Wednesday: “A small plane with New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle aboard crashed into a 50-story condominium tower Wednesday on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, killing at least four people, authorities said.”

That was it.

Even though the casualty numbers were the same, the fears had still been flamed and debris still lay on the sidewalk near 72nd and York, the story now revolved around who and not what.

That Cory Lidle, a sports figure, was dead was more important than anything else. And it wasn’t just the AP who had that thought. Reuters, CNN and even The New York Times all changed the focus on the tragedy and fear to one of the two persons killed. Here at The Observer, I fell right into that sad trap. I was trying to convince the editorial board that the story should run in the sports section instead of the news section because it involved Lidle. As I thought about it today, I realized how wrong I was.

Whether it was Lidle and a flight instructor, a 31-year-old stock broker and his son or two sight-seeing buddies, the story should have remained the same. Two people tragically lost their lives when their plane hit an apartment building – and luckily no one inside the building was killed.

But what would have been a much more dramatic story – about two people surviving the plane’s impact into their apartment – was lost in the focus on Lidle.

Buried deep in today’s articles is a tale about a doctor and his wife who ran from their apartment as the plane hit their window. Dr. Parviz Benhuri and his wife survived.

The unnecessary shift of focus might all be part of the human condition, sad as it may be. Next time, hopefully, I’ll at least catch my mistake earlier.