CSC Lodges Official Complaint With Associated Press Over WSF Study
I’m sure most of you will recall that the College Sports Council had all sorts of problems with a study that was released recently by the Women’s Sports Foundation entitled, “Who’s Playing College Sports? Money, Race and Gender.” But while we had multiple concerns over the study, we were just as alarmed by the way some in the media chose to cover it, especially when it came to a September 24, 2008 piece by Melissa Murphy of the Associated Press (AP).
Earlier today, CounterPoint CEO and CSC Media Director Jim McCarthy sent the following letter to the AP outlining the CSC’s concerns:
October 6, 2008
Ms. Terry Taylor,
450 W. 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001
Dear Ms. Taylor,
As the Media Director for the College Sports Council, a coalition of coaches, athletes and parents working for reform of Title IX, I want to convey how troubled we were by several aspects of Melissa Murphy’s reporting last week about a research study on how the law affects sports participation rates. The story appeared on September 24 and was about a Women’s Sports Foundation report on participation rates in college athletics titled, “Who’s Playing College Sports? Money, Race and Gender.”
Here are the specific problems:
• Although the WSF is an advocacy group with a specific, ideological outlook on the Title IX issue, Murphy failed to identify them as such. Instead, they were simply presented as an objective source, with no description of their political disposition or activities. There was also no attempt at all in the story to question the methodology or the findings of the report.
• Our group, the College Sports Council, represents athletes, coaches and parents who are working to reform Title IX’s enforcement mechanism and have long been the primary group on the other side of this issue – pursuing federal litigation, for example, and studies on Title IX-related data. Indeed, the WSF’s own report indicates that it was pursued in part because of research that CSC released last year – research that casts significant doubt on WSF’s approach to participation analysis. Murphy is aware of this and yet didn’t reach out to us for comment or reaction on the WSF study. By contrast, every time we have issued public analysis in the past, Murphy has called WSF for their input.
• Murphy also failed to inform readers that the researcher who produced the study, John Cheslock of the University of Arizona, is a paid consultant to the WSF. Instead, he was simply presented as an objective academic.
• The story says the report relied on “data from the NCAA and Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act.” This misleads readers in two critical respects. First, the NCAA refuses to publicly reveal their source data, showing school-by-school reporting, which means it is totally unverifiable. Second, the data listed as “1995 EADA” was not collected by the government at all – as readers are led to believe. Instead, it was collected and compiled by the WSF itself using what they claim was an EADA form. That data too is not publicly available.
• Murphy’s reporting appears to breach a number of commonly accepted journalism guidelines on social science coverage. The bias or agenda of a group presenting research data should be revealed – and yet the article obscured it. Financial remuneration to researchers should be disclosed – yet readers went uninformed. Source data should be available for scrutiny and verification – and yet that data is being withheld — which means the reporter herself has never even seen it, let alone readers. Finally, if the findings are in dispute – as they certainly are here – alternative or critical sources should be heard – and yet the article ignored them entirely.
CSC representatives brought all of this information to Murphy’s attention multiple times in the last two weeks but, to our surprise, she seemed utterly unconcerned. I personally asked if she would follow up with WSF about having paid Cheslock, about misrepresenting the EADA data, and about producing their source material. She said she would not and disagreed that these were even problems in the first place.
The way that Title IX is being enforced is an important national issue and we are pleased to see that the AP is following it. But the impact and policy prescriptions about Title IX are in serious and valid dispute. Readers deserve to know that – and to hear from both sides of the issue. They also deserve to have accurate and reliable information about the research that undergirds the public discourse.
We would like to ask for some explanation of how Murphy’s reporting could have gotten past editors with these obvious flaws and what corrective or clarifying action AP will take to set the record straight. Thank you in advance for looking into the matter.
The College Sports Council
We’ll keep you updated as to what we hear back from the AP. Stay tuned.