Since May of 2006, the American news media has been following the story of an injured horse. Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner with a shattered right hind leg, underwent several procedures that never would have been used on a non-champion horse. Every step taken in the hopeful recovery of Barbaro was covered by both ESPN and national news networks. The American public held onto hope as reports came in that Barbaro was recovering. People even placed cards and get-well wishes at the stable of the horse. On Monday, January 29, the world found out the sad news. Barbaro had been euthanized.
Before I go on, I don’t want to be misunderstood. As many people did throughout the last two-thirds of a year, I also hoped for the recovery of the horse may believed could win the Triple Crown. However, the news coverage went from information about a champion horse to some odd fixation that got more than out of hand. When news got out about Barbaro on Monday, both MSNBC and Fox News broke in to report the “breaking news.”
First of all, Barbaro’s doom was not quite unexpected. The fact is any other horse would have either succumbed to the injuries Barbaro suffered or would have been put down awhile ago. Now if his owners wanted to spend some absurd amount of money saving their beloved pet. After all, I recently wrote an article about just how hard it is to love an animal that becomes a member of the family. It is a very sad and traumatic event. The fact is Barbaro had at best a 50 percent chance of recovery. A horse does everything standing up, including sleeping. The injury and infections that followed made it impossible for Barbaro to live a pain-free life. His demise was inevitable.
Second, I would like to take this time to state just exactly what can be called breaking news. A war in the middle east would be considered breaking news. A car accident on the interstate that involves thirty vehicles is breaking news. When it comes to the sports world, Roger Federer or Tiger Woods dominating may not be a breaking news story, but is still more news worthy than a horse that won only the Kentucky Derby.
As somebody who loves the Triple Crown including the Kentucky Derby, I would like to take this time to ask those individuals who watched MSNBC report Barbaro’s death a few questions. Who won the Preakness in which Barbaro was injured? What are the three races of the Triple Crown? When do these races take place? The fact is, without looking up these facts, most people wouldn’t be able to answer these questions.
Herein lies my problem with the news coverage. Barbaro became a very sad and regrettable situation. It stopped being both a sports and news story a long time ago. Cutting into a story about 2008 presidential candidates campaigning or more troops being sent into Iraq to report the death of Barbaro is almost laughable. I would have no problem with a short sound bite or a one minute clip alerting the world on the sad news, but bringing in animal experts to explain why Barbaro didn’t make it is ridiculous.
Proof to how much this story changed can be found by the fact that neither ESPN nor ESPN II broke into their regular programming to announce the death of Barbaro. While I’m sure that ESPN News did report the story, but ESPN will break in when a noteworthy sports story happens. However, ESPN continued showing interviews dealing with the upcoming Super Bowl. Barbaro changed from sports to a “human interest story.” When something of this nature happens, it is a sad event without a doubt. However, let’s please save the breaking news banners for stories that deserve immediate national attention. Until then, ESPN.com will relegate a story such as Barbaro to a small portion on the front page. Meanwhile, big stories such as the Super Bowl and Phoenix dominating the NBA will continue to be front page news. That is the way it should be.