Monday, February 16, 2015

John Paul Newport and "Going for 100": Is this Column Really Necessary?

John Paul Newport’s recent column “63 Women—And Me—Go On a Buddy Trip” (Wall Street Journal, February 7-8, 2015) raises questions of journalistic integrity and editorial judgment.  Let’s look at a few.

Why was this trip the subject of a column?  Women and men go on golf trips all of the time.  There is no apparent reason to document this one in a major newspaper.  Sure, 63 women is a fairly large number, but it not a Guinness Book record.   Going for 100” was allegedly started 5 years ago, has 170 members, but the Bandon Dunes trip was the group’s first outing.   What has the group been doing for the past 5 years?  Were the participants truly buddies or just members of a loosely affiliated group?—e.g., Costco members.
The founder of the organization has playing privileges at Cypress Point, San Francisco Golf Club, and Burlingame Country Club.  Another participant is a member of the Wente (as in Wente Vineyards wine) family with privileges at Cypress Point, Monterey Peninsula CC, and Ruby Hill Golf Club.  It doesn't sound like any of the participants play in a 9-hole league after work.  Had I not known better, I would have thought the column was the product of Robin Leach rather than a writer who shares a byline with the likes of Kimberley Strassel, Bret Stephens, and Mary O’Grady. 

It is true this column fits the genre of many of Newport’s columns (i.e., basically a diary of his golfing adventures with Trump, Trevino, et al.).  But there must be a back story here that Newport fails to explain.  Did he fail to disclose any previous connection with the group  or was he offered any inducement to promote the trip?  The trip cost $1000, but that probably was for double occupancy.  Who did Newport bunk with?

Why does Newport think he is Margaret Mead?  Much of Newport’s column is devoted to his observation on the differences between men and women.  He makes no claim “of broader significance or surprising insights,” but goes ahead anyway.  He has to get to 800 words somehow.  Women prefer chardonnay while men prefer beer and women tend to be more verbally supportive of each other than men are, or so writes Newport.  His sample consists of one group of women of high socioeconomic status—a statistically insignificant sample in both size and composition.  Newport also demonstrates he has never heard of the Hawthorne Effect in which individuals improve their performance when they know they are being observed.  If these women knew they were going to be a subject of a WSJ column—why else would Newport be invited?—they probably checked any bad behavior at the airport departure counter. 
Why does Newport, the golf writer for the WSJ, not understand the USGA Handicap System? Newport wrote “Handicaps ranged from 4.7 to a few higher than 30.”  A handicap is always an integer so no player has a “4.7” handicap.  Newport confused a player’s index with her course handicap.   Newport also failed to post any score from Bandon Dunes.  This is a serious breach, but maybe Newport has an explanation for his handicap chairman--“I was just playing for fun with the girls and was going to post before the start of the active season.  Truly, I was!”

To end on a positive note, while Newport details the problems with the commuter flight to Bandon Dunes, he does not say the plane came under RPG fire.

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