One of the major complaints about poker journalism has been that the journalists who cover the game are too “close” to the subjects that they cover. This criticism exploded over the Absolute / UB “Superuser” scandal of the mid to late 2000s all the way through the collapse of the original Full Tilt Poker in 2011.
Instead of trying to make for an unbiased outlook on the game – something that many in the poker community have cried out for – a situation at the 2014 World Series of Poker Championship Event shows that seemingly nothing has changed.
How Kevmath got into the big dance is a problem
On Day 1C of the tournament, Bluff Magazine journalist and (to be honest) poker expert Kevin ‘Kevmath’ Mathers was bought into the event, but not on his own dime. Players, led by Daniel Alaei and Daniel Negreanu, pitched in money until the $10,000 buy-in was reached. This purchase was detailed out on Bluff’s website in all of its apparent glory.
There is an inherent problem in this, however.
Journalists from any field aren’t supposed to accept gifts such as this which they could profit from. They aren’t supposed to accept gifts that, in an unfortunate circumstance in the future, would bias their coverage in the future. They aren’t supposed to become PART of the story, they are supposed to report the story.
Let it be known that Mathers does do some good work. When asked a question over various social media outlets, he will come up with the (normally) correct reply very quickly. It is, however, anyone with a bit of access to poker tournaments and websites (as many have) and the ability to use Google can come up with.
A $10,000 buy-in for doing such little things as this should be ethically unacceptable to anyone, especially someone who covers the same people who are giving him the money (it appears that the deal is a 70/30 split, with Mathers able to keep 30% of anything he wins).
Where do you draw the line?
There are those that may ask, “What’s the difference between that and accepting a poker book?” “What’s the difference between that and accepting a stake to test out an online poker room?”
There are huge differences.
A $25 book isn’t going to swing the opinion of many people and neither would a $50 or $100 stake on a poker room. Beyond that, there are the ethics in play when you are writing for a voracious audience such as the poker community.
Whether I have bought a book or had it sent to me for free, I always approach each one with the same discerning eye that any reader would.
I recently raked Colson Whitehead’s The Noble Hustle over the coals because it was, in fact, a horrendous book. I’ve also reviewed software (both purchased and given) and movies (ditto, and you don’t want to know how many) with that same eye simply because the poker audience wants to try to find the best that is offered to them.
My wife also pointed out something when it comes to such a situation. “Didn’t the Positively Fifth Street guy get staked? And so did the guy whose book you hated,” she said to me.
Completely different situations.
In both Jim McManus’ (she couldn’t recall his name) and Whitehead’s cases, they were given the buy-in to the Championship Event by the media outlets they represented (McManus’ original work appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Whitehead’s on Grantland.com). In both cases, it was as a part of their job as a writer to come up with an entertaining or different look at a culture which many do not understand.
They were not given (or staked) $10,000 just because they were a “good guy.”
For the record, I have received a buy-in once in my journalism career. As a part of a website I worked for in 2006, I was given a buy-in to a $1500 WSOP event as a “bonus” on top of my work during the run of the tournament (outlasted 1000 people in a 2500 player event!). I haven’t accepted a tip from any player nor a dinner. There has been an occasional drink shared, but it was also returned.
The biggest journalism faux pas that I may be guilty of is allowing a player or the subject of an article I’ve written to have a look at the copy before it was sent in.
The reason? Ethical balance.
The poker world does need to have an active and unbiased journalistic eye and, unfortunately, such an occurrence as we see with the Mathers situation do not help the cause. It also castigates the work of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists and poker media members who have been a part of the industry at least as long as I have been around (a decade) if not longer.
“A nice thing to do” (as Alaei put it) doesn’t cut it if you’re looking for an unbiased media which, apparently, Bluff does not want to be a part of.