Friday, October 30, 2009

There goes Joe Drape again

In today's New York Times story about NYRA's ban of trainer Jeff Mullins, reporter Joe Drape -- whom I took to task recently for his shoddy piece on I Want Revenge and the drug culture in racing -- has gone back to the well with his unattributed claims.

Drape today writes: "The aggressive punishment of Mullins in New York comes at a time when horse racing is under intense scrutiny for its use of illegal drugs, overuse of legal medications and lax oversight, all of which many veterinarians believe are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for Thoroughbreds."

All emphasis, of course, mine.

Attribution, apparently as is frequent for Mr. Drape, entirely absent.

One of the first lessons I was taught as a reporter was to avoid making statements such as the above by Mr. Drape -- i.e., "many veterinarians believe" -- without telling readers who those veterinarians happen to be.

Even when Drape wrote an entire piece on how I Want Revenge supposedly illustrates the claims made above, his attempts at attribution were feeble and insubstantial.

I'm not saying there aren't sources to cite that would back up Drape's claims about drugs in racing. I'm saying that Joe Drape apparently believes he doesn't even need to bother providing such citations; that simply repeating the allegations in the New York Times ad infinitum shall be proof enough that the claims are true.

I'm all for aggressively pursuing and sternly punishing drug-violators on the back side of America's racetracks. I'm 100 percent in favor of reducing American racing's apparent reliance on medications. I would love to see and be a part of a "cleaner," less-pharmaceutical sport.

I would also like to see those who report on that sport at the highest levels follow some basic rules of reporting and attribute their statements rather than repeatedly stating as fact claims for which they rarely if ever provide supporting evidence.


  1. Certainly we should all hold journalists to high standards, and based on this and previous postings, you seem to think it's your responsibility to point out Mr. Drape's infractions.

    It seems fair, then, to raise some questions about the conclusions you draw.

    "Frequently absent"? On what are you basing this characterization? What constitutes "frequent"?

    Similar question about "rarely if ever"--to what and to how many articles are you referring?

    Did you contact Mr. Drape to ask what he believes? Is it good reporting to speculate about what he "apparently believes"?

    It seems that a little substantiation would do some good here as well.

  2. Mine is commentary. His is supposed to be objective reporting. There is a significant difference.

    "Frequently absent?" Well, 0-for-2 on appropriate attribution of late is two times too few.

  3. Seems to me that twice is hardly frequent, and commentary without substantiation is no more useful than reporting without it. Easy to hold yourself to different standards than to those at whom you throw stones.

    Thank you for the response.

  4. So what kind of "o-fer" streak is acceptable in reporting?

    Is it OK if Joe Drape does it six times in a row, but not 10? ... Ten times in a row but not two dozen?

    If I slog through Joe Drape's archives and find this sort of lazy, shabby or, more likely, just grossly editorialized reporting repeated more than twice, how many more will be enough?

    Considering the location of origin of these frequent (there I go again using that word) anonymous defenses of Joe Drape, I doubt that any number of instances would be enough to satisfy you.

  5. ranted, this search is cursory and brief. But when I Google +"lax oversight," +medication and +"horse racing," of the first 20 returns, 16 of them are either stories by Joe Drape or a couple of hits on my blog's complaints about Joe Drape.

    The other four articles are actually unrelated to racing/false returns on searches.

    So, per Google anyway, the one person who -- more than anyone in the world perhaps -- is using the term "lax oversight" in regards to horse racing medication rules, is Joe Drape in the New York Times.

    And on June 4 he did it again with no attribution: "There is a growing concern that overmedication — with drugs like corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories that can have dangerous consequences — and lax oversight have imperiled the safety and welfare of racehorses."

    "Growing concern" among ________? (Please, Joe, fill in this blank.)

  6. Crack reporting, Glenn! Yes, these posts are coming from New York City, ...and that, in addition to a point of view expressed here, means that I'd be unwilling to be persuaded? Another sound, well supported perspective.

    I have done nothing to defend Joe Drape, "frequent" (and one expressed point of view isn't frequent) or otherwise; I've said nothing about his work at all. It's your work that I'm questioning, which I find unpersuasive based on the evidence you offer.

    And you may attribute that opinion to whatever you like, but your saying something, unfortunately, doesn't make it true.

  7. Join the party with your name and I'll give your opinion more credibility.

  8. Drape has written other articles that do have more citations and quotes. The second article from your search is one such, that has been reprinted on the ROAP site:
    The RMTC also reprinted that article:

    He doesn't have room to re-cite these sources in each article, these are follow-up stories written under space constraints.

  9. I actually disagree that there's considerably more attribution here. Drape does cite some individuals who decry the current situation. I don't read any of that article as supportive of his claim, made in more than one story, of "lax oversight."

    In fact, in the Derby article, Drape notes that beginning in 2005, Churchill Downs and Kentucky racing officials "began 24-hour surveillance and more comprehensive drug testing." And that at Keeneland, Patrick Biancone was caught with cobra venom in his barn and (as we know) subsequently severely punished.

    Although problems persist -- and I'm not even arguing that there aren't any problems -- it seems that oversight is increasing. Standards are becoming more strict. Punishments more severe.

    I'd still like to see substantiation for Drape's claims that "many veterinarians believe" there is "lax oversight" and an "overuse" of legal medications. The sources cited in Drape's I Want Revenge story were virtually worthless in that regard.

    Are they the veterinarians of the American Association of Equine Practitioners? (A report from that organization was cited by Drape in the story about I Want Revenge.) ... Doesn't really seem to be the case, because a search of that organization's Web site turns up no documents decrying "lax oversight" of racing medications. ... The "White Paper" from the AAEP cited by Drape in the story about I Want Revenge does criticize the way that inconsistent medication rules between jurisdictions are a "challenge" for trainers to manage, but it doesn't mention any particular failure in oversight of those rules by authorities in those jurisdictions.

  10. I agree with you regarding basic journalistic principles and I'm also grateful that NYRA threw the book at Mullins. I just wish it was a nationwide ban.

  11. Glenn,

    You're a bulldog, and Drape is beginning to look like flank steak.


  12. Glenn:

    I sent in a tweet to Ray and Brad recommending u for BOB!

  13. Sid,

    Are you sure you don't mean "BOOB?"


  14. Joe Drape has never been a good "journalist", at least with respect to his coverage of Thoroughbred racing. However, I find it to be far, far more disturbing that the very same transgressions which you correctly point out in his case are common amongst most of the political "journalists" who cover the White House.

  15. I just noticed a "G" is missing above to start my own prior post with the word "Granted."

  16. I am one of Joe Drape's anonymous sources, a practicing racetrack veterinarian, who has spent probably 5 hours conversing with Mr. Drape about racing medication issues.
    I can assure you that I will continue to insist on anonymity until this subject becomes a less combustible issue, as your unwarranted attacks on Mr. Drape's journalism prove.

  17. Glenn:

    I follow your blog, so that means I find it interesting. This Joe Drape thing, I don't quite understand. I understand that your journalistic education has set standards for you. Good and I respect that. I also understand that the print press doesn't provide space for footnotes, bibliographies, etc and very little room for corrections or retractions either. Here's what bothers me about your the issue drugs in racing or Drape's lack of identifiable sources? God knows what Bernstein/Woodward would have done with "deepthroat" by your standards. And journalism isn't what it used to be. More's the pity for the average, concerned American. But me thinks thou protests too much.

    IOW, I'm not against precision in reporting...which gets butchered daily by the print press and TV, but seriously, why is this such a problem for you? What did Drape (who has probably been reduced to op-ed for sports in the second place at the NYT) specifically not say that you need to verify? AAEP again in your reply???? You have got to be joking! These people facilitate horse slaughter for human consumption as a GOOD POLICY in direct contradiction to the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia!

    Finally, you wrote:

    "....I'm all for aggressively pursuing and sternly punishing drug-violators on the back side of America's racetracks. I'm 100 percent in favor of reducing American racing's apparent reliance on medications. I would love to see and be a part of a "cleaner," less-pharmaceutical sport...."

    Excuse me, Glenn. "...REDUCING? APPARENT? reliance on medications"?????...."less-pharmaceutical sport"???? Yeegaads,'s a drug jungle out there...starting at the sales auction for God's Sake. How about saying that this sport needs to uniformly enforce standards and regulations across state lines/nationally for starters? How about blogging that the betting/gaming end of this game is driving some tracks, trainers, jocks and horses literally into the dirt?

    Appreciate your concern for journalistic purity, but really in the face of these problems and your penchant for banging Drape, the bigger problem is being missed in my opinion. But carry on...

  18. No - I AM the anonymous source who has been a practicing veternarian at racetracks and I have spent at least TEN hours conversing with Mr. Drape.

  19. I wasn't who cited AAEP first. It was Drape who cited the AAEP "White Paper" (in his article about I Want Revenge) even though that white paper did not actually provide evidence to support the statements to which the Times Web site had it linked.

    Are we really going to compare drugs in horse racing to Watergate? If so, then I have a good one for you in the morning.

  20. Glenn,

    You started this thread by quoting Drape as saying, "The aggressive punishment of Mullins in New York comes at a time when horse racing is under intense scrutiny for its use of illegal drugs, overuse of legal medications and lax oversight, all of which many veterinarians believe are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for Thoroughbreds."

    The controversy here could have ended quickly by asking one, simple question. Is a reporter supposed to footnote or give attribution if she or he says, "The sun rises in the East every morning?"

    In essence, that is what Drape's comments say. If you don't know that, you must not be paying attention, nor have you spoken to many vets, horsemen, racing fans, or followed the Congressional hearings held last year regarding the issue.

    Methinks your quarrelsome attitude is based more in getting attention for attacking Drape than for the subject matter.

    Nick Kling

  21. I disagree, Nick. In no small part because I don't think there's nearly the sort of agreement on drugs in horse racing as there is on the sun's rising in the east.

    If the facts were that obvious and sentiment that unanimous, what would be left to argue about?

  22. Glenn,

    I'm impressed with the statements made by Nick Kling and coeurdefer, above. At first reading, they seem to be KO punches at you.

    However, I'm more impressed with your simple retorts to both. It's as if you played the rope-a-dope while they punched themselves out, then used a sharp right hand to drop each, with one punch.


  23. Sorry, Glenn. You are wrong trying to infer that I equate Watergate with drugs in horse racing in importance; although an argument could be made based on ethics. But since you don't get it, I'll pass. What I will say is that with your puritanical journalistic stance, the argument could be made that revealing deepthroat was and is just as important as the sources you demand Drape do a better job of citing (ask Nixon...ooops, he's dead; sorry). Here's the kicker: you are making a complaint that there are standards to be maintained even within a secretive, investigative situation and I'm not going to get into the legal debate of revealing sources. That you think Watergate was more important is fine; that was not my point....the basic principles are the same. Some how, you seem to be capable of drawing some sort of invisible line that I am not privy to. And yes, while this is a blog, I would assume that you conduct yourself with the same exactitude here that you do in the office or better yet, in your daily life.

    And sorry, Sid...that you get Glenn's logic does not make it truth. But you and Glenn are always entitled to whatever truth you choose to rally round. BTW Glenn, I took exception to your downplay at the seriousness of the case of drugs in racing and you chose to play the "Watergate is WAY bigger than drugs in racing" card. Well, duh, but crookedness is worthy of comment regardless of how it registers on the gravity scale of Mr. FFT. And I referenced the AAEP cite as something that you brought up again; not to say that you were the source of the original citation and that they are a less than a credible source when it comes to horse welfare....but please, contiue to march as I enjoy your blog.

  24. p.s. I haven't called you any names and it is a distraction that your think it is funny with regard to questioning Drape's professionalism and the seriousness that is drugs in racing or any sport for that matter.

  25. To Glenn and Sid:
    YOU are two idiots that refuse to step into the backside muck.

  26. I haven't "downplayed" the role of drugs in racing merely by choosing not to use hyperbolic terms such as "jungle" for the situation.

    We'll deal in the morning with choosing to be an "anonymous difference-maker" in issues of varying hazards and magnitudes.

  27. Anonymous @ 7:17 p.m.

    Thank you so much for your valuable contribution to resolving a serious issue.

  28. You're so welcome, Glenn, espescially in light of your heavy contribution to the elevated enhancement of the Sport of American horseracing!

  29. Glad to do it, and to attach my name to it every day.

  30. and, your contribution and/or participation is what?

  31. Just above the space where I am writing this comment, you say that you welcome comments, criticism, and debate. You will not tolerate jerks and the vulgar. Sound policy, and kudos to you for declaring it.

    But several times here, you have denigrated the anonymous commenters, some of whom appear to be neither jerks nor vulgar. So if you would prefer that people not comment anonymously, why not prevent your site from accepting anonymous comments, rather than accepting them and then belittling them?

  32. My small contribution is offering opinion, seeking truth, accuracy and transparency both in the industry and in the reporting on that industry, and making a small investment of my own in that industry while hopefully doing it "the right way."

    As for anonymous commenters, I'd rather someone have the fortitude and courtesy to use their name. If they have something that seems to be of substance to contribute, it allows me to weigh those comments based on who delivered them; their known or likely experience, knowledge or reputation.

    And if they have nothing of substance to contribute, well, it's still of interest to know who hates your guts.

  33. So,is this the internet, or what, Mr. Craven?

  34. It certainly is, which has significantly broadened our ability to communicate while shrinking the will among some to bear personal responsibility for what they say.

  35. Yeah, Glenn, thats all fine and dandy, bottom line is that you don't have a clue, and you should come clean that you haven't spent one iota of time investigating,besides all your bloviating, and that you don't know what goes on with horses pointing to G1 races in America

  36. Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if someone like Joe Drape wrote something that actually informed me, then?

  37. like I said, you are an idiot

  38. Think about it. You complain that I am uninformed in response to my complaint that Joe Drape's reporting doesn't provide enough information.

    I'm the idiot?

  39. Yes, you are. What, exactly is your complaint? Are you unaware that anonymous sources have a place in American journalism?

  40. Strangely, Drape doesn't even cite "anonymous" veterinarians. He typically doesn't cite anyone at all and, in my first critique of his work, I showed that the citations he and the New York Times did provide actually didn't contain the evidence necessary to support his story's claims.

    Repeatedly in his reporting, Joe Drape makes the claim that "many veterinarians" have made or would agree with these statements that legal medications and "lax oversight" lead to the high breakdown rate in the United States. Like that's unassailable common knowledge.

    I don't know that it IS common knowledge. If you have studies, expert testimony or other hard evidence directly linking legal meds to the high U.S. breakdown rate, please provide them. Joe Drape sure doesn't.

    Certainly it's a strongly held opinion of a certain (obviously hard to determine) percentage of those who are fans, horsemen, vets and others involved in horse racing. But strongly held opinions can't be passed off as equal in certainty to (incorporating an example from above) the sun rising in the east.

    I'm sure Joe Drape would be pleased to know that you're letting this keep you up so late, though.

  41. Wait, how did I miss this one?

    Anonymous at 4:34 p.m. ... have you talked an extra five hours to Joe Drape already today?

    Or are you a different anonymous vet than the one who visited a little before 9 today and said he/she had talked with Drape for at least five hours?

  42. I have to agree with Coeurdefleur and Nick Kling here, this is pretty much a 50-comment non-issue.

    Neither the statement that 'a lot of vets are concerned with racing's medication policies' nor the often-proved fact that North America is the world leader in breakdown rate among relevant racing jurisdictions is controversial. To cite the AAEP as an authority is akin to citing a White House spokesperson about Watergate in February of 1973 or citing a 2002 report by the MLB's practitioners association about drugs - those guys make a living cooperating with the crooks.
    There have been plenty of anonymous and non-anonymous sources for Drape's statement, as anybody familiar with the topic should be aware of.

    I appreciate your journalistic ethics (even though I doubt they are followed quite as strictly at your own paper), but it should still be allowed to include statements that have been sourced and discussed oftentimes. By your standards, every mention of the senate as the more powerful of the two chambers of the American parliament would have to go off into a long political systems discussion on why it's fair and generally accepted to label them as such.

    Would you also find it unacceptable if Drape had written that there's a "drug problem in professional cycling", just like that?

  43. On a sidenote: your Googlesearch for "lax oversight" is a bit lax in itself. A little disingenuous to use such a specific term for a semi-representative search. Try "'thoroughbred racing'+drug+problem+oversight" or really any combination of the more general terms racing, drug and oversight and you'll see that this topic is hardly a Drape exclusive.

    Fun fact: there are exactly zero ghits for "'puritanical journalistic stance'+watergate". Obviously no one has ever discussed journalistic ethics in re Watergate before you and Coeurdefer did ;-).

    (Apologies to Coeurdefer for making his Iron Heart a "Flowery Heart" in my last comment; honest mistake).

  44. The drug issue in cycling, in my opinion, is actually a more obvious and well-reported issue than are medications -- legal and illegal -- in horse racing.

    At the 1998 Tour de France, one-third of all teams and riders either were caught doping or withdrew rather than be caught. Are six or seven of the horses in the Kentucky Derby running on ILLEGAL medications every year? ... If so, somebody with that knowledge and enough courage to stand up and say so, say so.

    Floyd Landis was disqualified from his victory in the 2006 Tour de France on a doping charge. In 2007, Michael Rasmussen was fired by his team after learning that he had lied about his training whereabouts in June; Rasmussen was leading the race when sacked. Also in 2007, Alexandre Vinokourov, a pre-race favorite, was disqualified for doping after winning a time trial.

    But in the 25-year history of the Breeders' Cup, not a single horse has tested positive for a Class 1 or Class 2 banned substance.

    I am in favor of stricter medication standards that are universal across jurisdictions. I am in favor of harsher punishments for violators, including lifetime bans.

    But I continue to maintain, and nobody has provided evidence to the contrary, that there isn't the unanimity on the horse racing medication issue (especially legal medications) that there is in, for this example, cycling.

    When you can't get neighboring states to agree on what substances and levels of those substances are allowable -- and certainly veterinarians and other equine health experts are involved in setting and policing those rules -- then it's difficult to make sweeping generalizations about what unidentified experts believe on this issue. It's pretty much obligatory to attribute those statements, because I'm sure we can go out and find people to go on record to the contrary.

    And plenty of people who would give you a contrary opinion if their identity would be protected so nobody could ever hold them to their words.

  45. Malcer,

    I conceded that the search was flimsy, although frankly I was surprised to find that nobody in the first 20 hits had used the term "lax oversight" in connection (anywhere in a document) with horse racing medications, other than Joe Drape and myself.

    The point already has been made that when Drape and the New York Times actually linked to supporting documents in connection with his several claims (including "lax oversight") a reading of those documents actually revealed no apparent references at all to lax (or bad, or poor, or weak, or flimsy, or crappy, or the synonym of your choice) oversight of the medication rules in any particular jurisdiction, let alone broadly across horse racing.

    That's where this "puritanical" stand of mine began. I decided to follow the bread crumbs that Drape left for readers related to the I Want Revenge article and found that those crumbs didn't lead us to the information his reporting, in effect, promised.

    I must continue to emphasize: I know that drugs in American racing are a problem.

    I just want better reporting on the issue, and I want those who claim they have scandalous information to actually be bold enough to stand up and do something with it.

  46. malcer: That was pretty funny.... and I have been accused of being flowery (or would that be "hyperbolic"?) on more than one occasion. Google is up there with Wiki pages in my reference world; just more "paid for" search results than Wiki.

    After rereading Drape and FFT ad naseum, I still don't see the problem. But then I guess that makes that situation exclusively mine. 22 paragraphs and that one paragraph's what bugs Mr. FFT (plus Drape's IWR piece, among others)?.'s your sandbox and your the journalist, but I'm the reader and I don't think you've made your case to me. If Drape is so bad at attribution, why isn't his editor slapping his hand (I know, different subject)?

    It is my understanding that drugs in North American racing would appear to be a problem, particularly when compared to international racing. Finding studies and "white papers" on the subject are not easily found, just as the breakdown, injury stats appear to be debatable, incomplete and frequently vaporous. Why is that?FFT chooses to focus on Drape's lack of attribution. Fine. I find the issue of Mullin's being able to race with a record of multiple (that would be more than 2, Glenn) violations in other NA racing jurisdictions, lengthy time to ejudicate tragic. That he is in the top ranks of trainers (that would be wins and purse monies, Glenn) with a respectable client list is just plain sad. If this guys is at the top, then I'm going to start having nightmares about the situation more than certainly going on at the bottom levels of NA racing. But I can only extrapolate based on numbers of TBs in killpens like New Holland and Enmuclaw (sp?) and USDA slaughter export numbers....guess that makes that observation nothing more than an opinion piece.

    D. Masters

  47. And Glenn, I just want better uniform industry-wide policing of drugs, breakdowns, deaths and unethical treatment of the horses.

    D. Masters

  48. Look through the Top 20 trainer chart and you'll find that indeed about a third of the names there belong to people who would have been kicked out or at least severely punished years ago if they operated in another racing jurisdiction.

    The cycling analogy is actually a good one on a number of levels, IMO. I'll try to put up a post about that topic later today or, more likely, tomorrow.

  49. Whatever the Paper of Record says, wherever in its paper it says it, should be taken with a grain of salt - if not disregarded entirely. Remember Page 1's WMDs? And as this paper has so little regard for Thoroughbred Racing, why read it at all? In fact I say: Fahrenheit 451 for the new york times.

  50. Glenn,

    You wrote, "I continue to maintain, and nobody has provided evidence to the contrary, that there isn't the unanimity on the horse racing medication issue (especially legal medications) that there is in, for this example, cycling."

    Going back to the top, where does Drape say, or even intimate, that there is unanimity?

    You quote him saying, "Horse racing is under intense scrutiny for its use of illegal drugs, overuse of legal medications and lax oversight, all of which many veterinarians believe are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for Thoroughbreds."

    Nothing about it being unanimous.

    Hence, logic suggests your motives are other than what you state.

    If Drape had claimed there was unanimity, then your complaint would be justified. He didn't, and yours is not, at least based on the parameters you have outlined.

  51. Re Anonymous:

    I don't understand why there is so much cloak and dagger mystery about this. Facts are facts, and if there are misdeeds being done, the authorities, for one, need to know about them. If they won't act, then speaking plainly in print leaves them with little room to wiggle.

    If, on the other hand, this information is from secondary sources, hearsay, etc., then it cannot be taken without some concern about reliability.


  52. Apologies for the link to the now-deleted post above, and to the person who was impersonated.

    I can't tell that there are links in the name when approving a blog comment from my e-mail address.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.