By ERIC RUEB
Some people say you canât always believe what you see on television.
In one case involving a local golfer, those people would be right.
On July 14, WPRI Channel 12 and its affiliate, WNAC Fox 64, showed highlights of North Kingstown resident and former Skippersâ golf star Samantha Morrell and her opponent Ali Prazak putting on the 18th hole at Laurel Lane Golf Club in West Kingston in the finals of the Ocean State Womenâs Golf Association championship match in its nightly sportscast.
Problem was, what viewers saw never happened.
The footage, shot by reporter Sara Hogan and described putt-for-putt on air by WPRI sports director Eric Murphy, was staged, a serious breach of television journalism ethics.
âYou have to be truthful to the viewers,â University of Rhode Island department of Journalism Professor and former WLNE Channel 6 reporter Barbara Meagher said. âWhen the viewers see this video of the golfers playing, you have to say âand after the tournament was over, they showed us some of their key [shots].â You canât make viewers believe that it was during the tournament.â
âNo one realized it was fake,â Morrell said. âThey said âI saw [the highlights] on the news and Iâd say âIâll tell you what really happened, because that isnât what happened.ââ
Murphy said in an e-mail after speaking with management, he and the station would have no further comments on the situation.
WPRI News Director Joe Abouzeid replied in an e-mail âThe video that Sara Hogan was taking of the players was for a story that she is working on about the players that has not yet aired. It is not our policy to recreate or reenact âhighlightsâ. It is, however, our policy to specifically and accurately describe and identify the video that we present. It appears in this case that although the video was not described as highlights, it should not have aired in this context.â
In the broadcast, Murphy described each putt as if it happened during the match and despite Abouzeidâs claim, never gave an indication what viewers saw was staged. Part of the footage was used in a feature on Morrell by Hogan that was on the stationâs website last Thursday.
The match ended on the 16th hole at Laurel Lane. Morrell missed a birdie putt and watched as it slid 10-15 feet past the hole. Prazak, with a chance to win the hole and extend the match, missed her birdie effort. Morrell conceded the putt and needed to make hers to close out the match.
She drained the putt and celebrated her second straight OSWGA title with a fist pump.
Players, officials and fans were at or on their way back to the clubhouse when Hogan arrived from Potowomut Golf Club in East Greenwich. Murphy said Hogan was there covering the Rhode Island Menâs Amateur Golf Championship.
Hogan filmed the OSWGA award ceremony and when it finished, was overheard by this reporter asking Morrell and Prazak if the two could grab their putters and return to 18 to âcreate some television magic.â
According to the Radio, Television and Digital News Associationâs code of ethics, professional journals should not âpresent images or sounds that are reenacted without informing the public.â
âIt comes down to this was a reenactment and you didnât inform that public,â Meagher said. âThis comes down to the basic trust between the public and us; if we donât let them know when something like this happens, little by little theyâre going to lose their faith in us.â
Creating the âTV magicâ was also uncomfortable for one of the highlightâs stars.
âIt felt kind of weird. We didnât know what do to,â Morrell said. âWe tried to make it like the real thing, but I think we did a good job with our acting. I think we deserve some credit for it; that was really realistic.â
WPRIâs highlights from the OSWGA Championship can be found on their YouTube Channel, titled âRI womenâs state amateur golf final.â The staged footage begins 10 seconds into the clip and ends at the 36-second mark.
Updated to include quotes from Samantha Morrell on the incident.View more articles in: