JC / Railbird

Media Eclipse Controversies, Then and Now

Pedigree expert Sid Fernando has a deep memory and a willingness to publicly recall past, less-than-wonderful, episodes in recent racing history, qualities that make him a good source for adding context to current, less-than-wonderful, episodes in racing. Late last night, Fernando was bringing some perspective to the questions about Barbara Livingston’s 2017 Eclipse award for a multimedia piece that reused copy from a 2010 blog post by referring to the controversy over Eclipse media award rules after author Laura Hillenbrand won a 2001 Eclipse award for an excerpt from her book “Seabiscuit” that was published in Equus magazine.

In a Twitter thread, Fernando pointed out that, “Ray Paulick resigned from NTWA after 2001 awards after Jay Privman questioned Laura Hillenbrand’s entry,” with a screenshot from Paulick’s site including these paragraphs:

I quit the National Turf Writers Association after the 2001 media Eclipse Awards were announced and then-NTWA president Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form unfairly, in my opinion, questioned the eligibility of a piece written by one of the winners, Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” had previously won an Eclipse Award in 1998 for an article on Seabiscuit published in American Heritage magazine. Her 2001 award was for an original adaptation from the Seabiscuit book that appeared in Equus magazine.

As I recall, Privman, as NTWA president, sent an email to members criticizing the awarding of a second Eclipse to Hillenbrand and suggesting it was “unseemly” of her to even submit the piece for consideration. It was my understanding he was trying to have her stripped of the award.

Jay Privman, the National Turf Writers Association president in 2001, challenged Paulick’s recollection of the Hillenbrand discussion in the comments below Paulick’s post. It’s worth highlighting a few relevant points from Privman’s comment and the supplementary information he included from the 2002 NTWA newsletter about the issues involved:

1) First, Privman notes, “My capacity, as the then-president of the NTWA, one of the three sponsoring organizations of the Eclipse Awards, was to make sure the rules were followed, and to suggest improvements where necessary.”

The rules question was whether Hillenbrand’s entry should have been allowed, as a book excerpt that was adapted into a magazine article. The ambiguity led to Lenny Shulman’s asking — as paraphrased by Privman — about future entries:

What is to stop a book author from submitting one chapter from a book to a magazine, year after year, in an attempt to win an Eclipse Award for each chapter? Based on this precedent, it could be done.

Similarly, if Livingston’s reuse of the 2010 copy is allowed to stand, what’s to stop someone from repurposing previously published material into a “new” multimedia piece and submitting it for an Eclipse? The current rules do not address reuse. Privman said in 2001 that the loophole for book excerpts would be tightened. Will the same be done this year for incorporating previously published content into multimedia work submitted for Eclipse consideration?

2) Privman also observed at the time, re: Hillenbrand’s entry, that:

More disturbing, however, is this: the NTRA, in its press release, said the winning magazine submission was an “original adaptation” commissioned for Equus. Fine. But what it really amounts to is reconstituted matter from the book. It’s almost verbatim, yet abbreviated in some areas.

In the case of Livingston, we have an analogous situation — a significant portion of the text in the 2017 piece is verbatim copy from the 2010 post.

3) Privman also addresses a comment left by Vic Stauffer on the Paulick Report about the 2003 audio/multimedia award. Stauffer shared the Eclipse award that year with WBAL Radio in Baltimore, after he was initially awarded the Eclipse for his KSPN ESPN Radio 710 story, “56th Birthday Tribute to Laffit Pincay Jr.” Concerns were raised about factual errors in the story, leading the Eclipse Awards steering committee to reopen the category for voting.

“The organizations must be fair to all who submit awards,” wrote Privman, about how the factual issues with Stauffer’s radio story compromised other entrants in the category.

Does not the same standard apply to Livingston’s entry and this year’s audio/multimedia category? Is it fair to other entrants that the winning work was not wholly original? I say no. And while it might be unfair to single out DRF and Livingston in this year’s situation, I would argue that DRF has a greater obligation to appear to play fair because DRF is one of the Eclipse Award voting blocs and a sponsor of the Eclipse Awards program.

Jennie Rees, then the NTWA president, also commented on the Paulick Report about the 2003 audio/multimedia Eclipse award, giving some insight into the decision-making at the time about how the issue was handled:

When made aware that Mr. Stauffer’s Laffit Pincay feature had been judged No. 1 in the radio category but contained such a fundamental error, Mike [Kane] and I felt strongly that the situation mandated discussion with the other Eclipse committee members. The committee agreed that the judges deserved to be informed of the error, and let them re-vote according to their personal standards and conscience.

An even earlier Eclipse scandal yields a clue into how flawed winners have been dealt with in the past. In 1996, Stephanie Diaz won two Eclipse Awards for magazine and newspaper writing. She was then charged with fabrication and plagiarism. An investigation led to Diaz being stripped of her magazine award. Fabrication and plagiarism are much graver charges than reusing your own copy without attribution, of course (and just to be clear, I am not equating the two situations), but it’s interesting how the Eclipse organizations choose to investigate and settle the matter then — with an arbitrator. Will there be a similar public reckoning over Livingston’s award?