While HBO boxing color commentator Larry Merchant may not be a reporter, he is a professional broadcaster and with the role comes the responsibility of being accurate and truthful.
In claiming during this past Saturday during HBO’s telecast of Antonio Margarito vs. Shane Mosley that Oscar De La Hoya received $5 million to appear at Affliction/M-1 Global’s “Day of Reckoning,” Merchant spewed what was nothing more than a fabrication in its purest form.
Unlike Mr. Merchant, I did my research. I called multiple sources on Monday in an attempt to verify Merchant’s claim. Everyone I spoke to denied the claim and most acted surprised that I would even bother to ask whether Merchant’s remark was legitimate or not. The tone expressed by some in response to my question was essentially, “Do you really need to ask me this?”
But as someone in the role of a reporter, I really did need to ask someone about it. It’s a shame that Merchant didn’t feel the same way. I don’t believe Merchant made the number up and I believe that he actually heard the number come out of someone’s mouth. Where Merchant is likely at fault is that he didn’t even bother to verify the accuracy of the claim. If he had done his job properly and had made a few phone calls, he would have saved himself from embarrassment.
If he would have done his homework, he would he learned that Affliction’s payroll for “Day of Reckoning” was a disclosed $4.7 million and that the idea of paying someone a fee that superseded that amount just to appear was completely asinine.
If Merchant would have done his job properly, he would have learned that Golden Boy Promotions received a six-figure amount to help promote and produce this past Saturday’s event and that the fee De La Hoya’s promotional company received to be involved with the event was well shy of the number offered by Merchant.
Merchant’s motive for purveying such a mis-truth is quite clear: he hates MMA with a passion. That’s great; we get it, Larry. But since when does your disdain for a sport put you in a position where you can neglect your responsibilities as a broadcaster to be accurate? What gives Larry Merchant the authority to make such a libelous statement?
If Margarito vs. Mosley had been airing opposite the Super Bowl and De La Hoya was in Tampa as opposed to Los Angeles and Merchant made the same inaccurate claim, he’d be in serious trouble. Not only would HBO be all over him but so would the NFL. If Larry Merchant walks away from this without so much as a slap on the wrist, it will be a true crime. It will also send the message that you can use HBO’s airwaves to make irresponsible claims so long as the network sees the victim of your mis-truth as a threat.
But the use of “mis-truth” might not be just in this context, as Merchant went on the air Saturday night in front of an audience of millions and essentially told what was a bold face lie. Since many at HBO share in Merchant’s disgust for MMA, the odds of a reprimand of any kind taking place are almost non-existent. However, what Merchant did was wrong and no matter what HBO thinks of MMA, such a blatant inaccuracy is unacceptable.
HBO has blazed a trail of presenting combat sports in a state-of-the-art form for decades and is better than Merchant’s gross inaccuracy. If the award winning premium-based cable network wants to preserve its high-standard of excellence, it will address the matter with Merchant. They will then ask him to explain why he said what he said and if he’s unable to produce evidence to support his claim, he will be forced to issue a retraction in the form of a statement issued on HBO letterhead.
Unfortunately, as wrong as Merchant was, MMA fans shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for an apology or a retraction. However, they can take some solace in this: HBO’s reputation was damaged a lot more Saturday night by Merchant’s statement than MMA’s.