Swimming is a sport of grace and mechanics. It’s won with speed, but that speed hinges on proper technique, specific body position, and controlled bursts of strength. When done properly, there aren’t many more events as spectacular to watch as eight swimmers, stride-for-stride, straining towards the wall simultaneously, each with the overwhelming desire to get there first.

Many age group swimmers (those typically under the age of 15) get frustrated by the nuances of each stroke and try to find “faster” ways to move through the water – and some succeed, but only for a time. Eventually, form triumphs and these swimmers learn what many before have already come to grips with: speed is a by-product of proper technique. Not only does following the guidelines of technique result in faster swims, deviating from said form could result in a disqualification.

Journalists have a lot in common with swimmers in this regard. Their techniques have been well explained over the years. Follow a hunch, look for evidence, research, find sources, verify, verify, verify. Unfortunately, many in the field today only care about speed. Headlines are primary. Details are secondary. Accuracy is a luxury. Shape the story before it’s a story. Why verify when you can vilify? And most unfortunate: there are no DQ’s in journalism.

Speed was certainly the key to the recent “Lochte Four” stories breaking from Rio last week. Initially, everyone was sympathetic towards Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentz. It was a cut and dry emotional piece about the dangers of competing internationally – a close call for four of America’s Olympic swimmers.

Then the rumors began. The spin. A denial. A glimmer of “hope” for a scandal. Because scandals sell better than sympathy. Because we are a culture of predators bent on bringing down the good in the world. What’s that? They’ve accomplished great things? Ah, well we can find something wrong with them, just give us time. And, on the word of officials with something to lose, we quickly turn 180 degrees from defending to denigrating. And because no “journalists” bothered to verify any of these stories before going to press, all of these rumors held weight.

Lochte bore the brunt of the media assault, because he has the biggest name. Honestly, it’s swimming and there are really only a handful of names that register in pop culture. Over the past few days, Ryan Lochte has been accused of drinking in excess, urinating in public, fighting with security guards, causing a disturbance, vandalizing private property, lying about all of this, and abandoning his “accomplices”. He’s been called a coward, an egomaniac, a buffoon, an entitled frat boy, and a self-absorbed brat. He’s lost sponsorships and faces possible suspension from his livelihood.

And nobody knows what truly happened – only what’s been “reported”.

Surely you’ve read the reports – late night party, back-alley pitstop, something about a poster, maybe a bathroom, guns drawn, maybe security guards, maybe off-duty police officers, maybe a pay-off, maybe a robbery, maybe this, maybe that, maybe not.

What seems clear from all the statements is that the four did engage in public urination and that a poster was removed from a wall. What also seems clear is that they had guns drawn on them and money was exchanged before they could then return to the Olympic Village. The rest of the details aren’t particularly important.

Lochte characterized the events as “being robbed at gunpoint.” By all counts, that seems to be what happened. Guns were drawn. Money was demanded. Reports say that somewhere between $50 and $500 were handed over to the “security guards.” This has been made light of because it’s “not that much money” and phones, credentials, watches, etc. were ignored during the exchange. Given the average monthly salary for a minimum wage worker in Rio (as reported by the Washington Post) is $228, $50 – $500 seems like a reasonably big deal.

Two quick questions: If this happened to you, would you call it a robbery? If this happened in the US, who would be painted as the victim?

Authorities in Rio insisted this wasn’t a robbery. The collective “we” immediately accepted that denial. Not sure why, but that was the new story. And everyone pounced on “ Lyin’ Lochte” to generate the most compelling headlines. It’s easier to sell stories about a wealthy American being a jerk than a poor corrupt country being corrupt.

Meanwhile, Conger, Bentz, and Feigen are held in Rio while the events were being “investigated.” Conger and Bentz are allowed to leave because they were presumed to be merely “witnesses” and not defendants. Feigen, on the other hand, would be forced to surrender closed to $11,000 for the freedom to return home. (If we are still keeping track, that’s approximately 4 years’ salary for a minimum wage worker in Rio). It’s okay, though, because it’s a donation to a charity.

Authorities are now reportedly demanding another payment in the ballpark of $30,000 from Feigen. This seems like quite a lot for a wet wall and a fallen poster. It also seems that Conger and Bentz were more likely released because they are college students and amateur athletes without sponsorship money.

As actual evidence rolls in, it all seems to be corroborating Ryan Lochte’s story. The one with the guns drawn and the money taken. But none of that matters, Lochte is already the villain and a villain can’t become the victim. That would require the media to admit they were wrong – and acknowledge that Rio isn’t as rosy as it’s made out to be.

The damage has been done and it seems no one will apologize to Ryan Lochte (but they probably should).

peace… love… bdg…