Local Math Whiz Wins Medal, Friends are Happy and Say So to the LA Times

Competitive instincts die hard down on Spring Street. In what must have been a flurry at deadline, Larry Gordon in the LA Times wrote a story on Terence Tao, a UCLA professor who won the Fields Prize for Mathematics. Five paragaphs into the story, we learn that the reporter never spoke to the guy.

Tao, who could not be reached for comment, won prizes in international math contests when he was 11 …

And then the story goes on about what a great guy he is, and that for a math whiz, he’s not a nerd. Oh, good.

For an obscure award without a big pay day, the story got a lot of attention, largely because because one winner–Grigori Perelman, an exceedingly erratic Russian–declined to attend and refused the honors presented by King Juan Carlos of Spain. Steven Colbert, on last night’s Colbert Report certainly had his way with this story. The Times ignored the wacky Russky and went for the local boy, determined to prove him to be a regular, normal, everyday, aw-shucks guy.

Tao’s in Spain, actually getting the award. Okay, so the Times doesn’t have a Madrid bureau anymore. But has the Tribune Co. cut off over-seas calls? And why the rush to print? It’s not like the Times was going to get scooped on the big news that Tao isn’t all geeky and weird. Hint: you’re still the only paper in town.