Friday, January 19, 2007

BROKEN CONDUIT

"Sports Center doesn’t consistently highlight all the mistakes of only one team, and only show the cheerleaders of the other."

Home Team Fans
One of the Chicago Boyz was reading the Sports Illustrated website when he came across an interview with first year New York Jets (American) football coach Eric Mangini. Coming off a 4-12 record in 2005, Mangini took over the team and turned them around to a second place finish in their the AFC East with a 10-6 record. The part of the interview that caught blogger James McCormick's eye was this section:
I want to thank all of you guys. I know it’s been a long season for you. I appreciate your patience with me. I know I haven’t been Don Rickles in here. I’m trying. I think I made some progress. I’ll continue to try to make progress. I think the things that you guys do is extremely important. You’re the conduit to the fans. I just appreciate your patience with me and your understanding and your support throughout the course of the season.
McCormick thought about that, the media's job is to inform the fans, it is the conduit that informs them. The desire for sports news is pretty strong in a sports afficinados, especially about their home team. They rely primarily on sports writers to hear about their team - good or bad. This news comes from the media covering these sports, who for the most part try to be as even handed as possible and cover the events, not their opinion of the events:
Most of the sports media actually recognize that there are things that the coaches and players will not tell them. Never have. Never will. That the media do not require, and will not get, a briefing on all the details of a game plan, and certainly don’t need ongoing espionage operations to do a good job for their employers and readers. Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is legendary for his non-informative press conferences, yet sports reporters still line up to hear his words. One reason. His team wins, mostly.

Part of the “good guys” winning requires that the media play it straight. They can read between the lines all they want. They can dream up whatever schemes, plans, and strategies they think will prevail. They can interprete the slightest facial twitch or player limp in whatever way they want. But they cannot, must not, seek to betray confidences that would benefit the opposing team. A reporter who consistently attempted to sabotage the local team’s game plans would quickly be looking for work in a different discipline. Fans have too much invested in their teams to let that kind of behaviour continue.

Thus my broader view for the day — America will get the MSM it wants when America takes its national security as seriously as its football.
Commenters responded to this analysis:
Thomas Sowell has often mentioned in his writings that he wished Americans would treat politics more like sports. We are much more rational about sports than politics. For example, no one, at least that I know of, is trying to drum up an affirmative action lawsuit for whites in professional basketball.
-by JB


That’s a very interesting argument, one that rings true. Of course the national security folks have to keep some things close to the vest. If they didn’t, then the enemy could also see our plans and know what we know.
It would be like Belichick calling a timeout before the start of the 4th quarter last Sunday, jogging across the field and handing Marty Shottenheimer (sp.?) a copy of the Pstriots’ playbook.
-by MRE


The optimism of Iraqis and US troops is noticably higher then Americans at home. Reporters are paranoid of appearing, even for a moment, of being a ‘happy hack’. They don’t embed their reporters, the distrust of the military runs so deep. It will be years before they address the issue.
-by Dave


If you don’t think that sports reporters undermine the effectiveness of the local team, you really DONT consume much sports media. Give Bill Belicheck three losing seasons in Boston, and you will see a backlash that makes coverage of George Bush look like hagiography.
-by SteveR


Another difference between the political and sports media, is that the sports media don’t think they should control the game. They leave that to the coach and players.
The political media think thay they should control politics.
-by Big Al


Agree with the thrust of your post, although sometimes our political bickering sounds a little too much like the chatter of hyper-partisan sports fans.

The key difference with sports is that we all get to watch the same game at the same level of detail as the sports press, and can judge for ourselves the quality of play, whereas we rely upon interpreters to describe the equivalent of rules, opponents, judges, the play-by-play — and even the outcome — in politics or in Iraq. Here, ‘game highlights’ presented by a lazy, incompetent or politically compromised intermediary don’t serve us very well.

Same goes for America’s image abroad. People around the world don’t get to ‘watch’ the U.S. as they would an athlete’s performance. The only picture of America almost all of them will ever see is comprised of words and images selected by newsroom editors and producers, supplemented by the thoughts and words of influential politicians, entertainers and opinion-shapers. Throughout Europe, or places with state-controlled media like China or the Middle East, the absence of any narrative to compete with one of non-stop American villainy means that the answer to the question ‘why they hate us’ is that ‘they’ are given very little choice.

Similarly, there is but one conclusion you could reach about Iraq based solely upon media coverage — but it’s the same conclusion the media had reached when our boys paused in a sandstorm on the way to Baghdad, the same conclusion the media reached after three elections, and the same conclusion they hammered at throughout 2004 and 2005, when the IMF and the World Bank declared Iraq the fastest growing economy in in the Middle East.
-by Vinnie Vidivici


I believe that Vinnie made a good point. The MSM is equivalent to ESPN’s SportsCenter. They just show edited highlights–the big hits, the big errors, the big plays. Just like the MSM, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Just like SC doesn’t show linemen doing their jobs in the trenches, and doesn’t give them credit for LT’s big runs, the MSM doesn’t show the grunts in the trenches, successfully doing their jobs. The big difference: SC doesn’t consistently highlight all the mistakes of only one team, and only show the cheerleaders of the other.
-by Jacksonian


Unfortunately, a better comparison is baseball coverage. Football (unlike the real news) only happens about once a week. And for the playoffs, you have fewer games being focused on by the same number of people. So the analysis does get better.

But baseball is played everyday. And the day-to-day journalism coverage of baseball is really superficial. Very rarely is strategy discussed well. Often, you get a regurgitation of what happened. Mind you, that is necessary. But some real in-depth analysis is necessary as well. You have to go to non-traditional media sources (like the web or various blogs) for that.

That is where the MSM is stuck as well.
-by Johnmeister


That’s pretty insightful, but I think a large portion of the problem comes from the home team itself. If the Bush Administration had half as effective a PR team as any given sports franchise, I think we would be in better shape morale-wise. The American people aren’t getting any good information because it isn’t being handed out. If Bush and his advisers were out day after day, making the pundit talking points in speeches and press conferences, it would be impossible to ignore. How many times have we who support the war banged our heads in frustration wishing for just ONE correct move, ONE good response to a situation, ONE tasty soundbite that we can throw in the faces of the opposition? It’s almost like being a St. Louis Rams fan - you can talk all you want about coverage, but in the end, the fans can’t win the game for the team!
-by Jennifer


Our papers that cover sports are always for the home team winning. But the MSM doesn’t think they should be for the home team (our military forces) in the GWoT. Nosiree, got to be objective and point out all the mistakes of the home team. After all we’re journalists, we owe no allegiance to any one country. Just because we live here doesn’t mean it’s our home team. ARRRGGHHH!!!!!

What’s going on in the U.S. right now would be like the San Diego sports writers calling for the Chargers to give up and quit after the first half of the season because they don’t like the coach and the way he’s running the team.
-by Jimmy J

Here is more support for your theory. In some cities “investigative” reporting is a mainstay of sports reporting. It destroys team morale and cohesiveness and sells newspapers. It normally occurs in cities which are home to perpetual losers. This includes college level sports as well.
-by Sol Vason
Taking the sports analysis a bit further, you can look at politics very much as a game. Blue team vs Red team. Stars on either side, PR machines working for both sides, the big game is the election. The problem is, for the legacy media, the Democratic Party candidate is always the home team. And nobody but the locals like a homer* announcer.

I especially liked Vinnie Vidivici's point about the way America is viewed worldwide. The legacy media still controls much of how the rest of the world views the USA, and through their template, the US is portrayed pretty poorly in the war on terror. The constant drumbeat of failure, misery, mistake, quagmire, and the failings of President Bush - true or not - is the primary story that reaches the rest of the world.

*A "homer" announcer is a sportscaster who always roots for the home team, never sees any wrong in anything they do, complains that any call that goes against them was a lousy call by a blind umpire or referee, and so on.
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