Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sports and News are Different Sections of the Paper, Chapter 1762

Here's a hypothetical case. Imagine, if you will, one of America's best-respected football writers who's got a job at a national sports publication, Sports Illustrated, or, or the Washington Post, L.A. Times, or other big-time daily paper.

In the spring of 2003, our hero picks the Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl in the upcoming season. But he doesn't stop there. Every time there's another major development in Cardinal land, another new coach, another new quarterback, another devastating injury, the writer does a piece declaring that the next six months could still see the Cards emerge as contenders for the NEXT Super Bowl, whichever Roman numeral it might carry.

As a former sportswriter, I can tell you what would happen to this guy. Long before the Cards drafted Matt Leinart this past April, the football writer's boss would've called him into the office for a chat. Depending on the boss' nature, the chat could've been a profanity-laced screamfest of a quiet talk of exquisite politeness. In either case, the message would've been the same.

Drop the topic. Stop writing about the Arizona Cardinals. Every time you do, you look like a lunatic, and we look like idiots for employing you. It doesn't matter how smart you are on other stories in football. This is an order.

Here's a case that's not hypothetical at all. Tom Friedman of the New York Times is a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, a best-selling author, and the foriegn policy columnist for the world's most influential newspaper. Go back through my hypothetical sports case, substitute the phrase "the war in Iraq" for "Arizona Cardinals" and one has a pithy accurate description of what Friedman's been saying about Iraq since the war began over three years ago. American success in that horribly unfortunate land remains as much or more of a longshot than the Cards taking the field for Super Bowl XLI next February.

Wars are a little more important than sports, even than the NFL. When a sportswriter makes a wrong call on a game or a team, the most harm he or she can do is cost a few gamblers a few bets. When a war gets called wrong, America's finest young men and women die needless deaths, and the treasury bleeds out a few hundred billion dollars it can't afford to lose.

Given that disparity in consequences, one might think the Times had already brought Friedman in for HIS Cardinals chat. As far as we know, one might be wrong. Friedman is still peddling the same happy horseshit on Iraq he was before the war began.

My first thought was it must be nice to cover a subject where you're allowed to ignore the scoreboard. My second was a sickened sense of horror that sports sections and sports readers hold us poor sportswriters to higher standards than are the writers for the most important editorial pages extant. Times sports columnists I know were censored for disagreeing with the top editor's take 0n the massively irrelevant issue of women being admitted as members of Augusta National. Friedman gets a war wrong for three years, and that same paper's reaction was probably to put him up for ANOTHER Pulitzer.

Newspapers are how I made my living in a job I miss with all my heart. I'd prefer not to cuss in my blogspace. But there's no other way to cope with the issue posed in this essay.

No matter how you slice it, that's some seriously fucked-up shit.


Post a Comment

<< Home