Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scoop or False Start? I Dunno

On November 7, 1918, the United Press wire service had a big exclusive story -- the biggest you could imagine. The service ran a news flash that World War I had ended. They weren't QUITE right.

It was all very embarrassing to the UP, especially after the flash set off giddy celebrations in many U.S. cities that turned Vancouver when the joyous crowds learned the war was in fact not over. It didn't end for four more days.

Almost 100 years later, this incident, a huge scandal at the time, is forgotten. Close enough, we think. UP jumped the gun, but it's easy to see how. It was a known fact Germany was negotiating with the Allies for an armistice. Some trusted source said to a reporter "this is a done deal." Some editor with more zeal than prudence said, "we have the scoop" (In the competition between wire services, being first with a story by seconds was a big deal). And it wasn't as if UP was ALL wrong. The war was in the process of ending, and that process was not going to reverse itself. But "the war will end soon" isn't really much of a story, let alone a scoop.

A couple weeks ago, Bill Burt of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune wrote that he had learned the NFL lockout would end very, very soon, the implication being within a day or two at the most. As of this writing, Burt has UP'd himself. The lockout goes on. Burt's trusted source was overly impulsive and assertive. So was the Eagle-Trib.

But it would be the upset of the sports year if Burt doesn't wind up with the semi-vindication of the United Press. Every indication, including Burt's own story, is that the owners and players will reach a settlement before the league's 2011 schedule is disrupted by so much as a day. The latest tell, the reports that an owners' meeting will be devoted to convincing some owners that the deal is a good one for them, is one I regard as conclusive. When one party begins dickering with itself, then there's a deal on the table the other side is willing to sign. In regular labor negotiations, it's always the union that has to convince its members it got the most it could, but sports economics are often upside-down.

I do not want to minimize the possibility the two sides could screw this up at any moment. Arrogance and belligerence are kind of necessary traits for both moguls and players, even if they're bad for business at times. Emotion could trump arithmetic yet.

But it doesn't feel like it. And it hasn't felt like it since the lockout began. Neither side has given off the vibes that they're seeking total war. It appears to have occurred to both that legal war has two elements in common with the real thing. They each cost way more than one thinks when they start, and they always always last ever so much longer than one expects.

So my guess is Burt will achieve partial vindication sometime between Bastille Day and the end of July. I know it's not much consolation, Bill, but the UP, then UPI, lasted many years past November 7, 1918.


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