The Manti Te’o Story – Is the Sports Media Too Powerful?
Let me start off with this: I don’t know that I would have done anything different than what other, far more accomplished and decorated sportswriters did in covering the Manti Te’o story. I won a few awards in my time as a sports journalist, was given a lot of responsibility, covered important subjects and routinely broke news.
I also, though, had a very human side that seemed to creep out at the worst times. For instance, when Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died in a plane crash, I was somehow able to reach his grieving mother on the phone moments after it happened. Rather than asking her a few quick questions – how long had he been flying? did you worry about him in single-engine planes? was there anything in his contract against this that you knew of? – I told her I was sorry for her loss and then stammered through a question as I tried to be sensitive. She asked me not to call or share her number, I apologized and hung up.
So, I can see how I might have been snookered in this Te’o story, too, as anyone might have.
And this is what I could come up with in the aftermath of one of the oddest stories to ever hit America. The sports media is too powerful.
There are gobs of people who don’t trust the mainstream news media for various reasons, but other than conspiracy theorists, has there been a large sample of reasons not to? For every Jayson Blair, there are hundreds of hard-working, very good reporters out there.
The crazy ideas of Sandy Hook truthers or that James Holmes is not really James Holmes and that the media is being fooled by the government – or even in on it – is crazy. To think that the media might have been deceived by the 9/11 events is also ludicrous. The biggest story of our lifetimes was not going to allow the wool to be pulled over everyone’s eyes.
What is the difference, then, in theories like those and actuality like this?
It is the constant thirst for sports news, the explosion of, in order: sports radio, cable television, fantasy sports, social media and networks devoted to one entire team helping turn the leisure for the majority of the American public into an addiction.
To fill the spaces, all of these avenues played a role in elevating sports media.
How often do you watch CNN or MSNBC or something of that ilk and see a reporter interviewed for their expertise? It happens occasionally but that’s because there are so many academic and professional experts in various fields that could provide a better commentary than a reporter.
How often do news journalists vote for the biggest awards? There are no MVP’s in City Hall or government and there is no Hall of Fame where a crime reporter has to try and separate his role in elevating someone’s status with what they did in their line of duty.
The lines are so blurry that journalists have now become celebrities. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser are as famous as some of the people they “cover.” Erin Andrews is probably one of the most Googled women and certainly played a role in it herself. I don’t know that you’d see Greta Van Sustern on Dancing With the Stars.
While covering the Angels, the tremendous sports writer from the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke, made the trip with us beat writers out to Boston. While waiting to get into the clubhouse after a game, a fan asked to take his picture with Plaschke. After the fan left, Plaschke said those sorts of things happen all the time because of “Around the Horn.”
While I’m sure that happens to Anderson Cooper or Keith Olbermann, open up a magazine or newspaper and pick a byline. Do you know what that person looks like? Heard them give analysis on the radio or appear on your television?
Yet, we know what the majority of sports journalists look like, sound like and write like. Probably in that order, which is the opposite of how it should be.
As Peter Parker was told: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And sports journalists have been given great power. They have access that nobody else does. You think a City Hall reporter has four to five extra hours of access to his subjects every day like a baseball beat writer does? You think someone covering Congress watches them hone their craft like an NFL writer would while watching a practice? The access to the subjects in sports is beyond anything in any other capacity.
And, perhaps that’s where the media has become too powerful and too famous. With all of this access, they are now relied upon as experts. Whereas NPR or CNN might have access to hundreds of professors or technicians to bring on before they considered a journalist, sports journalists have begun interviewing sports journalists.
That has brought about a high level of fame for many of these people who everyone relies on to tell us a great story.
And somewhere in all of this the line has been crossed so many times by so many sports journalists that the line now hardly exists.