Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Shifting Tides of Sports Journalism

Jane Leavy's book about Mickey Mantle is more than the story of a baseball hero. The Sports Illustrated journalist titled her story The Last Boy because sports journalism was moving into a new era. Up till Mantle, the innocence of our heroes was preserved because of the unwritten rule that journalists protect the privacy of person's of importance. They helped maintain the images that had been carefully crafted.

In the political sphere it's well-known that FDR's physical handicap (polio) was veiled in order to project his strength as a leader of the free world. JFK's womanizing was equally well-known yet concealed by the press. In the same way, sports heroes were designed to inspire us. Their foibles were not to be our concern. 

Leavy essentially states that at a certain moment in time a shift occurred. Up until then, if you revealed what you knew about a player, you were bad. You were slapped on the wrist and sent to your room without supper. Post-Mantle, in the new era of sports journalism, if you failed to reveal something you knew, you were punished. Writers were no longer permitted to conceal. It was their job to reveal.  


More recently the tide has shifted in another direction altogether. According to the documentary Shadows of Liberty, journalists--and not just sports journalists--have been reigned in again. This time, it is not for the purpose of protecting the privacy of our heroes. Rather, it is for the purpose of not offending the corporate sponsors. They pay big bucks to fund not only the games and cover the massive salaries of the players as well as the media, from moguls to minions. 

Shadows examines the media monopoly by corporations and the challenges this presents with regard to truth and democracy. In other words, money controls the narratives we are being sold daily that we're expected to accept. According to this 2012 documentary, the pendulum has swung back the other way. Journalists are gagged or prevented from covering issues deemed too controversial. 

Though one reviewer on stated that "it didn't age well," it does offer a pretty good background regarding how our current media malaise was birthed. Another reviewer wrote this:

We still talk a good game in this country, but the Reality is far harsher than most would care to admit. A great deal of what's wrong with the U.$. is thoroughly examined in SHADOWS OF LIBERTY; i.e., the manipulation of the Masses by The Media and those who control it. Nike's purchase of CBS's silence regarding sweatshops in Vietnam is just one of the dark deals this doc sheds light on; another is a case I don't recall even hearing about at the time: the possible accidental downing of a passenger plane (TWA 800) by the U.$. Navy. The circle-the-wagons efforts to bury the story are dragged kicking and screaming into the light- although nothing's been done about it to this day, as far as I can discern. SHADOWS OF LIBERTY doesn't stop there, but I'll leave it up to you to track it down and see it. In a company- uh, country- where politicians are bought and sold at their own version of a stock exchange, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Commission, or Politico$ For $ale, for short), I think that it's about time that Republicans and Democrats who accept bribes (from "lobbyists") should be forced to wear the logos of their True Employers on their clothes.

Whereas freedom of speech and freedom of the press are specifically underscored as essential rights in the Constitution, the reality is far different. 

"Every journalist who isn't asleep understands that corporate power has made it impossible for them to do the job that needs to be done."--Journalist Norman Solomon, "Institute for Public Accuracy" Founder 

Between 1998 and 2005, media corporations spent $400 billion on lobbying and political contributions. The executives of these media corporations undoubtedly expect something in return for all this cabbage. 

Round and round and round it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

Related Links

Ken Burns' Baseball and a Memory of Mick

He Who Controls the Narrative Controls the People

Shadows of Liberty  

Wag the Dog

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