Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Press Bias in Baseball

Giants ballclub logo

Of course I always hope the Giants win, but especially on Opening Day, with all the festive bunting draped all over everything and all. The Giants had their expensive new guy with the left arm out on the mound on Opening Day, backed by their retooled squad, a packed house, perfect weather, blah, blah.

They played bad. Game Spoils Opening Day, read the Chronicle's front page headline, with a big page-spanning No, Really, Play Ball sprawled across the top of the sports section, The Sporting Green as it is known in the Chronicle.

If a minimal requirement of a major daily newspaper is sufficient staff for a few of them to be devoted nearly full-time to the task of writing healdines and captions, then the Chronicle meets and often exceeds that standard. It has plenty of people working for it, and some make up the front page crew authorized to fashion its front page headlines, while at the same time somewhere nearby the others of the editorial staff assigned to the sports page crew toil away crafting the pithy nuggets of their own. The reporter on a major daily newspaper, the journalist who files the story itself, such as it is, doesn't write the headline or the captions accompanying the story. That headline belongs to somebody else, with occasionally the noticeable tension between the headline and what's actually being reported visible to the passably close reader of the two.

In this case, in this opening day's Chronicle, the one printed the day after the galling particulars reported there, there is a happy congress of all three staffed functions here, a disparaging unanimity of report made manifest in the first paragraph of The Sporting Green's

Start with a quart of awful and add two teaspoons of hideous. Throw in a dash of miserable and you had the recipe for the Giants' 2007 opener Tuesday. The best they could do with this foul-tasting stew was dump it in the trash and hope to start fresh with new ingredients tonight.

—Henry Schulman in San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 2007

Henry Schulman is the Giants beat writer for the Chronicle. He's assigned to the team, follows them around and files a story after each game, summarizing the action. He's been at it for mumbledy-something years now.

Sports writers have the freedom of the press. Pointedly, they're allowed to build a lede for their stories with judgements, as Schulman did in his Opening Day article. All the familiar supporting documentation for his judgements is readily available for easy inspection right there on the inside page where his article concludes: there's the clubhouse chat, there's the standard box score, everything there required to buttress his asperity.

As I said, Schulman travels with these guys. He sees them every day and he has the pulpit of the sports page to tell the world anything and everything he might want to reveal about them, and I'm sure over the years he's developed a sense of what he's willing to disclose about the players of this game he's paid to watch and what he isn't. But, as for reporting on the game, clearly he's accustomed to writing what he witnessed with no punches pulled, and the players must expect that of him, too.

Last night on the Daily Show, John Stewart interviewed Matt Cooper, who operated under markedly different conditions inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C., working for one of Time Magazine's flagship bureaus, vending its version of what passes for news of the White House. He was one of those given the famously leaked name of CIA worker Valerie Plame Wilson by a name he was reluctant to pronounce in public because of the bond of unrevealability established between Cooper, the White House beat writer, and the unnameable one in the Administration who had passed along the officially reserved name of Joe Wilson's wife.

Cooper collaborated on a story with a couple of other writers for Time Magazine, each of whom knew, as Cooper did, that the unnameable was Karl Rove.

The story, in fact, hinged on the simple fact that Karl Rove was the one that Cooper hadn't named. The three collaborators wrote a story pretending they didn't know that salient detail, a lapse in reporting but necessary to the copy eventually published by Time.

Henry Schulman has his informed witness of Giants games published in the Chronicle's Sporting Green. There's enough entitlement left in his version of freedom of the press that summary judgement, when due, will fall swiftly where it may on those thrilled and on those agonized by the report.

But this is not the case with the Washington press corps, so demure in exercise of its freedom that three of its members can agree that due diligence in protection of a source requires them to ignore the one fact known to all, as if the Chronicle had determined in its coverage of Opening Day to leech all reference to the pratfall of a loss it turned out to be from its pages, and insert instead a report of the day known by the front page crew, the sports page crew, and the journalist crew to be a false unsupportable lie.

Matt Cooper, in short, is not Henry Schulman.


The Constructivist said...

I nominate this one for our Mostly Harmless greatest hits collection (to be published on the first anniversary of the blog, if I remember). BTW, peter is too modest to note that he has a new one over at WAAGNFNP, too.

Anonymous said...

peter had me suckered in as soon as mentioned Cooper. I thought for sure i would get something sneaky about Balco or Bonds, or some suggestion that Schulman was hiding a source and faking a story. But no, this just lays out the vile self-serving MSM press corps complicity to be rollover lap dogs, knowing just from whence their bread is paid for and buttered too. It is the oppressive fear that Rove will destroy one's career, thus losing tens of thousands of dollars in yearly income, keeping these synchophantic panters with the brownest noses in the entertainment (you can't think these people are journalists?) industry.

Anonymous said...

it is obvious to me that the behavior of the national/beltway press corps from ~1992 - ?? will be held up to ridicule for years to come. But what historical precedent will be used? Hearst & the Spanish American War was too one-time and "blatant", I am thinking more like the French couriers in the late 18th century.

peter ramus said...

I notice, looking at the last line of my post, that where I had meant to write, "Matt Cooper, in short, is no Henry Schulman", instead I posted, "Matt Cooper, in short, is not Henry Schulman," which has the extra "t" in it.

Transferring the extra "t" to J.P.'s comment above I read, "…I am thinking more like the French courtiers in the late 18th century" instead of what J.P. may, in revising and extending his remarks, care to elaborate on. French couriers in the late 18th century roaming the countryside with their packets of Voltaire is what immediately sprung to my mind, lacking the "t."