Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lying is so prevalent in our culture, that you've come to totally accept it

Here's the thing. You are so totally used to people telling bold-faced lies right to cameras, microphones, grand juries, spouses, the cops, reporters, occasional Heisman Trophy Trusts and whatever else, that you've become, alas, totally inured to it. You just don't care anymore. You totally accept lying. And that's a sad thing.

We'll attempt to look at this through the prism of sports only, as it is the "toy department" of life in many ways. Hell, look at the bold-face lying in legislative and governmental walks of life—where the stakes and impact on your life are undoubtedly higher, tho' you might not realize that as you're watching the Raiders game—and you might be tempted to jump off a building. Or push someone off one if you're a Raiders fan.

Anyhoo, journey with us back to Tuesday, August 3, 2010, in scenic Hattiesburg, Miss. Intrepid ESPN reporter Ed Werder has drawn the short straw, and he's on Favre watch, as on-again/off-again is-he-retired-or-not quarterback Brett Favre is going through his yearly toss-and-turn as to if he'll play another season or not. The story is hot. It's been reported by multiple sources that Favre, 40 years old and rebounding from off-season ankle surgery, has sent multiple text messages to Minnesota Vikings players and front-office personnel stating that he's retired for good.

There's one reason these multiple reports of multiple texts exist: Because the multiple texts happened. They happened. When you get that much back-channel static, it's there for one reason—it happened. There is no such thing as an absolute secret, and no one can keep the lid on this, will to do so be damned. Please make no mistake: Favre sent these text messages to Vikings players and personnel.

And one guy flubbed up and showed us that smoking gun: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Though Shiancoe received no direct messages himself, several teammates told him they did. Shiancoe was the ONE Viking on the record as saying these texts existed. He innocently and erroneously broke the code of "sources say" and "all indications are," and in that, provided us the much-needed smoking gun.

Enter Ed Werder, microphone in hand, mustache on lip. As Favre left practice at a Hattiesburg high school where he'd been working out with the local team, Werder cornered Favre in the cab of his Ford F-250 with a reeeeeaaaaalllly loud diesel engine. Werder asked Favre if he was retiring or not. Favre was still noncommittal. Werder asked Favre about sending text messages "indicating that you would be retiring" to the Vikings. Favre said no such texts were sent.

"Visanthe says you did," Werder countered.

"Aw, Shank. That's why I love ’im," replied the good-ol' boy quarterback.

Quick recap: Favre denies sending the text (lies). Werder confronts him with a corroborating source (one of Favre's teammates). Favre deflects, and drives away.

Now I really feel bad for Ed Werder at this point. Really. He's in the unwinnable situation; a Kobayashi Maru of footballian proportions. He's done his job. He's asked-and-answered. And he's been lied to, point-blank and to his face. And he let it go.

Again, I feel for Ed Werder. But what else could he do? Ask again? Say, "C'mon, Brett. That's a bold-faced lie and we all know it. Won't you please just be a man, admit that you sent these messages, and maybe also admit that you're still up in the air, that the messages were a tad premature? Won't you please just do me the common courtesy of not lying to my face while I'm three feet away from you?"

Alas, it didn't happen. And there's a precedent for that, also unfortunate. Back in 1999, NBC's Jim Gray was on-field with Pete Rose as Rose was allowed—only temporarily and somewhat grudgingly—back into Major League Baseball's fold to attend a ceremony honoring MLB's All-Century Team. Rose had been voted a part of that team, but he had also accepted a settlement from MLB including a lifetime ban amid allegations that Rose had broken the most taboo of baseball taboos—he had bet on MLB games. Gray offered Rose the chance to finally come clean, 100%, asking Rose, "Are you willing to admit that you bet on baseball, and make some sort of apology to that effect?"

Rose steadfastly refused, offering, "Not at all, Jim. I'm not going to admit to something that didn't happen."

An uncomfortable and terse exchange followed, and Gray was roundly criticized for his line of questioning. The punchline, of course, is that Rose HAD bet on baseball, and finally admitted it…five years later as part of a book he was selling.

Think on that: Jim Gray did the right thing. He was a reporter, doing his job, asking questions that were in the hearts and minds of baseball fans everywhere. He knew he was right. Pete Rose knew he was wrong. And Gray walked away the villain. We were somehow more comfortable with the lie.

Ed Werder is you. Jim Gray is you. When Favre or Rose tells a point-blank lie to Werder or Gray, they know precisely what the hell they are doing. That microphone has a big "ESPN" or "NBC" on it. The red light on the camera is on. They know they are lying to media, and an audience of millions. They know they are lying to you.

And yet…you don't care. You're used to it. You shrug it off. And you teach your six-year-old kid that lying is wrong.

Please start demanding better.

Please get Ed Werder's back. Please stand up for Jim Gray (okay, we know "The Decision" was a crazy-concocted mistake, but still). Please tell the Favres and Roses of the world that, seriously, that's a giant goddamn insult to stand there and just goddamn lie through your teeth, and y'know what? Won't be tolerated, son.

While you're it at, ask Dodgers possible-owner Jamie McCourt, now in divorce proceedings, if we're really supposed to believe she signed a marital property agreement WITHOUT reading it, because she finds legal documents boring (By the way, she's a lawyer).

While you're it at, ask Reggie Bush something. Bush just gave back his 2005 Heisman Trophy after being declared ineligible by the NCAA, yet still asserts he and his family did not accept improper benefits. Bush now proclaims that he wants to "establish an educational program which will assist student-athletes and their families avoid some of the mistakes I made." Hey, Reggie! What were those mistakes? You haven't told anyone yet. Just what are they?

I hope you will do it. Granted, it's tough to do yourself. Bottom line, if you're interested in a little truth, you probably need an Ed Werder or a Jim Gray to do it for you. So help them. Get their back. Let the liars know their lies will not be tolerated. Or lying will remain so prevalent in our culture, that you've come to totally accept it.

Jim McLauchlin
Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Next: Fake care is so easy, cool, and replaces the real thing (with none of the benefit!)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Your View of Media is Constantly Changing, and it Will Get Right Back to Where it Started. Eventually.

Chances are you hate whatever your definition of "the mainstream media" is. Those chances are, oh, let's start with a baseline of 50/50 and go 10% more toward "hate" for each of the following factors:

1) You stood in line overnight to get an iPad
2) You have a blog that you update at least once weekly
3) You comment on other blogs under a non-real-name handle i.e. "Boba_Fett_53" (okay, this one's worth 20%)
4) You watch Rachel Maddow religiously
5) You watch Glenn Beck religiously
6) You think Sarah Palin is cool
7) You understand what Sarah Palin is saying when she talks about about lipstick and pit bulls (this one worth 51%).

Bottom line, we are a generation-and-a-half removed from Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post and Watergate (look it up, kids!), and the newspaper is no longer your buddy. You don't like it. It's not cool. Boxscores DO look way freakin' cooler on ESPN.com than they do in the newspaper, those comic strips are getting suckier, and you can't understand why a newsroom full of old, fat, white men are overtly concerned with city council meetings. And you can pretty much ditto this newspaper-y sentiment, if not the letter, for whatever else you consider "the mainstream media," be it ABC News, Time, or even the aforementioned ESPN (or "the dreaded four-letter," in the parlance of many). Bottom line, "the mainstream media" just ain't cool, and further, if you hit any of our seven numbered sweet spots up top, it doesn't represent you, your interests, what you care about.

Yet, your craving for news, information, opinion, rumor-mongering and whatever else is seemingly at an all-time high. You're tethered to a "smart phone" where you're checking Facebook every 12 minutes. You refuse to patronize coffee shops without WiFi. And you are right in these feelings and actions. Seriously, you are.

So chances are if you hate that damn mainstream media, and yet your jones is stronger than ever…you're turning to some sorta "alternative" media, in a blog, Facebook, whatever. Also called into question is just what constitutes "news" to YOU at this point. Is it your friend's birthday party? Sure. Good luck getting ABC News to tell you about that, but who cares? You have Facebook.

Now here's the rub: Your friend's birthday is one thing. Sarah Palin is another. And whereas you can get every ding-dang scrap of news, information, opinion, rumor-mongering and whatever else you need on your friend's birthday just fine on your own or from one of those newfangled Facebooks, it's another matter for the Formerly First Alaskan. Yes, there are 72,000 blogs with news and opinion on Ms. Palin, but most all of them STARTED with a nugget or 12 dug up and provided to you (or that blogger) on a silver platter by Your Local Daily Herald, Time, or ABC News. You know—that damn mainstream media you hate so much.

Where we're going here is that you still need some form of Dreaded Mainstream Media (that you hate) to feed Your Beloved Alternative (which you, uh…love, I guess). Why? As with all things in life, follow the money.

And it's Bill James, one of the 10 Smartest People in Our Culture, who helps light the way. James is famous for being the godfather of modern baseball statisticians, but has another passion for that which we call "true crime." He wrote a fairly recent essay about newspapers in which he noted that as printing newspapers became cost-efficient on about 1836 or so, the industry boomed. New papers popped up, and competed with each other, usually grabbing readers with salacious stories of gory crimes. And ya know what? Bereft of tradition, standards, guidance, protocol and an AP Stylebook, in James' words, "Every significant city by 1845 had dozens of little newspapers, which were much closer to blogs than to modern newspapers."

What James is saying is that it was a singular editorial voice that drove these proto-papers. They were heavy on opinion, light on double-checked facts. They tended toward social calendar-type events as well. Seriously. Check out an 1887 newspaper, and you might see an honest-to-Lou-Grant story that reads "Mr. James McLauchlin of Saint Paul and his friend Mr. Brian Zywiec of Inver Grove Heights traveled to the home of Mr. Tim Brennan of Oakdale on Tuesday night, where they enjoyed cocktails and played cribbage before ending the night's visit promptly at 10 p.m." Really. Check out an old newspaper. They printed crazy crap like this all the time.

The 2010 version of the salacious story is TMZ.com. Today's gin rickeys and cribbage is Facebook. Maybe Twitter. We are back where we started. It is 1845 again, but thankfully plumbing works and things smell better.

Again, let's separate the birthday from Sarah Palin. You need that original report, that original reporter, that cameraman, whatever, to tell you what Sarah Palin said so you can second-hand blog (not a pejorative here; just a fact) your opinion. And that costs money. Who flies to Washington to see and report on the speech? Who has that ’spensive video camera? Newspapers. ABC News. It costs money. And your dreaded mainstream media is feeding your alternative and second-hand media, essentially for free. Without a Washington Post and an ABC, most political blogs would blink outta existence for lack of fuel.

I know, I know. The hue and cry at this instant in time in your reading is "But what about the 'citizen journalist?'" Well, let's be frank: There are folks at that Palin speech with memories, iPhones, and maybe even a notebook. So yeah, the ground-up, totally-outside-the-mainstream revolution/evolution is a theoretical possibility…but that's about it. How many of those after-the-fact blogs are fueled by that original, "citizen journalist" report, and how many by what you saw on ABC News? Is it a 99%/1% skew in favor of that dreaded mainstream media? 98%/2%? If it's that massive (likely), does it even matter?

The point, post-all this rambling, is that if you think you hate the mainstream media, you actually love it. And you need it. ’Cause it actually fuels that which you love.

The more-good-news is brought to us again by Mr. James in that same essay. Quoth the sage: "We're back to 1836 now, in a sense; everybody who wants to has his own 'newspaper,' and it's tough to know who is good and who is reliable and who isn't, but the same processes are still running. The blogs will get bigger; the good ones are hiring a second helper and a third and fourth, and we'll spend a century or more sorting things out and re-creating the market. It's hard, but it's not a bad thing. It's a good thing."

So check that, cats and kids: The alternative media will become The New Mainstream Media. We see it happening already. What does TMZ.com aspire to be? A TV show. And it already is.

Your view of media is constantly changing, and it will get right back to where it started. Eventually.

Jim McLauchlin

Next: Lying is so prevalent in our culture, that you've come to totally accept it.