A Tradition Unlike Any Other

NEW SLAUGHTERKudos to Bob Costas, NBC Sports omnipresent host, for going where truly none of his high-profile, lavishly remunerated peers dare to go. On a phone interview with Dan Patrick, Costas discussed The Masters — the Holy of Holies of pro golf — and the coverage of said event, by CBS.

“What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, even during a rain delay, even when there was time to do so, is Augusta’s history of racism and sexism,” Costas said. “Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds — forget about taking a side — never acknowledging it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I’m not at CBS, but I’d have to say something and then I would be ejected.”

That this fairly objective observation has been considered news worthy and even provocative gives insight into the degree to which marketing, i.e. the buy-off of all forms of criticism and conflict, trumps basic journalism in major arenas of public “entertainment”. Costas, who freely took on a similar taboo by commenting on our national gun insanity during half time of a (gasp!) Sunday Night Football game last December, has precious little company when it comes to speaking his mind on matters of obvious relevance and/or performing the basic responsibilities of journalism. And in case his more PR-minded brethren have forgotten, “journalism” doesn’t have a lot to do with keeping “the client” happy and insulated from the realities of an interactive world.

To those who say, “Costas is an established superstar. He’s immune to executive blowback. He isn’t risking anything,” I say if that were all it is where are the likes of Al Michaels, Joe Buck, Jim Nantz and on and on in the context of dipping their toes in topics that pose problematic career scenarios? At an essential point, journalism requires courage. The profession is not about gilding the lilies of those paying bills, it’s about getting the whole story and telling that story come what may.

Friend of The Same Rowdy Crowd, John Reinan, (an ex-Stribber now making a living in the PR world), recently wrote about the startling imbalance between those marketing a story (i.e. “a message”) and those still in the game of straining slickly-produced bullshit for the truth of a personality, product or event.

Said Reinan,

“Consider:

  • During the last decade, revenue of PR organizations nearly tripled while revenue of news organizations was cut in half.
  • Over roughly the same period, employment in the PR business grew by 30 percent while the number of paid journalists dropped by more 25 percent.
  • Thirty years ago, there was about one PR person for every journalist. Today, PR pros outnumber journalists by better than a 3-to-1 ratio.”

And those are the numbers for those clearly identified with each profession. The problem with CBS — and their fawning, hyper-reverential Masters coverage is just a prime example — is that we are also living in a period when self-professed journalists, mainly in TV newsrooms, are merrily committing a form of “service journalism” essentially no different from PR houses.  Unpleasant backstories are ignored and avoided. Stories with unavoidable partisan facets, especially where one “side” could only be painted as flagrantly wrong or reckless were the full context reported, are massaged into something with broader digestibility. All, you understand, in the interests of serving “the client”, which is to say the ad revenue of advertisers who don’t like being associated with controversy.

But to confess: I say this as a guy whose antennae are always up for the classicist stench emitted by pro golf, The Masters in particular. How an event encumbered by the kind of racial and sexual attitudes it has maintained continues to be embraced for its embodiment of “achievement” and “grandeur” is a vivid testament to salesmanship over journalism.

My opinion of The Masters was confirmed a few years while talking to a “business friend” of Denny Hecker’s. (Hecker was dropping a ton of advertising coin on the guy’s business, and in turn the guy happily played Denny’s best buddy.) The two had just returned from Augusta. First class the whole way, baby. Corporate jet. Cocktails with a few of the pros. VIP privileges. The guy was beyond thrilled. The American Dream.

What sort of jerk would throw a wrench into that kind of action?

25 thoughts on “A Tradition Unlike Any Other

  1. William Souder says:

    It’s certainly ironic, given the bigoted tradition at Augusta, that the tournament’s biggest star and most potent marketing symbol is Tiger Woods. Woods’ value to the venue, and to CBS, which covers the event, is enormous. So don’t ever wonder at the exultant tone that creeps into Jim Nantz’s voice whenever Woods is within even remote contact with the tournament front-runners. Can we handle the truth? CBS wants Tiger to win…they NEED him to win.

    The Masters is, as you say, surely the most overwrought, reverential event in sports. And the coverage of it is, on many levels, corrupt and dishonest. In the world of sport, perhaps only cycling has a longer and deeper tradition of looking away from its problems.

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    Timely post. Frightening developments I think. And I guess who potentially better at PR than the former journalist? Except I imagine what was previoulsy a valued objectivity, of necessity gets thrown in the trash in the service of the client’s message. Revealing the truth, at least trying to dig it out, becomes a secondary aspiration if at all. Maybe it will be the Vice Medias and Motherboards of the future, and serious bloggers, ie “cyber-journalists” (?) who tell the stories mainstream media doesn’t have the resources, or too much to lose, by telling them. In legal terms I understand traditional definitions of “journalist” (employed by mainstream media) are experiencing a profound transformation in light of the internet as a respected form of gathering and disseminating information in the pubic interest. Justifiably so.

      1. That $80 billion a year and the astonishing run-up of hardware and tech-heads employed by the various intelligence agencies could collect A LOT if info on all of us. Maybe not as much as Facebook, but a lot. But good lord, they wouldn’t dare mess with bloggers’ prose would they?

        1. Jim Leinfelder says:

          Yes, a shame they blew the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran, 9/11…need I go on? Well, if you’re heavily armed, I’m sure you’ll should be just fine.

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        Yes, anyone can say anything about anything and be assured it will infiltrate all cyberspace—and be there forever. That is a troubling notion. And as I gather libel cases fill a book four inches thick, and that’s only in the past year.

        But as you’ve touched on this topic, even though there is a price to pay for this freedom—mainly an Internet filled with garbage–there is also the virtue of gaining access to information traditional journalism no longer even explores, that may just have a public value.

        I find especially noteworthy that the reporter’s Shield Law in Minnesota (one of the nation’s strongest) in establishing journalist’s privilege to protect the confidentiality of sources, defines journalist, strictly in terms of “functionality”: a person engaged in the gathering, procuring, compiling, editing, or publishing of information…” It’s a broad-reaching and I believe healthy definition, that avoids specific media affiliation, educational background, or how much one earns in the process.

        Come on, that last hour of the Masters played in the rain, darkness approaching, by those two likable guys was as dramatic as any sporting event could be, even if you have no interest in golf.

          1. Dennis Lang says:

            Yes, I understand. But I understand of all the major tournaments it is still the only one that has eschewed corporate sponsors that could have produced untold additional millions. However, turning the thing into a religious experience as it’s promoted is impossible to swallow.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Sure perfect analogy. Who better to orchestrate the manipulation of message for media then those who were media themselves?

      PM how can your resist at least the background of those lush green fairways and perfectly manicured sandtraps on a day when it seems to be raining ice in glorious Minnesota, dirty brown and ugly? Or are you commenting from the yacht off St. Barts again?

      1. PM says:

        Damn, that would be nice. No, i am here “enjoying” the grey, weeping skies, waiting for the ice to go out on Lake Harriet and the snow to disappear from my yard (and uncover what my dogs have left behind).

        Maybe what I do not like about golf is the implicit comparison between those “lush green fairways” and my yard (as opposed to the terribly ugly clothing that appears to be de rigeur for golfers). Maybe i am just a curmudgeon.

        In any event, golf is a game i will take up only when i am too old to do anything else.

    1. At least up here we keep the shit buried under the snow well into summer, and the shit that’s down there is from dogs, not ‘gators, pythons and meth heads.

  3. bertram jr. says:

    “The Classicist Stench”- great band name?

    How about “That Kind of Action”?

    I may be onto something here!

  4. bertram jr. says:

    Wasn’t Nantz the emitter of the famed “breadbasket of America” bit a few years back while extolling on Hazeltine during the US Open?

  5. Newt says:

    It’s a damn golf tournament at a redneck country club, people. Nothing else. Stop reading so much into it.

    Celebrate that a pot-bellied Argentinian and a strapping young Aussie duked it out til the end. I thought it was a remarkable finish

    Nance and Costas are unfortunate distractions. Forget them. Journalism (whatever that means today) has nothing to do with the Masters.

  6. Newt says:

    Oh oh … The people behind the curtain are pulling the levers as fast as they can …

    Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown
    Photo

    By Environment Correspondent Alister Doyle

    OSLO (Reuters) – Scientists are struggling to explain a slowdown in climate change that has exposed gaps in their understanding and defies a rise in global greenhouse gas emissions.

    Often focused on century-long trends, most climate models failed to predict that the temperature rise would slow, starting around 2000. Scientists are now intent on figuring out the causes and determining whether the respite will be brief or a more lasting phenomenon.

  7. bertram jr. says:

    Bertram detects a rather indelicate opposition to a more genteeel “southern way of life” here. He is quite sure of it.

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