Kudos 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.
- 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?