Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sound And Fury Signifying Unnamed Sources

I had to post about the hype and silliness surrounding the whole LeBron James saga the last month or so, despite the drama coming to an end with his TV show "The Decision" this past Thursday. It's a fascinating look into the frenzy that surrounds a lot of media coverage in sports nowadays, and it shines a light on how hard writers and broadcasters are working to try to stay relevant, all while they appear to be less and less relevant.

As everyone knows, LeBron James has been the subject of endless speculation and rumor for the past year or so, because everyone knew that when this most recent NBA season ended, he would be a free agent, and which team he would choose was a great mystery. This speculation played itself out in the media in the form of endless writers and talking heads on TV and radio putting out their hot and heavy predictions and reports from their "sources." You name the journalist, he had a source that was telling him where LeBron was headed. Never mind that none of these people were talking to LeBron himself, since LeBron had announced early in the season that he wouldn't discuss his plans in the media. They all just knew that they had the inside track on his decision. Now, I was in the unique position of having the time to listen to talk shows daily from the top two speculated destinations for LeBron, here in Chicago and down in Miami. I listen to next-day podcasts of the Boers and Bernstein Show in Chicago and the Dan Le Batard Show from Miami while I work. They both happen to air at the exact same time, from 3 to 7 Eastern. (Boers and Bernstein's show is 5 hours long, so they start at 2 Eastern, or 1 Central.) This set up an almost unbelievable sequence of events that occurred live during their shows, linking them to each other in a way that neither could have imagined at the beginning of their broadcast day.

I don't remember the exact date, but I was listening to Boers and Bernstein's podcast, which was a show similar to all of their shows of the previous two weeks in that it was heavy on reports of various journalists writing or blogging or tweeting about their newest LeBron speculation. Bernstein breaks in rather breathily, if that's a word, about 3 hours into the show with word that Dan Le Betard of the Miami Herald had just "reported" that LeBron James was definitely not coming to Miami next season. Bernsie spent the next hour excitedly saying that it jibes with his reports from his "sources" that LeBron to Chicago is the most likely scenario. I was curious about this report from Le Batard because it was coming to Bernstein as if Le Batard had just wrote it, even though I knew that Le Batard normally would be on the air doing his radio show at that time of day. The next hour, Bernstein interrupts a thought and says, "Is this right? This can't be right. Dan Le Batard is now reporting that he was misquoted, that when he said James is not coming to Miami next year, he didn't mean LeBron James, he meant James Jones." Jones was a scrub for the Miami Heat last season, and his contract expired, so indeed, James Jones was not coming back to the Heat. But I felt bad for Le Batard because that would be a huge mistake to make if he wasn't clear which James he was talking about. And indeed, Bernsie savaged him for the remainder of the show for either confusing the Jameses or getting a bad report from a source and trying to backtrack by lying and claiming that he was never talking about LeBron. I was confused as to what kind of reporting Le Batard was up to, and I was very anxious to get home and download his show and hear if he was in the field calling in these reports to his show, or if this would be addressed on his show at all.

Imagine my surprise when I started Le Batard's show on my iPod the next day and heard him yapping away like always. I didn't know what to think at this point. Was Le Batard completely misquoted from the get-go? Were the reports Bernstein referenced from a Le Batard story he wrote earlier in the day? Would Le Batard talk about it in any way, shape or form? I listened very intently to the first 2 hours, and despite a ton of LeBron talk, there was no mention of any reporting being done by Le Batard. Then it unfolded very slowly, and everything became crystal clear. Just after two hours, which would put it in the exact same time frame as when Bernstein first mentioned Le Batard's report on his show, Le Batard and his co-host and producer start talking on the air about receiving phone calls from Canada because of a harmless, sourceless prediction Le Batard sent out on his Twitter that Chris Bosh, another highly sought-after free agent, would be coming to Miami after signing with his current team the Toronto Raptors and then agreeing to a trade to Miami. (The prediction was right on the money, BTW.) Le Batard and his cohorts were genuinely amazed that people in Canada were taking his tweet as gospel and were trying to contact him to follow up on it, as if it were a legitimate news item. They started batting around different shocking things they could write on Le Batard's Twitter account to see what kind of reaction they could get. After rejecting the headline of Pat Riley, Miami Heat top honcho and former coach, flying to Cleveland to discuss becoming their new coach because that would be too incendiary as well as a flat lie, they agree to posting a line about James definitely not coming to play for the Miami Heat next year. My mouth dropped as I realized that Bernstein, and maybe many other media outlets, had been duped into taking Le Batard's silly tweet as a serious piece of news and decided to relay it as a "report." The producer wondered how long he should wait until he posts the clarification that it's James Jones being referred to and not LeBron. But after a five minute break, they come back and realize that it's already out of control because the item had been re-tweeted 50 times in 10 minutes. The re-tweets were from all sorts of people--regular, earnest media folk as well as fans adding their own one-liners such as "No King LeBron in Miami, haha!" and "Suck it Miami!" The producer finally sent out the "clarification" maybe 30 or 40 minutes later as Le Batard half-jokingly chuckled, "My hard-earned credibility is going down the toilet!"

I'm still not completely sure why I found the whole episode so hilarious and brilliant. Maybe it was just because I was in on an inside joke that most people wouldn't ever understand because they won't know all the details. Or maybe it's because I got so sick and tired a long, long time ago of all these "insider" reports with these unnamed "sources" claiming that they have the latest scoop on LeBron when none of them knew any more than me. Maybe it was the fact that Dan Bernstein got pantsed on a Le Batard tweet, acting as if it was some sort of real report that backed up his bullshit claim that he somehow had the scoop that LeBron was likely coming here. As much as I love the Boers and Bernstein Show for the way that they rip anything dumb in sports and society, Bernstein gets off on being an insufferable prick, and he was actually trying to use this tweet to justify his claim that he had some knowledge of LeBron's decision. He knew NOTHING, just like everybody else. But this whole LeBron thing has been a real eye opener for me, as someone who hopes to be part of the media someday soon. (I even tried out last month for an open mike contest for a local sports station in which the winner gets a weekend talk show. Fingers crossed.) I hope and pray that I am never in a position where I have to rely on unnamed "sources," who could be anybody from a team exec to a member of a player's posse to the stadium janitor, to relay news to my listeners. I hate that shit so much. If my source turns out to be full of shit, my name and reputation take the hit, and the source gets no flak because he was unidentified. I'd rather find a way to fill my airtime in an entertaining manner talking sports and whatever else my listeners want to talk about. I don't want to have to step into the sewage that is reporting and journalism in a society where reporters are more and more unnecessary and uninformed. After all the speculation and punditry, LeBron's decision was announced by LeBron live on ESPN with more people watching than those who watched him actually play the game of basketball in the NBA Finals two years ago. That rendered all the Stephen A. Smiths and Ric Buchers and Chris Broussards and all the other jokers who claimed to have inside knowledge completely useless, and it pointed out how desperate those writers are to continue to matter in today's world, where the athletes or celebrities can take to their blogs or Twitter to break whatever news about themselves without the assistance of journalists. Chuck D. wasn't talking about them when he rapped about folks "talkin' loud, ain't sayin' nothin'." But he might as well have been.

1 comment:

GrizzBabe said...

"The Decision was quite the media circus. I thought it was all quite fun!

Good luck with the audition!