Baseball's 'Broken Trust' -- What About Traditional Media?

Larry Elder
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Posted: Jan 03, 2008 12:01 AM
Baseball's 'Broken Trust' -- What About Traditional Media?

When the Mitchell Report came out -- accusing more than 80 professional baseball players of using performance-enhancing substances -- television commentators lectured viewers about "broken trust." One commentator, in particular, somberly expressed his disappointment.

I found myself asking, "Wasn't this the same guy who, as a motorist, struck someone on a bicycle? And even though witnesses yelled, 'Stop! Stop!' he continued through two red lights while dragging the bicycle underneath the car?" The commentator insisted he was "unaware" he'd hit the cyclist. Charged with leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving, assault and harassment, the commentator pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle knowing or having cause to know property damage had been caused. The bicyclist, who reportedly required elbow surgery, expressed disappointment that the court fined the commentator only $250 with 70 hours of community service. Broken trust?

A few weeks ago, an MSNBC reporter covered French President Sarkozy's visit to China. With videotape rolling of President Bush flanked by Sarkozy to his left and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to his right, the reporter gushed, "(W)ho could not have a man-crush on that man? I'm not talking about the monkey, either. I'm talking about the other one." Questioned by the show's host, "Who's the monkey?" the reporter clarified, "The monkey in the middle" -- meaning President Bush. The reporter later apologized. Broken trust?

In a 1996 survey of Washington, D.C., newspaper reporters and bureau chiefs, 89 percent said they voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, while 7 percent voted for George Herbert Walker Bush. Numerous surveys over the years show reporters describe themselves as liberals or Democrats by a two-to-one or three-to-one margin. Broken trust?

ABC's George Stephanopoulos, this past Sunday, "interviewed" presidential contender Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Stephanopoulos asked Clinton about the appropriateness of using her experiences as First Lady when touting her qualifications for the presidency. Clinton talked about the substantive nature of her activities as First Lady, and said, "You were there." Indeed, Stephanopoulos was there. As a trusted aide for then-candidate Gov. Bill Clinton, Stephanopoulos campaigned hard for his boss's election, and then served in the White House. Now we watch the new, improved, "nonpartisan" Stephanopoulos "objectively" interview the likes of Sen. Clinton on his weekly TV show. But isn't this the same guy who, after Bill Clinton got elected, talked about his expectations for a better America through Clinton's vision of bigger government? Broken trust?

Meanwhile, over at NBC, we watch Tim Russert, a former aide to liberal Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, similarly conduct "objective" interviews. On their sister cable channel, we watch a sputtering anti-Bush Keith Olbermann and equally anti-Bush Chris Matthews "cover" debates -- and, in the case of Matthews, even host one! Yes, the same Matthews who spoke about the "criminality" of the Bush administration.

Speaking of "broken trust," how long did it take for the traditional news media to recognize that the U.S. military's surge was working? Some polls say half of Americans consider the country in a recession. Does the drumbeat of negative economic "news" coverage play a role?

On election night in 2000, a handful of journalists -- friends, undercover, of course -- told me that, in their newsrooms, they saw "objective" reporters crying when it appeared that Bush won the election. And whether covering the war, taxes, global warming, spending on education, spending on social programs, health care, abortion -- those who report the news side with Democrats.

Now, what does this have to do with baseball?

Despite the tears and desk pounding, baseball over the years has seen record attendance, and the pace of ticket sales for the upcoming season predicts another all-time high. As for the traditional news, however, the major networks' share of viewership continues to decline, and newspapers shed employees while downsizing. More and more consumers of news find other outlets to stay informed.

There are many reasons for this, but a 2003 Gallup Poll found 45 percent of respondents believed the media too liberal. A 2007 Zogby poll discovered 83 percent of likely voters believe bias remains "alive and well" in the mainstream news media. Ninety-seven percent of Republicans and two-thirds of independents call the press too liberal.

In the case of baseball, the owners knew, the players knew, and the fans either knew or didn't want to know. But fans remain fans. As to traditional media, perhaps skeptical viewers see a "broken trust" -- and now take their business elsewhere.