So, despite having some significant stretches of NBA fandom in my past, I was forced to accept a couple of painful (for me) truths during the playoffs this year:
1) The Celtics as a team, and Kevin Garnett as an individual player, were just so much better than the Lakers that there wasn’t any real doubt as to the outcome of the Finals from the get-go.
2) The NBA exists somewhere in the gray area between professional wrestling and real sports in terms of the essential fairness of the competition, with the referees serving as the main lever that gives the home team a big leg up to keep things closer than they otherwise would be.
Which is not much of a crisis; I understand that (as with pro wrestling) it’s just business: People pay lots of money to buy those tickets, and lots of money to reach the audience that watches the games on TV, and some of that money would probably go away if the officials were zealously objective in how they call the games. So it all works out; I’m not sure it even has to be arranged explicitly in smoke-filled rooms. It probably just kind of happens, as people at all levels of the organization make decisions in the knowledge of the overall institutional goal (more viewers, more ticket sales, more dollars).
And maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe this is the result of my own bias resulting from the hostile-media effect. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that the mainstream media is calling the presidential race the same way. That is, they are giving the underdog (McCain) a leg up, because a closer contest is more interesting, and gets more viewers, and since the dynamic of commercial news operations has been pretty much completely remade to be bottom-line driven, with things like journalistic ethics and fairness a distant memory, it becomes just like the NBA, or professional wrestling. It isn’t like there has to be a big shouting match between old-school referees who still call the game fairly and soulless league executives who pound the desk and talk about ratings. The people who would have made that case for fairness (or for journalistic ethics) just aren’t there any more. They’ve retired, or moved on, or just never rose to the level of exercising that kind of power in the organizations the way they’re currently structured.
I’m not sure what it means. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a good thing.
Anyway, some data points that have caught my attention lately: Max Bergmann at the huffingtonpost writes about the week that should have ended McCain’s presidential hopes, but that hasn’t, thanks in part to the referees blowing the whistle on Jesse Jackson’s “cut off his nuts” comment about Obama, while ignoring lots of more-newsworthy fouls by McCain and his entourage.
And along with the supposedly-fair news organizations skewing for McCain, there are the not-even-pretending fanboys at Fox News, and their imitators, which these days apparently includes the Associated Press. Mark Kleiman wonders the following (in Pelosi figures it out):
How completely in the tank for the Republicans is the AP? A subpoena isn’t issued, and a Congressinal investigation isn’t conducted, by “Congressional Democrats,” as the story says not once but three times. A subpoena voted by a Congressional committee has exactly the same legal standing as a subpoena issued by a judge. The story makes it sound as if Rove is engaged in partisan warfare rather than defiance of the law.
I’d have to answer, pretty much completely in the tank. I’m not sure when it happened, but it’s kind of scary, given that the AP is one of the few remaining “news organizations” that actually has reporters scattered around to gather news. Most of the rest are madly downsizing their editorial staffs, replacing them with wire reports from… the AP.
Sigh. Maybe Obama is the political equivalent of Kevin Garnett, and it doesn’t matter how hard the referees shore up McCain in their effort to make it a more interesting contest. Maybe it doesn’t matter how many former referees have traded in their blue-gray shirts for the hot pants and spangles of Republican cheerleaders. Eventually we’re going to get to that Game 6 in Boston Garden and the truth will be revealed in all its ugly, naked starkness (or its radiant, majestic glory, depending on which team you’re rooting for). McCain will try to drive the lane and Obama will just swat that weak-ass stuff away, then spread his arms to the cheers of the crowd, reveling in his moment that has finally, at long, long last, arrived.
Maybe. But in the meantime, I wish we had better referees.