Column: Why is the mainstream media so negative? It’s over baseball

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 14, 2006

Editor’s note: Garrison Keillor reported having problems with his laptop. Tribune Media Services offers Mark Bazer’s humor column as a replacement this week.

In its latest efforts to defend the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has been blaming the mainstream media for not accentuating the positive, or at the very least for not making stories on sectarian violence a bit more jolly. For instance, by having them rhyme.

But, look, it’s a known fact that the members of the media in this country are all sniveling, misanthropic, balding lowlifes who wish only ill on people, with the exception of me and the people to whom I directly report.

And so now, particularly with the baseball season moving into high gear, it’s worth reminding the president that the media, during wartime or not, unfortunately always emphasize the negative.

Take the case of the Chicago Cubs. Last year, the Chicago Tribune, one of this nation’s most influential newspapers, published in its sports pages a recap of every single regular-season game the Cubs played that season. A careful analysis, however, reveals that only 79 of the Tribune’s 162 game recaps were positive &045; that is, providing details on a victory &045; while a whopping 83 of them focused on a loss.

That’s right: 79 to 83. Or, to express it another way, 79-83. Why, one is impelled to ask, the discrepancy?

Many will try to paint the Tribune’s 2005 coverage as an aberration. Sorry, that just doesn’t wash. To find the last time anyone in the Chicago media reported more positively than negatively on the Cubs, you have to go all the way back to 1908! Now, all the talk among reporters covering the Cubs is about ace pitcher Mark Prior’s strained right shoulder. Rarely if ever mentioned is his perfectly healthy left one.

The examples of media bias and negativity are, sadly, endless. After the Toronto Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan the richest contract ever awarded to a relief pitcher this offseason, baseball scribes everywhere lambasted the team’s front office for what they considered a pie-in-the-sky plan. Never mind that the Blue Jays were doing the right thing, hoping to achieve what would amount to a dramatic transformation of the entire A.L. East.

In San Diego, the Padres actually finished first in their division last season. But that didn’t stop one writer in the team’s irresponsible hometown newspaper, the Union-Tribune, from calling it &8220;perhaps the most pitiful drive &045; if it can be called that &045; to a division championship in baseball history.&8221;

What do you think a sentence like that did to the morale of the Padres players? But, again, it’s what’s to be expected these days, given the mainstream media’s unprecedented level of contempt for the San Diego Chicken.

But for the most glaring example of media negativity one must go to Florida, where last year a headline in the Tampa Tribune on the day before Opening Day asked of the Devil Rays: &8220;Why Should We Care?&8221; With the Devil Rays about to embark on their eighth season, the media was still implicitly questioning whether the team should have gone into the Major Leagues in the first place!

None of this is meant to suggest that there aren’t some very fine reporters in the mainstream media, out there every day risking their lives to cover Barry Bonds. But these few are the exceptions, their voices largely drowned out by a press hierarchy that thrives on bad news. What has been the focus so far among the elite baseball media this year? Steroids and Cuba!

As a last-ditch defense, members of the mainstream media love to point to the New York Times’ seemingly upbeat game reporting of the Yankees’ 2005 regular season: 95 positive game recaps to only 67 negative ones.

Yet, when it mattered most &045; a make-or-break postseason series against the Angels &045; the Times all of a sudden turned downright nasty, with three negative game recaps to only two positive ones. I need not remind Yankees fans of the result of the Times’ biased coverage: The Bronx Bombers were eliminated from the playoffs.

All of which brings us back to the war in Iraq. Time and again, the bad-news-only reporting by U.S. papers, led by the New York Times, only gives comfort to both the Iraqi Insurgents and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Given the media’s animosity and negativity, President George W. Bush should at least be thankful he only has the country to worry about &045; and no longer the Texas Rangers.

(Mark Bazer can be reached at mebazer@yahoo.com.)