Advocacy, fandom and the failure of objective journalism

By Sollok29 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sollok29 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Never has the media been more under the gun or scrutinized than today – the proliferation of advocacy blogs (like this one) as well as social media combined with the obsessive nature of 24-hour cable news channels has made media watchers and critics of us all. But it’s also turned us into cheerleaders and advocates for causes near and dear to our hearts using the media. It’s important at this time when the media has to be on its toes in challenging a runaway, potential autocrat as President in Donald Trump that things be done by the book, conflicts of interest or emotion checked at the door. Otherwise Trump and his allies will seize, perhaps rightly on these conflicts.

I personally have learned a lot about emotion in journalism and then the conflict that comes from being in a profession you cover. As a professional, I’ve generally been objective but in many instances are more a commentator than a writer – which is the drift of this site. We don’t break news but commentate or analyze it from an ideological perspective. But in my role commentating on soccer I have historically done BOTH break news and commentate on it and while I’ve generally been by the book, I’ve now caught myself in violating the principles of objectivity and not allowing emotion to dictate coverage.

We can only learn from our mistakes and I found I failed myself and everyone badly in my actions over the past two years. I believe in accountability as this site so often demonstrates, so I have held myself accountable for the circus that was the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Read my apology to Strikers fans and then understand how it could very well apply to politics and the current situation in this state and country, which we will discuss after.

Strikers Fans,

Time for me to come clean to all strikers fans and Flight 19 and others who cared about the club and apologize with all my heart to all of you. I FAILED YOU AND FAILED OUR CLUB – THE CLUB WE LOVE. We are now without pro soccer locally partly because of me. I deserve blame and scorn for this and hope others who are responsible also do the necessary introspection that I have gone through. I promise to do better with Boca Raton FC having learned the lesson of failure and submission. Here is where I went wrong.

1- I could sense from the beginning the new ownership group wasn’t going to work out especially after Tom Mulroy was let go. Even before that I didn’t like what I was seeing and hearing.

2- I wrote a series of controversial articles which were true and based on reality in early 2015. They circulated widely – they were critical of ownership and the lack of understanding the club had of the local market and its obsession with global branding – they were accurate and acclaimed. Yet, like a scared coward pulled back from the premises of those articles with the hope of being “liked” again by team employees and management after they hazed me – not on them, they were doing their job. This is on me for retreating into being a scared little child after months of being courageous and seeking the truth even if it burned my friendships and job prospects.

3- I pulled back and didn’t publish future incriminating stories about how players were being treated, employees were being paid late and the unprofessional nature around the firing of Coach Gunter Kronsteiner in order to not rock the boat because I had felt the pressure before. Being ostracized wasn’t fun and thus I was more interested in being liked again (temporarily) than really telling the truth any longer.

4- I had encouraged the supporters group to do better and learn from Tampa Bay, Orlando, Jacksonville, etc but pulled back from that also. Had I pushed that, they would have been more engaged and active in drawing attention to the club’s failing in 2016.

5- I accepted a consulting role at minimal pay (far less than I charge other clients) for love of club and then went along internally with the deceit and kicking the can down the road I KNEW was not only a bad communication strategy but also was not transparent and honest. But by this time I was so scared of the club folding and was rueing the opportunity costs for me * I went along with it.

6- The result? We lost our club. These are learning experiences that will help me do better with Boca Raton FC and also in the future when I work or cover this sport.”

*these opportunity costs included posting only sporadically on this site for months and leaving political campaigns right in the middle of the election cycle.

Now apply this to politics – and you’ll see why it’s difficult to trust those tied explicitly to either political party or who make a living off political consulting when giving analysis or breaking news in the media. A proliferation of political operatives writing columns or hosting radio and TV programs is dangerous because of the agenda those operatives might have and how easily their credibility can be undermined. These operatives either have former clients or associates involved in campaigns and in many cases might pull punches when related to them (or on the contrary have an ax-to-grind when reporting on or analyzing them). Emotion seems to be a driver of so much political coverage these days and it’s difficult to remove emotional considerations from electoral discussions at a time when the country is so polarized and an incredible amount of money is flowing around not only political campaigns but outside advocacy groups that engage in politics and hire political or media consultants.

Additionally, we all run in tribes. The majority of Democratic (or Republican) operatives that appear on TV shout shows and analyzing politics on cable news have a social circle – probably like-minded people who are also careerists in politics. It takes a suspension of belief to think the analysis they give is not influenced by that circle. We’re only human and while providing commentary from an ideological perspective should be encouraged on TV, acting as an objective journalist or news analyst as we often see should not. From my own experience my weakness was pulling back from my accurate and useful coverage of the Strikers because I was ostracized from one of my social circles. But two years later, my weak will contributed to leaving that entire social circle displaced without a club to support.

Analysis on cable news channels is as often given by political operatives that have exclusive contracts to commentate on a given network as it is by traditional journalists or Washington correspondents in this day and age. Many of these commentators are still in the political realm and have friends or colleagues working for campaigns – and in many cases they are looking to jump on some effort themselves. In some cases it’s made clear they speak from a partisan perspective but in many cases it isn’t. Additionally, FOX News the worst abuser of all these rules will throw those who write or publish conservative publications (right-wing equivalents of our site) on the air and act as if they are objective news-gathering journalists. This has created an interesting dynamic I must admit recently because the intellectual right and those who publish conservative websites and magazines remain split on Trump, thus the coverage on FOX which I had branded “state television” not long ago is proving to be less pro-Trump than I had anticipated. But I digress…back to this issue.

Based on my own recent experience, when emotion is involved you make errors of judgement and I can see how easily these can be extrapolated to coverage of campaigns or potential scandals on cable news.

 

This is among the reasons I don’t watch MSNBC, a channel that’s filled with commentators and anchors that have an agenda – be it an agenda within the Democratic Party and the left or more recently fanning the flames of the Russia story when we need to gather facts and think rationally (not politically) about the consequences of such an alleged national security breach.

As I have written previously about MSNBC:

The dumbing down and polarization of America has been a great contribution of cable news. But on the left where previous opinions were formed from being well-read, listening to balanced debates on NPR, reading thoughtful commentary in places The Atlantic or New Yorker gave way to the same sort of lazy punditry, narratives and analysis that is offered in the era of cable news channels. As an aside it is also good for NBC News, a division with a long and illustrious history of journalism to get back to basics and leave editorializing to other sources.

I personally stopped watching MSNBC years ago. It hasn’t made me any less liberal, but simply has allowed me to be more informed and thoughtful, I believe. So in my opinion, the format-change of MSNBC is a good thing (unless of course Joe Scarborough gets more airtime out of it). Liberals need to get back to working hard to understand issues with more sophistication than conservatives – that differentiated us for years, and simply memorizing talking points spewed on MSNBC made us more like conservatives and FOX News watchers than ever before.  I for one am glad this era has ended and progressives can think for themselves yet again rather than imitating the behavior and thought-processes of the other side.

I watch CNN almost religiously but have found some of the same agenda-driven commentating on that network as I complain about on MSNBC and FOX. Certainly, CNN has journalists hosting shows but the panels are often stacked with those who have conflicts and the coverage then becomes skewed or driven by emotion. I contrast this with the way the BBC presents political and foreign affairs coverage – they rely largely on writers and TV journalists to commentate on events. Perhaps that makes the coverage less lively and less argumentative but it also gets to the bottom-line much more efficiently. Cheer-leading rather than objective reporting/analysis is real even if it seems at this moment in time as a right-wing or Trumpian explanation for something they don’t like. But it isn’t because of the journalists – it’s because cable news channels often mix commentators with reporters without any clear distinction.

In the era of Trump where so many abuses are taking place, one of my growing concerns is about Democratic/liberal overreaction and overindulgence. President Trump is in the process of  hanging himself, but many operatives who appear on TV and are connected with Democratic or liberal entities are playing a short -term game and very well might have another agenda in mind. If the coverage of Trump is left to objective trained journalists or those without conflicts of interest, Trump will fall and his supporters as well as the GOP won’t have the obvious fall back position about Democratic political operatives and Clinton or Obama Administration veterans driving the media coverage.

The media must hold Trump to account and do so in a logical, constructive and methodical way. The emotion and potential conflicts brought by political operatives might do more to hurt the case in the long-term than many are thinking at this point in time.

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