There is a land across the sea; a vast land with occasionally vast people in it. It is the land where everyone is assumed innocent until proven guilty by enforced public opinion. It is the land where spying on citizens, intercepting their emails, tapping their phones, and quite possibly inserting cameras in ceiling tiles above every toilet cubicle in the country to stamp out forbidden consensual acts of homolove is all accepted with little more than a whimper from the seated masses, their representatives in power, and the media who feed them their daily dose of Things We Tell You To Think®. Americaland.
So what’s making the news in Americaland these days?
The New England Patriots were caught doing something illegal during a recent football game. The New England Patriots cheated. The New England Patriots’ reputation is shredded. The New England Patriots spoilt Christmas for little Jimmy. The New England Patriots were working in league with Osama all along.
Really? Apparently so. If you listen to the media. Which you shouldn’t. Ever.
What Did The New England Patriots Actually Do?
The Patriots used a video camera to record the play-calling of their opponents – The Mangini Nancyboys out of New Jersey – from the sideline during the game. This is against the rules. Bad Patriots. Naughty Patriots. What’s not against the rules is:
- using a camera to record the play calling of opponents from booths at the ends of the field or on the 50-yard line (which everyone does),
- taking still photographs, printing, and writing on them (which everyone does),
- using binoculars to spy on your opponents and making notes about plays (which everyone does),
- just looking across at the opposing bench and field and writing down what you see (which everyone does),
- employing players who use their ears to listen to opposing calls, their eyes to see what the opposing team does, their brains to remember what happened, and their mouths to mention this to their teammates and coaches (which everyone does),
- asking new members of former teams about the play calls of their previous employers (which everyone does),
- sacrificing chickens and examining their entrails to identify defensive formations long in advance (which the Arizona Cardinals do to awesome effect!)
The video camera-taping by the Patriots did not provide a direct feed into heads-up displays in the helmets of the team. Head Coach Bill Belichick does not have a cybernetic implant that allows him to tune into video camera feeds wirelessly. He does have cybernetic implants. Just not that one.
The Patriots broke a rule for the convenience of taking notes. Yes they did. Not for cheating. Getting the information recorded from the video camera back for analysis probably takes far longer than the allowed methods of taking photos and writing on them so it wasn’t even to make reacting to opponents’ games more efficient; it was for the convenience of having a tape for later. They shouldn’t have done it but they did. There was no advantage gained during the game.
End Of Story.
Enter The Media
No, not quite End Of Story.
Getting the public worked up in a frenzy about illegal wiretaps? Ooh, that sounds like hard work. That’s politics. That’s the sort of thing that’s important in the world. Difficult to sell. Difficult to call in interesting "experts" to make wild accusations and formulate preposterous theories. Might have to give that one a miss.
Getting the public worked up in a frenzy about a minor sporting rule infraction by construing it as the tip of a grand cheating ring of terror? Hello! Promo-makers: quick! To the editing suite! Remember to add flames and horns! This is BIG! Phone up everyone who ever lost a game to the Patriots or who just has a grudge because they’re the most successful team in the sport right now! They’re just the sorts of people who might be persuaded to consider the possibility that Tom Brady broke into their homes, rifled through their game notes and used their toilet without flushing prior to their crushing defeat four years ago. Graphic artists! The other channels have 3D, rotating, metallic logos proclaiming "Patriot Videogate Controversy Threatens Polar Bears". Can’t. Be. Beaten. We need … lens flares on ours! NOW! Should we produce a segment discussing the political machinations in the NFL and considering whether the video-taping rule would simply have been changed had the Colts been found doing this? God No! Too confusing for our viewers’ minds! Keep it simple folks! Focus on heartbreaking stories of cancer victims dying knowing that the Patriots just might be a big bunch of cheating scum! Video inserts of Eric Roberts in Runaway Train saying "You was my hero Manny” – GO! Music library! Janes Addiction, Been Caught Stealing – GO!
The media: journalists, presenters, producers, directors, analysis teams. We listen less and less to traditional media these days thanks to a wider world connected by the internet. In their competitive, shrinking niche they need to shout louder to be heard because that’s where the money is. The importance of a story, sadly, is one of the first casualties to this approach. It’s how the story can be marketed that becomes the bottom line. Are celebrities involved? Did something juicy happen? Can the story be turned into a long-running, audience-captivating, advertiser-pleasing soap opera?
Sober, honest fact-reporting? I don’t think anyone wants to see that.