Buster & The Noise by Chris Burt

Mike Wilner (‏@Wilnerness590): That's not what it says!!!!! @PatThompson21: @Wilnerness590 [Buster Olney's tweet] says Tracy and Riggleman are the front runners. Thoughts?

Mike Wilner ‏(@Wilnerness590): Sorry, trying not to sound condescending, but I'm baffled by some people's lack of being able to understand what they read.

We are very excited about the Blue Jays. They made a blockbuster trade, getting a perennial all-star and pitching depth. They signed the MVP of last year’s all-star game. They’ve just picked a manager. But what’s this? Many of our most popular media outlets were recently raising the twin specters of a blown managerial hire, and the league vetoing the trade.

The problem with these specters is that they are products of inaccurate reporting, and have little to do with fact.

The whole thing seems to have started when someone very dimwitted realized that the league was going to review the blockbuster Jays-Marlins deal. In this deal, so much money in payroll commitments is coming to the Jays, that the Marlins are kicking in some cash to help cover the difference. The key point is that “all trades routinely are reviewed by the Commissioner's Office before becoming official,” yet Bud Selig has never overturned a trade.

This review is normally conducted without media comment, because it is inherently uninteresting. Contributing to the lack of interest these reviews generate is the simple fact that they rarely ever result in the league overturning a trade. They just have to make sure it’s on the up-and-up. This information has simply not been mentioned on the tickers at CBC, TSN, or any of the other media outlets repeating, in the words of TSN, “Placed on Hold. The Jays blockbuster trade with the Marlins is still not official and is under review by the league.” Never mind that Selig himself had already poured cold water on the whole thing, saying "I've talked to two baseball people... They think that (Miami), in terms of young players, did very well.”

The trade was approved yesterday.

Then there is the manager search. ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted “The Jays are close to announcing their next manager. Two of the final names they discussed were Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman.”

This led to the following from the Toronto Sun: “The Toronto Blue Jays have narrowed their managerial search down to Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman, ESPN.com reported Saturday.”

This is false. The original tweet clearly implies that at least one and maybe more unnamed candidates are being considered. The Sun was not alone in this obvious error; sports radio the Fan reported the very same thing on the very same day, again referencing ESPN, and even mentioning Buster Olney as the source of the rumour.

This morning, John Gibbons was hired as the team's new manager.

So Toronto sports reporting stinks. This is not, in and of itself, very important. However, much more disquieting is the reaction of the public. Fan radio host Mike Wilner had a frustrating time trying to clear up the confusion of a public too quick to swallow bad reporting. This same pattern can be seen in reporting on much more important issues, with much more dire consequences.

Back in 2007, Salon.com identified a little verbal inconsistency (putting aside for the moment speculation on whether the cause is duplicity or incompetence) in the news media’s coverage of casualties in Iraq in this piece. With sloppy (or careful?) word choice, militants become terrorists with a certain organization. At the time many Torontonians sadly chuckled (what else can you do?) at the gullibility of our neighbours to the south. Casual misuse of language continues to cause confusion and further ignorance for our closest allies.

Unfortunately, we are not immune. If you thought that the Jays were about to decide between Tracy and Riggleman, or that the trade was about to be overturned, then you’ve been had. You can avoid this in the future by reading more closely, and being more critical of these obviously fallible sources. 


Chris Burt is a freelance writer who writes about sports at sportsvssports.wordpress.com, Toronto parenting at exm.nr/pw3Pvl and whatever. You can follow him on Twitter: @AFakeChrisBurt.


Ethan said...

Well put!

Specifically about trades being under review, anytime a substantial amount of money is included in the deal (the $4M or $8M or whatever the figure was) the commissioners office has to sign off on it.

So when it was reported that Selig would review it, it was only because he was obligated to.

Strange to see things spiral in a certain way like that.

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