Monday, October 20, 2008

Beware of Media Lemmings

Front Runners: Media critic Howard Kurtz is the best in the business. He warns in Monday's Washington Post political reporters and commentators are addicted to following the polls and invariably hitch a ride on the back of the front runners. "For all the complaints over the media swoon over (Barack) Obama," he writes, "journalists ultimately are driven by electoral math. If (John) McCain were to make a comeback in the almighty polls, the narrative would abruptly change. If the numbers don't move, the chatter about an Obama presidency will grow louder, perhaps drowning out the campaign's final days." Kurtz cites numerous examples. Following retired Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement Sunday of Obama, Democrat and leftwing supporters said Powell sealed the deal for Obama's presidency. Meanwhile, "You got people on the right side of the political equation," he quotes CBS's political analyst Jeff Greenfield, "saying the McCain campaign's screwed up and he's picked a running make who is unqualified." Such opinions reflect a sinking ship. Adds Kurtz: "But the theater-criticism aspect of modern journalism is a factor as well. After McCain's most aggressive performance in the final debate, much of the media focus was not on his specific attacks but whether he looked angry or exasperated while Obama stayed calm and collected. Is criticism valid only if it makes your opponent whine or tear up?" Political reporters are people, too, and expose their human frailties of a losing candidate like sharks circling the waters for a kill. Remember the press declaring McCain dead last November? Recall the anguish in MSNBC's election central when Hillary Clinton soared past Obama in the final day of the New Hampshire primary? Smart reporters are hedging their bets on Obama because of the much ballyhooed yet unknown race factor in this election. Recent history constantly reminds us that we are a nation in which the political pendulum rarely swings more than one or two points of the 50-50 divisional standard. Whether that applies in this historic race, time will tell. But events on the ground indicate the forces are in Obama's favor. Be aware of what you hear from the candidates, their surrogates and the media. They are lemmings following their own political agendas.

Monday Morning Quarterback: The greatest feel good story of the year is the Tampa Bay Rays winning the American League championship. For nine of the past 10 years of their sorry existence, they finished in the toilet of the toughest division in baseball, the American League East. This is a small market team ranked 29th out of 32 teams in payroll. Finishing so many seasons as the worst in baseball, an enlightened management and judicious first round drafting, the Rays picked and groomed outstanding young players they fielded into a first-rate team. It is a remarkable task considering the economics of Major League Baseball. Their path to victory was patterned after "Money Ball" developed initially by another small market team, the Oakland A's. The Athletics under that format reached the playoffs often enough but never the World Series. Despite their unexpected rush to prominence, the Rays only drew an average of 12,000 fans to their home games in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Stadium. It will improve next year whether they win or lose the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. But, not by much. Their neighbor to the south, the National League's Florida Marlins, proved that even though they won two World Series in five years. It doesn't matter. America's eroding baseball fans adore a lovable loser turned awesome. Fox, which will televise the World Series, certainly hopes so. Network executives said they may break even if the Series goes only four games. They would have preferred big market teams such as the Dodgers, Cubs or Red Sox. Like a fine wine, the Tampa Bay Rays may have been rushed to glory too fast for the public to appreciate its taste. Meanwhile, my two faves in football played to form over the weekend. USC blanked hapless Washington State and the fumbling, bungling Chargers were short-circuited by Buffalo. What's significant is if San Diego fails to make the playoffs, chances to win an election to build a new stadium dim leaving ownership no recourse but to relocate to another market, probably Los Angeles.

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