Monday, July 07, 2008

The Brett Favre Post

This week, ESPN, sports' Worldwide Leader, fabricated a story about Brett Lorenzo Favre returning to the NFL. Supposedly, an unidentified source within the Packers confided to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Favre told coach Mike McCarthy that he "had an itch" to play again.

The timing of the piece, the lynch-pin of ESPN's coverage this week, was perfect for two reasons: McCarthy was on vacation and unable to comment, and it fanned the flames of a controversial comment Aaron Rodgers made about taking over at quarterback. (In rival publication Sports Illustrated, A-Rodg said: "I don't feel the need to sell myself to the fans. They need to get on board now or keep their mouths shut.") To make things even more suspicious, "NFL Live" just happened to have Packers corner Al Harris available for comment when Mort broke the story. (Deadspin, the fine publication that linked to us last week, covered this coincidence excellently.)

To corroborate their story, the chaps on "Sportscenter" did not contact McCarthy--who I guess is vacationing on the "Lost" island or doesn't have a phone--nor did they contact Favre or his representation. Instead, they did what they always do for the yearly "Is Favre un-retiring?" story: interview some dudes in a Kiln bar. And according to those guys, anything's possible.

You ever wish you were absent of any sense of irony and could geniuinely enjoy things like this? Me neither.

Now the denials are starting to come out. Favre texted that "it's all rumor." Packers' spokesman Jeff Blumb shrugged, "The Packers have no reaction." No other news source or publication backed up ESPN's claim. But that still doesn't stop them from hosting articles as gleefully absurd as Bill Williamson's on which team Brett Favre would play for if the Packers traded his rights, the link to which says--and I'm not kidding--"We're 99.9 percent sure we don't know if Brett Favre will pull an MJ." I can't even wrap my head around that. This is the eighteenth most-checked website on the entire Internet, and they're dedicating a week of football news to something about which they are 99.9 percent sure they don't know.

Favre is getting more distinguished, but the stress hasn't been good to A-Rodg. Dude looks like Freakshow from Harold & Kumar.

Lord knows that I'm not the most dependable and respectable journalist. I wrote 1,000 some-odd words on why a fictional sitcom character probably has AIDS. But I would think that I'd do a bit of fact-checking with involved parties before running an important piece that was pure speculation. ESPN wanted to provoke a reaction with this mess, and they did, but it was one completely separate from what they intended. What they illustrated was the widening gap between the attitudes of the old guard of sports punditry and the more suspicious new voice of online sports journalism.

ESPN wanted to use the influence of one of the most beloved sports figures ever to generate interest in their football news, and they wanted to give John Clayton, Chris Mortensen, and Chris Berman the opportunity to once again gush about that Riverboat Gambler/Gunslinger/Field General Who Just Loves the Game and Would Play It for Free and Looks Like a Kid Tossing the Pigskin in His Backyard. They expected their audience to follow in their admiration of Favre, to jump at the chance to believe he would play again. What they found was an audience who didn't care.

Look at the snarky comments from this Deadspin piece. A commenter at Kissing Suzy Kolber says he hates Brett Favre "more than cancer or nancy grace." The voices at Football Outsiders are equally negative. The personal opinions of real football fans could not be more different from the televised mastrubation of the Peter Kings of the world. ESPN creates stories out of thin air to please and interest their viewers and readers, but they're so out of it they don't even know what their audience wants.

ESPN is traditionally seen as more reliable and trustworthy than Internet mavericks, with good reason. But while TV and radio talking heads were discussing hypotheticals, the first ones to call out the Worldwide Leader on its lack of veracity were those same mavericks. You mean the journalism of the establishment has to answer to someone? Namely the people it continually disrespects? Those dudes in their underwear in their grandma's basement dared to question the integrity of a media conglomerate?

Yeah. And they were right. The opinion of the people in power has never been this divorced from the opinion of the general public (or at least the vocal majority), and we're finally starting to realize it. ESPN won't suffer any consequences for their actions. For all I know, maybe they've reaped lots of benefits from this Brett Favre fiasco. I'm sure they still have a more prominent voice than all the sports blogs in the world combined. But things are obviously changing, and the one thing ESPN isn't in charge of is that change.

Speaking of reliable and trustworthy...

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