Media Conspiracies: Fake, or Just Not Real?

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Me too Mulder, me too.

One of the endemic conditions of the passionate sports fan is to occasionally see conspiracies in the world around you. It could be the refs acting to prevent your team from winning, or the NCAA passing out selective justice that fails to punish your rival significantly enough.

Yesterday brought two new ones to light, this time of the media-is-out-to-get-us variety.

First was Gate 21's Home Sweet Home's accusation of ESPN having an agenda of some sort against Tennessee. HSH didn't outright say it happened, but you know, nudge nudge:

It's almost as if ESPN set Tennessee and Kiffin up by doing the story, and then finding this to make more out of it. I don't think I would be alone in feeling that way.

ESPN does all access features all the time. Remember Colt Brennan's spear fishing? Or how about Tim Tebow's turn in the throwing mechanics lab? Sure those were overly positive puff pieces, but programs surrounded by controversy seldom if ever allow TV types around. Kiffin has made his intention to get as much press as possible clear, so in came the cameras.

I don't know if the film crew was told to try to get footage of coaches talking to recruits or not. Even if the cameras had gone off, it's still a violation because the rule is that media members can't be around whether they're recording the proceedings or not. And since Kiffin, whose job it is to prevent violations from happening, didn't kick the film crew out of the room, it became a no-win scenario for ESPN. Air the footage and it's out to get UT; withhold the footage and it's a coverup to protect the media's new golden quote goose.

ESPN aims to do one thing more than anything else: make money. Since Lane Kiffin has made himself one of the top stories of the off season, it makes sense that the WWL would want to get a view from the inside. Overall, I thought the piece was done in a fair manner.

Pro-Tennessee sound bites from Mike Hamilton were interspersed through the part that outlined some of the off season controversies. ESPN also gave the final word to Layla Kiffin, Pete Carroll, and Lane himself, so that the viewer is left with the positive take on everything. I don't deny that individual media members can and do display bias, but media corporations don't much care which teams are good, only that someone is doing something that captures attention. Just look at the media blitz around Mike Leach if you need proof.

Moving along, the second conspiracy theory came from the plains of Auburn.

Jay at Track 'Em Tigers posited that the timing of last week/weekend's sudden burst of Tony Franklin coverage might be a media-generated distraction away from the pending NCAA judgment on Alabama's textbook scandal. It also might be a hit on Auburn to offset unexpected recruiting gains by Gene Chizik:

Is it just me or is it ironic that just days before the NCAA is expected to come down hard on the Alabama program for player violations, Franklin is brought in for an encore? Since when does retelling a year old story with no new information warrant front page headlines and a prime time spot on the state's most listened to radio show?

Is it possible that Chizik and his staff are having an effect on recruiting - enough so that some believed Auburn's dirty laundry needed to be rehashed?

Fortunately, some commenters astutely pointed out that Franklin airing dirty laundry is nothing new. The timing may not be logical, but remember, this is the offseason.

I've already gone over a couple reasons why I don't get the off season news cycle, and you can add this Franklin coverage and the flap over Florida's 24 arrests (Why 24 specifically? Why not 22, 23, or 25?) to the list. Ultimately, nothing should surprise you when it gets published in the off season precisely because there is no football being played.

I generally subscribe to Occam's razor, which basically states that the simplest answer is most often the best. Why Franklin and why now? The simplest explanation is that football news is slow and a reporter who needed material called up a guy who's always good for an interesting quote.

In the first case above with Tennessee, the simplest explanation is not that ESPN got its camera techs trained up in the NCAA rule book and had them hunting for violations. The simplest explanation is that they were told to follow Kiffin relentlessly and film everything going on around him. Someone then discovered the secondary violation in post-production, and a decision was made to air the footage and have Bob Ley make a comment about it.

Writing for this site has taught me just how hard it is to remove bias from my writing. When I was just doing my Gator blog, I didn't have to worry about fans from all over the conference reading what I wrote. However here, I have to make an extra effort to be fair, or at least an equal opportunity offender. I have to employ a mental version of Bill Simmons' editorial electro-shocks sometimes to keep from getting too slanted.

That is why I 100% believe that individual media members can have biases and agendas. Large companies though are complex and clunky constructs that are extremely difficult to get all parts moving in the same direction at once. And even once you get there, not everyone will play along.

That is the main reason why I don't believe in widespread media conspiracies. The other is that everyone thinks the media is out to get them. Big Ten fans think ESPN loves the SEC too much. SEC fans think ESPN loves the Big Ten too much. West coast fans swear there's an east coast bias in coverage, even though more than 40% of BCS teams are in the Eastern time zone (entirely equal coverage would necessitate more time devoted to eastern teams).

Searching for conspiracies in the media certainly can be done, and I've done my fair share of it. However at the end of the day, just take a deep breath and remember: they really aren't out to get you.

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