One such writer is our old friend Stewart Mandel. However, Stewart being Stewart, he defends Carlson in such a ham-handed way that he ends up contradicting himself and confirming the distaste that many college football fans have for the media. Here is his discussion of writers and their biases from this week's Mailbag:
Regarding Mike Gundy's postgame rant, it seems that sportswriters have almost all condemned Gundy's overly emotional defense of his player and fail to grasp the distinction Gundy was trying to make between fair criticism of on-field performance and petty personal attacks. Your response was admittedly measured, but other national writers have gone as far as to suggest that Gundy be fined or fired. Meanwhile, almost all fans, players, and coaches support Gundy. Could it be that the actual bias in sports media is actually in favor of ... other sportswriters?When I read that first paragraph, I was trying to decide whether I should take the time to write a post explaining why Mandel's analogy was so inept. He compares sportswriters letting their biases affect their writing with instances of outright illegal conduct by bank tellers and doctors that involve intentional malfeasance. Stew, I'm interested to know how you made it into Northwestern in spite of what must have been an 0-fer on the section of the SAT that tests analogies. I'm also interested in how sportswriters have "tenant[s]" that govern their professional conduct, but the rest of us have "tenets."
Ding, ding, ding. I've tried futilely over the years to diffuse the wide-spread notion that mainstream journalists hold "biases" toward certain teams in the same way fans "hate" their rivals. I gave up on that lost cause long ago, other than to occasionally point out that if you truly believe a professional journalist would let his "inner-fan" hold more sway than the most basic tenant of his profession -- objectivity -- than you might as well assume your doctor is sharing your confidential medical information over drinks with his colleagues, and that your bank teller is secretly "borrowing" half that deposit you just made.
That said, writers are humans, and we like to be treated with the same level of dignity as any other humans. So yes, when Gundy steps out in front of a podium in a room full of people, points his finger at a specific writer and screams at her for several minutes with the kind of maniacal look on his face that suggests he's so angry he could hit somebody, is it any surprise to see fellow writers rallying behind the attacked journalist? Maybe that's how he dresses down his players in the locker room or on the sideline, but what person in any other walk of life voices their professional displeasure toward someone in that manner? Gundy's certainly entitled to disagree with her, and he's certainly entitled to defend his player, but I don't believe anyone -- from writer to football coach to stock trader to busboy -- deserves to be treated with such lack of basic human decency.
From the moment I first saw the Gundy clip, I knew immediately that such extreme-reaction columns as the ones you mentioned would soon be spewing forth across the country, regardless of whether or not Gundy had a valid point. It's the same "defense mechanism" that causes many writers to hold "grudges" against schools whose coaches or sports information staff have treated them like crap. It's human nature. And it's a much more likely cause of "bias" among writers than any team allegiance.
By the time I got to the third paragraph, I was wondering whether SI.com has editors, whether those editors read Mandel's work, and finally whether they have any sort of requirement that arguments be logically consistent. Mandel first argues that writers do not let their biases infect their work and compares that to employees stealing, violating federal law, or acting in violation of the basic ethics of their profession. He then says that writers do indeed carry biases against coaches or SIDs who don't treat them well. That's comforting. The next time that Mandel writes something unfairly negative about Michigan, I'll be much happier knowing that he's doing so because Lloyd Carr or Michigan's SID didn't give him cookies and punch as opposed to the fact that Mandel went to Northwestern and therefore doesn't like the Wolverines. (I don't think that Mandel has it out for Michigan; I'm speaking hypothetically here.)
It's hard for me to get my head around the notion that Mandel actually advanced this argument with a straight face. He inadvertently explained exactly why I don't like a lot of college football writers: they get paid to do work that most college football fans would do for free and yet they do a piss poor job of it. Why can't I get paid by America's pre-eminent sports publication to argue that college football writers aren't biased, except when they feel disrespected by a school's SID, in which case they are and I'm supposed to be fine with that.