Friday, September 21, 2007

Vickkampf: Let's Have Kurt Waldheim and Yuri Andropov Debate the Implications

I've got that Cracker song What the World Needs Now song stuck in my hear right now. You know, the one that says that the world needs a variety of things "like I need a hole in my head."? The cause of my humming is ESPN's decision to convene a town hall meeting to discuss the racial impact of Vickkampf. And to ensure that Atlanta is portrayed to be a short step away from Sarajevo after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the panel will include Terrence Moore and Neal Boortz. Does anyone doubt that Bob Ley (whom I normally like and respect) and company sat around trying to decide who the biggest bombthrowers would be on the racial issue and came up with Moore and Boortz? And oh how they'll giggle when Moore asserts that Atlanta is too racist to host a Super Bowl or Boortz whips out the "ghetto trash" line that he used to describe Cynthia McKinney (the only instance in which I felt sympathetic to Ms. McKinney). Gee, I wonder why ESPN invited Terrence Moore as opposed to Mark Bradley (assuming that they didn't invite Bradley).

I typically have serious reservations about employing anything close to the "the races get along down here, but the Yankee media is stirring up trouble," since that was typically the line used by just about every white racist in the South in the 50s and 60s. In fact, I heard that line from a white resident of Jena, Louisiana on the radio this week, so apparently, it's still on the first page of the "don't pay attention to the fact that our town prosecutes blacks and not whites" playbook. That said, I am definitely not pleased by ESPN's approach. I don't recall them convening a racial town hall to discuss Barry Bonds (another issue on which opinion split on racial lines). Why? Because the narrative concerning Atlanta and the South involves race, but the same narrative doesn't apply to national issues like Bonds. G-d forbid anyone suggest that San Franciscans or New Yorkers might also feel differently about Bonds on the basis of racial experience. Similarly, there hasn't been a racial town hall in Philadelphia regarding Donovan McNabb's perception that he's treated more negatively than white quarterbacks.

Like Jeff Schultz's inept "let's use pop psychology to explain why Georgia can't score in the red zone" explanation, ESPN's approach also highlights a real failing of the modern media: the tendency to find the most diametrically opposed points of view and air them in the interest of "balance." This comes up all the time in the political context. The Supreme Court will issue a decision on, say, gun rights and CNN will go to the split screen with Wayne Lapierre in one box saying crazy things, someone from a pro-gun control group saying something less crazy, and then the anchor in the third box egging the two of them on. As a result, the viewer gets two extreme views as opposed to a measured, intelligent take. I can guarantee you that Moore and Boortz will do the same on the Vick issue. One caveat: Moore didn't really write anything incendiary about the Vick case and he smartly didn't turn Vick's travails into a referendum on race relations. Maybe ESPN won't get the Racial Dresden that they're clearly pining for.

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