♦ King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia just died. Because he was relatively friendly toward the United States, he was often a big help to us. And he was one of the most influential figures in Middle East politics, including the politics surrounding the global oil market.
♦ The president of Yemen, one of this country’s most important partners in trying to curb Islamist terrorism, just resigned, along with his cabinet, as Iranian-backed Shiite rebels took over the capital, including the presidential palace, and are setting the stage for a civil war.
♦ John Boehner, giving the finger to the President of the United States, secretly invited Israeli Prime Minister Benejamin Netanyahu to address Congress so that Netanyahu, who is facing an election at home, can also give the President the finger over Obama’s wise attempts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, rather than go to war.
♦ The deadline has passed for the payment of ransom money to ISIL, who has threatened to kill two more hostages, this time Japanese hostages.
♦ The U.S. and Iraq are making plans to retake Mosul this summer, in an effort to push back ISIL forces, who now control the second largest city in Iraq.
Those and other important stories are, if you look hard enough, in the news today. But if you watch TV news, both broadcast and cable, mostly what you have seen the last few days is incompetent, irresponsible coverage of one of the stupidest stories in the history of journalism, something that is now being called “Ballghazi,” the flap over how much air was in a football in an NFL playoff game last Sunday.
It has been a sad week for journalism, and not just the kind of irresponsible journalism that is often found in sports reporting. The disease has spread to the mainstream news outlets, who aren’t supposed to be accusing people of lying without any evidence or wasting valuable time reporting on stories that are more properly fit for cheap gossip magazines or websites. It’s as if Jerry Springer, using some kind of mind control, took over the brains of all the news executives and producers on all the television networks and cable shows. I guess covering Middle East politics, reporting on terrorism and our fight against it, following around a creepy John Boehner and a creepier Benjamin Netanyahu, is just not as much fun as covering a great drama like whether a famous football team, a famous coach, and a famous athlete are all petty cheaters.
All of what I have seen makes me wonder just how many other things, much more important things, reputable journalists are getting wrong each and every day.
On Wednesday night, I almost fell out of my hammock when a very smart Chris Hayes, of MSNBC, started his evening program with the story of whether the New England Patriots cheated the Indianapolis Colts in a 45-7 rout by deliberately not having enough air in the ball that Tom Brady was throwing. Hayes obviously thought Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, did probably cheat. But what does cheat even mean in this context? Nobody seems to know. But we do know now that one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, actually prefers overinflated balls, and that other NFL quarterbacks doctor the balls to their own particular specifications.
On Thursday night, after press conferences by Belichick and Brady in which they denied knowing anything about what may have happened to the balls after the game started, the network news shows put Ballghazi at the top of their newscasts. Also that night, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, on a show supposedly featuring “hardball” politics, started off his program with the underinflated ball story, repeating the falsehood, spread by other media outlets, that Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was the first guy who brought the allegedly deflated ball—a ball he had intercepted when Brady threw a bad pass—to the attention of the officials. Except that Jackson said he did no such thing. He said he had planned on keeping the ball for a souvenir and had no idea it was underinflated, if in fact it was. “I wouldn’t know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage,” the linebacker said. “I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another.”
From Sean Hannity to Chris Matthews, from Good Morning America to NBC Nightly News, from ESPN to local sportscasts, everyone on TV and radio has been talking about the issue, most of them not having the slightest idea what they are talking about. Yet almost all of them are sure that the Patriots cheated, that Bill Belichick is lying when he says he wasn’t involved in deflating the balls, and that Tom Brady is also lying because, well, just because. I have yet to see presented any evidence that Brady or anybody cheated, nor have I seen much of an indication that journalists covering this farce know what actually constitutes evidence or that they know that there are such things as standards of proof. But I have seen flimsy charges made, followed by even flimsier convictions.
This week I have seen on TV all kinds of people holding footballs, talking about footballs, and throwing footballs. I have seen some of those same people also hurling accusations—again, none of them based on the slightest evidence—that Belichick and Brady are liars and cheaters and should be suspended from next week’s Super Bowl. Some hysterical folks, like ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, are even suggesting the entire Patriots team, if proof of guilt finally materializes, should be booted from the game, replaced by the defeated Colts.
I have seen so much dumb and incompetent reporting (no, Belichick did not “throw Brady under the bus” during his press conference), so much wild speculation about NFL-engineered conspiracies (to hype the Super Bowl game or protect Patriots ownership), so much ignorance of the physics of the whole thing (for instance, measuring the air pressure of the ball inside a warm room, then measuring it later outside when it is colder, will produce a different result, dropping the PSI by a relatively significant amount), that I worry for the future of the country, at least as far as television reporting and commentary will affect it.
Because if the kind of broadcast journalism that I have seen this week gets any worse, then there will be no reason to believe much of anything that comes from the mouths of anyone who puts on a suit or dress and starts talking in front of a camera. In fact, there will be good reason not to believe it.
It’s really been that bad.