Monday, October 20, 2008

When The Star Player Works The Refs, Someone Usually Listens

Michael Jordan being fouled by Charles Barkley (courtesy of the New York Post)

No one was more adept at being babied by referees than Michael Jordan. The plaintive gaze of utter disbelief in his eyes after a missed shot as he darted his sad eyes in an incredulous look to the sideline was enough to make any ref think twice about their lack of a call. Next time, they blew the whistle.

Such may be the case when presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain turn their own ire toward specific outlets of the media. Obama in Sunday's New York Times Magazine:
"I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls," Obama told me. "If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn't vote for me, right? Because the way I'm portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?"
And repeatedly, McCain and his campaign have lambasted the Times, his chief strategist stating, "But whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day attacks the McCain campaign, attacks Gov. Palin and excuses Sen. Obama."

You'd think both of these men were Mohamed Atta. Or worse, Al Gore.

But is all the whining a textbook case of "working the ref," in which candidates feign temper tantrums, thereby convincing the media to overcompensate in their favor? Probably.

If we can remember back to primary season and the infamous SNL skit (in which a debate moderator asked if Obama if he needed a pillow), the Clinton campaign's subsequent talking points all centered around a media "in the tank" for Obama, leading to a month of negative news coverage for the Illinois senator and a sharp downturn in his poll numbers.

So as with Jordan -- who averaged over 8 free throws per game throughout his career -- we've seen the refs get worked. Let's just hope that with two weeks until election day (the fourth quarter, if you will), the media-as-referee has settled into their style, will call a straight game and just let 'em play.


Joseph Coscarelli said...

It deserves to be noted that in Sen. Obama's case, his ref working may very well backfire, have given the ever-eager Fox News just a little bit more ammo.

On an Oct. 16 episode, the "liberal" FN host Greta Van Susteren, along with Fox News Deputy Managing Editor Bill Sammon gave these choice nuggets:

"He's probably right about the two or three points. And it's not because FOX is biased. It's because FOX is actually doing its journalistic duty and being fair and balanced about it."

"But it did strike me as that I couldn't--after the election, maybe, but not now. Because we have a lot of independent, undecided voters that need--"

"'You know, those rural people, small-town people in Pennsylvania cling to their guns, cling to god, and they're bitter.' FOX didn't invent that."

"We look forward to tomorrow to see if he's giving us free PR. You can't buy this stuff."

Full Transcript

M. Dery said...

Found myself wanting more hard nuggets of supporting evidence, less throat-clearing at the beginning. Losing the anecdotal lede, which belabors the obvious, would have bought you more space. Also, not sure I follow your logic in quoting Obama's smackdown of Fox. Did that result in Fox overcompensating to the left, which is what the working-the-ref argument presumes? (Interesting point of debate: Can one only work the ref rightward? If the right-wing blogosphere/talk radio and Fox and right-wing print (American Spectator, Washington Times, et. al.) can't be worked, why is that the case?) Also, have McCain's attacks on the Times had the same effect that you allege Hillary's had? Or was her campaign able to make the case that the press was derelict in its duty (getting all swoony, lobbing softball questions) in a way that the McCain campaign has not been able to?