Now that the Americans have elected themselves a President who is inclined to declare all media coverage he doesn’t like to be “lies”, “false” and evidence of dishonesty, the media finds itself in a rather strange position. It is suddenly imperative that editorial errors be hunted down and eliminated. In this era of speed being more important than accuracy, that poses a problem. President Trump will amplify any error, no matter how benign, as evidence of bias and dishonesty. Take for instance, the story about a bust of Martin Luther King being removed from the Oval Office by Trump. It turned out to be wrong, and the administration hammered on it over and over. The reporter apologised for the error, but the damage was already done.
Now, if your contact with the media comes through the sporting press, then you have seen first-hand the bias and dishonesty Trump only imagines he sees. The sporting press love to use the “narrative”, and this means that every new story has to fit into the ongoing saga as determined by the editorial staff. What this means for stories is easily determined: where the facts do not fit the narrative, those facts are ignored. As a sports fan who eagerly devours content related to his favourite team (Arsenal FC, by far the greatest team the world has ever seen) it is quite easy to notice when there is an agenda against your team in the press. What this means for the coverage of events is that certain events get left out of the reporting as including those events would defeat the narrative.
In 1989, there was a stampede at a football game, and 96 people were killed. In the aftermath, The Sun newspaper ran the now infamous headline “The Truth”, and claimed that fans had pissed on the brave cops and looted the bodies of the victims. At the time, the prevailing narrative about football fans and stadium trouble was that where there was any incident, the fans were to blame. So, The Sun ran the official police story under that headline, and never questioned what the police said happened because that was what fit the narrative. It took 23 years of fighting by the families of the victims for the truth to emerge. And it was that the police, rather than the fans, were responsible for those deaths. In fact, the fans tried desperately to help victims, 45 of whom died needlessly. You can ask the families of the 96 if the media is dishonest.
In 2009, Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva dived to win a penalty against Celtic FC in a Champions League qualifier. He dived, no question. What followed was a frothing witch-hunt carried out in the press against this dirty, diving foreigner and his enabling club of foreigners, Arsenal. Arsenal had defeated Celtic 2-0 in the first leg in Scotland, meaning that Celtic hadn’t a prayer in hell of winning the tie, but Eduardo was branded a diving cheat and ought to be punished. You’d expect that English players, being good, honest lads, would require a gunshot in order to fall over in the penalty area. You’d be wrong, as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and Jamie Vardy have proven time and time again over the years. Do you know what the British press call it when one of their darling English players dives to win a penalty? “Being clever.” So, a foreign player does it once and he’s a despicable cheat. An English player does the same thing multiple times, he’s a clever lad, they say with a chuckle.
It is also a common theme for commentators to say whenever an Arsenal player is sent off, “That is the Xth red card of Arsene Wenger’s tenure.” Naturally, this gives the impression that under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal went from a clean team of gentlemen to a bunch of thugs and leg breakers who are barely restrained by the rules of the game. For example, against Burnley FC, Granit Xhaka received a red card which, the commentator gleefully informed us, was the 114th red card under Arsene Wenger. Dirty team reflecting a dirty manager, yeah? The number of red cards which have been ludicrously harsh or completely wrong is never discussed. For instance, Xhaka was sent off by the same referee in a match earlier this season for a foul which was universally described as being worthy of only a yellow (he tripped an opposing player to stop a counter attack well short of goal and with team mates all around him). Dennis Bergkamp was once sent off for pointing at (not touching, not striking, or even grazing) an opposition player who had fouled him. Patrick Vieira was once sent off for doing nothing, prompting Wenger to remark that the referee was so eager to send him off, he should have given him the red card in the tunnel. Similarly ignored in the “x red cards under Wenger” narrative is the fact that Arsenal’s opponents are allowed to foul Arsenal players with zero action taken by the officials, while Arsenal players are regularly booked for their first offences. Also, there is no other team for which the media keeps a running count of red cards.
In 2002, during a Champions League match, Aldo Duscher of Deportivo La Coruna tackled David Beckham of Manchester United, leaving the United man with a broken bone in his foot. The English press went into a frothing frenzy. Duscher was labelled a butcher, pieces were written claiming he had injured Beckham on purpose to keep him out of the World Cup. He didn’t belong on a football pitch if he couldn’t learn how to tackle an opponent safely. Beckham recovered in time and had a starring role in the World Cup and continued his very successful career. In 2008, Eduardo suffered a badly broken leg (compound fracture and dislocated ankle) after a wild tackle by Martin Taylor of Birmingham FC. Immediately after the game, the same press which went insane over a broken toe bone for David Beckham, was full of piece after piece about what a nice man Mr Taylor was, and how he didn’t have a malicious bone in his body, and what a terrible accident it all was. Eduardo was just a little too fast/clever for him, they all said. Eduardo’s career never quite recovered, and he was certainly never the same player. Two years later, Ryan Shawcross lunged wildly into Aaron Ramsey and broke his leg in two places. Again, the media came out with stories about what a nice lad Shawcross was, despite him having broken another opponent’s leg earlier, and once chasing Emmanuel Adebayor off the pitch in order to tackle and injure him. In the press, it was somehow Arsenal’s fault for being better at football than their opponents.
Arsenal defeated Burnley 2-1 after the aforementioned red card. Burnley equalised from the penalty spot before Arsenal were also awarded a very late penalty to grab the win. During the match, with the score at 1-0, Arsenal defender Mustafi was brought down in the box by a Burnley player. The referee stared at the incident, and despite seeing clearly that Mustafi had control of the ball, which did not change direction to indicate contact by the opposition player, waved play on. Later in the game, Koscielny was kicked in the face by a Burnley player. It is instructive to note that it was the assistant referee, not the centre referee, who signalled for the foul and penalty. The centre referee was happy to ignore another foul on an Arsenal player in the box until the assistant raised his flag. The consensus in the press was that plucky Burnley had been denied a point by a ludicrous display of refereeing. There was no mention of the foul on Mustafi, or the serial elbowing by Burnley players which should have earned them two red cards.
The narrative is king and must be allowed to rule. Whether it be that foreigners are cheats, Arsenal is a dirty team accumulating red cards like they’re going out of fashion, or that underdogs are plucky and not at all reliant on astounding officiating incompetence. When Arsenal are the victims of serious fouls which lead to injuries and them losing a game, the press trumpet that “Arsenal don’t like it up them” and encourage other teams to “get in their faces”. When an Arsenal player suffers a career-threatening injury as a result of such tackles, the perpetrator is immediately described as “not that type of player”.
So, when President Trump says the media is dishonest, even if they’re being 100% accurate about him, it resonates because we can all remember at least one instance in which the media set a course and then absolutely refused to let the facts get in the way of the chosen narrative. That so many people are skeptical of the media now is entirely the media’s own fault. In the lead up to the Iraq War, the media failed or refused to question the Bush and Blair administrations’ insistence on Saddam’s possession of WMDs. Even when the UN weapons inspectors said there were no WMDs in Iraq. The lies of those governments were amplified by the media and repeated over and over. Those who questioned the narrative were shoved aside. So, when Trump says the people who claimed Russia hacked the election were the same people who said Iraq had WMDs, he’s 100% correct, especially seeing as those agencies have never come out and apologised for the war that those lies enabled, or the spike in international terrorism which followed and led us to ISIS, Boko Haram and similar terror groups.
As a football fan, I can see evidence of dishonesty and bias in the media on a daily basis. They edit match highlights to leave out key incidents and act like they never happened. Sometimes, during the game, you’re listening to the commentary and wondering if the game you’re watching is different from the one the commentators are watching. Hell, during the last World Cup, they edited the live feed to insert a shot of a fan crying, and made it seem that she was devastated by the scoreline, when in fact, she’d been overcome by emotion during the national anthem, before the game started. The broadcaster apologised for it later, but the message had already been sent out.
Perhaps they do these things to drive debate, generate comments, clicks, page views and all, and I get that the landscape is tough and the competition is fierce. The problem is that they’ve been sacrificing their credibility to do it for so long that Trump kind of has a point.