Responsible NFL reportage lost in cloud of dust

Media Watch

August 06, 1999|By Milton Kent

With NFL teams back in training camp, the onset of the silly season is upon us, that is, beyond the silliness that goes on in the camps themselves.

We're talking, of course, about the explosion of "information" gushing out of camps, which will continue through the season until its merciful end in January.

A good chunk of the misinformation will spill out from the network pre-game shows, though it certainly isn't limited to them, at least not while there are daily sports news shows.

"I think it's great for the NFL, because for three or four hours before any of their games start on Sunday, you've got four or five shows," said Peter King of CNN/SI. "Every week I read in the paper that [former Buffalo coach] Marv Levy's on something, we're doing this, ESPN's doing that, Fox is doing whatever, and I have no idea how much volume of show there is now. It's tremendous, it's got to be great for the NFL."

But what often gets trampled on in the process is the dissemination of real news and responsible reporting. With five network pre-game shows, daily highlight shows on three national channels, two 24-hour sports news channels and Internet Web sites, the information beast has to be fed, but much of the menu is junk.

"The problem arises when pressure is put on people to break things and to have something new and juicy and help ratings, and it's something to talk about," said Jim Walton, the president of CNN/SI.

"Their jobs are tied to it. If they only get some of these half-baked stories that come on, there's very little accountability. If there were somebody keeping a scorecard on who's breaking what and then what happens afterward, and somebody was doing that on a regular basis, I think many people would be shocked at some of what goes on out there."

Once the NFL regular season starts, "Media Watch" will resume its periodic look at what's being reported on the pre-game shows and sports news programs to see how close any of them come to getting the stories right.

Growth spurt

ESPN2 gleefully announced this week that its subscriber base has climbed through the 65 million homes mark, a pretty impressive accomplishment for a channel that hasn't had its sixth birthday yet.

The "Deuce," launched Oct. 1, 1993, is the 19th most widely distributed cable channel in the country and the most widely distributed outlet to be launched since 1990.

No bank hours

In less than five years, the Brickyard 500, NASCAR's annual incursion to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has become one of the hallowed events on the stock car circuit, and ABC/ESPN racing analyst Benny Parsons knows the reason.

"It's Indianapolis, and there's no bigger spot in racing than that. Plus, there's a $6 million purse and there's 300,000 people and that's the biggest crowd in racing," Parsons said.

The Indy speedway track, which is a mostly flat course, also presents a peculiar challenge for NASCAR racers, who are used to banks that are perched as much as 30 degrees.

"The passing points at Indianapolis are so different than what these fellows are used to. You really must go with your A-1 stuff at Indianapolis," Parsons said.

Parsons will be joined by Bob Jenkins in the booth, with Ray Dunlap, Bill Weber and Dr. Jerry Punch down in the pits. Air time is 1 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 2.

Around the dial

With considerably less fanfare than the baseball inductions two weeks ago, pro football will introduce its new class of Hall of Fame inductees this weekend. The enshrinement ceremonies air live tomorrow from Canton, Ohio, on ESPN2, with Mike Tirico at the helm. The Hall of Fame Game will take place at 8 p.m. Monday (Channel 2), with Dallas meeting the new Cleveland Browns. The streamlined "Monday Night Football" booth of Al Michaels and Boomer Esiason will handle announcing duties.

Speaking of football, WJFK (1300 AM), the home of the Ravens, will launch a nightly "Ravens Talk" show starting at 10 p.m. Monday after "Monday Night Madness," with a special preview at 7 tonight. Throughout the rest of the week, the new show will air at 7 p.m. and will have a rotation of Gary Stein, Paul Mittermeier and Steve Stofberg as hosts, followed by "The Sports Junkies" and "The Stan the Fan Show."

The annual running of the Hambletonian, the richest race in harness racing, goes off at 3 p.m. tomorrow and CBS (Channel 13) has the action, with Verne Lundquist, Gus Johnson and Gary Seibel on the call. Finally, those Fox types -- giddy off last week's impressive Baltimore ratings -- are shaking things up in the booth, with Bob Brenly joining Joe Buck for the call of tomorrow's San Francisco-Atlanta fracas (Channel 45, 1 p.m.)

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event Day Ch. R/S

Orioles-Seattle Sat. 45 7. 7/18

Woods-Duval golf Mon. 2 5.7/9

Orioles-Seattle Fri. 54 5.6/13

Orioles-Oakland Mon. 54 4.1/8

Hartford Open Sun. 13 2.9/7

"In The Zone" Sat. 45 2.7/7

NBA Inside Stuff Sat. 11 2.0/6

WNBA: Pho.-Hou. Sat. 11 1.9/4

Hartford Open Sat. 13 1.4/3

Special Olympics Sat. 2 1.1/3

Pub Date: 8/06/99

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