Biases in TV sports coverage? So what else is new?

ON MEDIA

October 31, 2008|By RAY FRAGER | RAY FRAGER,ray.frager@baltsun.com

Piling up this week's sports media notes while wondering why winds can be high enough to knock down power lines but don't pack enough punch to blow all of the leaves from my yard to my neighbors':

* Much punditry has been aimed at how the delivery of news on television, particularly as it relates to matters of politics this year, has become far too infused with viewpoints of the right and left. Not enough programs play it down the middle, the argument goes. (Please check out The Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik's blog at baltimoresun.com/zontv for some terrific commentary on these matters.)

When it comes to sports, though, viewers long have consumed their news with heavy doses of opinion. In fact, do we even think about it anymore?

The dominant sports news delivery systems at ESPN put reporters and commentators right alongside anchors on just about every program. So we jump from Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian passing along what their sources tell them about baseball's free-agent market to Steve Phillips and John Kruk opining on how they think the signings should play out.

Most sports fans should be sophisticated enough to discern the difference, but even those anchors supposedly just serving as conduits of the news do more than simply narrate highlights with pithy catchphrases. We could be hearing something innocuous as on SportsCenter this week, when a clip showed the Los Angeles Lakers' Lamar Odom kicking out a pass to Sasha Vujacic, who was open because he was out of the game and standing up by the bench. Robert Flores remarked that the Lakers' warm-ups (which Vujacic was wearing) sported colors too much like the game uniforms, confusing Odom. Flores' anchor partner Chris McKendry responded that Odom's mistake was still pretty bad.

No big deal.

On the other hand, to hear ESPN's voice of the NFL studio, Chris Berman, say the San Francisco 49ers' firing of coach Mike Nolan "disgusted" him is quite a different matter. Doesn't that call into question how Berman will present any news regarding the 49ers? His role is - or should be - different from that of Tom Jackson or Mike Ditka.

Then again, that's just my opinion.

* Wednesday's completion of World Series Game 5 did finally jump one of the games into a double-digit rating. Fox's telecast drew 11.9 percent of the national audience. The final national average of 8.4 made this Series the lowest rated ever, the first to average under 10.

Baltimore was above the national mark Wednesday, at 13.3. In Philadelphia, the conclusion drew a 51.8 rating and a 69 share, meaning less than a third of the Philadelphia audience that turned on its TVs watched something other than baseball. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, the undeserving Rays fans posted 32.4/45.

* I'm not going to bad-mouth football - besides, who could ever top George Will's famous line that the sport combines the two worst elements of America, violence punctuated by committee meetings? - but shouldn't we fear for our republic when NFL games match World Series ratings?

The rain-suspended part of Game 5 on Monday got an 8.2 nationally, while ESPN's Monday Night Football Game between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans drew a 7.4. In Baltimore, football beat baseball, 12.2-10.0.

Yes, that was an intriguing NFL matchup, but it's still the middle of the season against what could have been the deciding game of the Series.

I don't have any answers - maybe people want to see Ryan Howard tackle baserunners the way he did his teammates during Wednesday night's celebration - but baseball must be concerned about the way its marquee event is deemed on a par with whatever the NFL has to offer. And keep in mind the MNF vs. Series numbers are comparing a cable network with a broadcast network, and about 10 percent of the audience doesn't even receive ESPN.

I haven't seen how Barack Obama or John McCain would deal with this.

* During CBS College Sports' Navy-Temple telecast tomorrow (3:30 p.m.), Midshipmen football coach Ken Niumatalolo will be wired for sound and viewers will get to hear bites throughout the game. Watch your language, Coach.

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