I was knocking Bill Simmons’ knocks on Dwight Howard earlier, but I think this recent Simmons column was very shrewd and quite politically relevant. Simmons writes about how, in the past, athletes really needed to rely on the press to get their image out to the public. Consequently, reporters were able to demand quite a lot of access from athletes in order to cover them in-depth. But “things changed once cable, talk radio and fantasy took off and sports became a 24/7 industry.” The balance of power started to shift. Soon, athletes could communicate in a more-or-less disintermediated way with the public. Which, ideally, would mean that fans get a more “real” perspective but in reality means that fans tend to see a pristine self-presentation uninterrupted by any ugly reality.
This is important, I think, mostly because the same is true in politics. When we shifted from a world in which there were three network national newscasts during primetime to one in which we have 24 hours of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox and to some extent CNBC, Fox Business, and Bloomberg we shifted from a world in which the scarce commodity was space on the newscast to one in which the scarce commodity was content that’s cheap to produce. Consequently, journalism has become much more dependent on politicians and much more willing to just broadcast what important people say. Because politics is adversarial [edit sports is adversarial too, of course, but sports media isn’t] , this doesn’t quite play out the same way as it does in sports. But it results in the fact that unless something is a “political controversy” then it doesn’t get coverage. Conservatives want to attack Obama from the right on civil liberties issues, so that debate gets covered. The more important critique—that Obama isn’t offering enough change from Bush—goes nowhere.