How Political Media Coverage Pulled a Page out of the Sports Media Playbook

While waiting for game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals, I thought I was listening to pre-game analysis. I was helping make dinner and wasn’t exactly paying attention to the screen. I heard words like “victory,” and “battle,” and even the statement “bloody fight.” I was waiting to hear what team the analysts thought would win the game and then I heard, “Hillary Clinton.”

I never thought I’d ever mistake the news with sports coverage—but it’s finally happened.

You can’t really blame me; the mainstream media has taken the sports media playbook and literally copied it. News outlets no longer just report the news—they “analyze” it. And just as the sports media inserts the most polarizing and overtly aggressive pundit to argue points, so does the mainstream media.

It must be working. Just look at the recent numbers for the top-rated news outlets. A Variety news article from March of this year claimed Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC all showed significant rises in viewership since the start of the primaries, with Fox News coming in with the highest viewership—you know, the “news” channel that features the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Even CNN, a channel that has fumbled through news coverage since the Michael Brown shooting, had massive gains.

“Ratings are top priority. Increasing the prevalence of debate sessions, as well as ‘talking head’ punditry, provides the viewer with more entertainment than if the news was just told straight,” says Sean Gill-McDonald, a UWT student that seems to notice a familiar play-style

It’s really an easy formula; ESPN practically invented it. Make a show where some young, good-looking man or woman gives just enough background to a current event, and then, depending on the show, allow a bunch of former and current journalists or former players/coaches to force their opinions down your throat under the pretense of “debate.” The bigger and louder the “analyst,” the better. Some of ESPN’s most highly rated shows live and die off this formula; just look at the show First Take. Skip Bayless, a former journalist, and Stephen A. Smith, a current “journalist,” take completely opposite viewpoints on a topic and yell about them for three to five minutes. No follow-up questions, no guided discussion. Just a bunch of hot takes and pretentious gas-bagging.

Turn on any of the major news channels and you’ll see the exact same thing. Some host sitting at a table with a bunch of supposed “experts” voicing their overtly agenda-driven opinions about the direction our country should go. Some of the shows are even worse on the news channels, however, by giving an egotistical host a platform to yell at guests he or she obviously lined up to boast the points of the argument. No news, no information-gathering questions. Just aggressive punditry and partially fact-based stats.

Try this: turn on one of these news channel shows and then turn on one of these sports shows and flip back and forth about every five seconds without looking. By the time you hit 30 seconds I guarantee you’ll have no idea which one is which.

And it’s not just sports shows they’ve copied either. Take a look at how the media covers people.

Do you know who Swaggy P is? Chances are you do; his real name is Nick Young and he’s a basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is currently dating Iggy Azalea and recently had a video leak showing him cheating on her. You know how I know this? Because the sports world ate it up. The sports media loves to talk about polarizing characters, despite the fact that Young only averages close to eight minutes per game in his career.

Now think about the last time someone talked about Tim Duncan, other than, “should he retire soon?” Do you hear anyone call him one of the greatest players ever? No. Why? Because his on and off-court life is quiet. If you don’t lavishly spend money, make outrageous comments, and act wild on the court, you aren’t worth the sports media’s time. Disregard the fact that he was at the forefront for five championships in San Antonio; he hasn’t gone and spent thousands of dollars in a club, so it means nothing.

Same goes for the news channels. Why does Donald Trump get so much press? Because he’s a loud, polarizing, flashy individual. Does his failed Trump University have a pending lawsuit? Yep. Does he threaten to sue everyone who says anything negative about him? Yep. But what does the media care about? What Donald Trump had for lunch on Cinco de Mayo (spoiler alert: it was a taco salad).

How does the media treat Bernie Sanders, however? Like he’s an afterthought. Why? Because he comes out and repeats the same things every day. In fact, the only time the mainstream media talks about him is when it tries to figure out when he’s going to drop out of the race (spoiler alert: he’s not).

I’ll be honest: I love sports entertainment. I love watching games, I love checking stats, and I especially love watching and listening to talk sports shows on the television and radio. Call it a vice or an addiction but I love the hourly onslaught of hot takes and constant flow of opinions sports media provides its viewers, listeners, and readers.

When it comes to politics and government media coverage, however, I hate what it has become. I hate the constant split-screen argument sessions, I hate the incessant punditry with each news segment, and I especially hate the overtly-biased agenda each media outlet provides its audience.

Because sports are about wins and losses (and sometimes ties). If a team wins, then they win. If a team loses, then they lose. Life goes on pretty much the same.

But politics shouldn’t be about wins and losses; it should be about governance. I don’t want my politicians worrying about whether their party or they themselves are winning or losing; I want my politicians worrying about passing laws that support the people of the United States.

I guess I can’t really blame the news media, however. A 2014 Forbes magazine article claimed ESPN is worth just under $51 billion, making the playbook they run not only a very successful one but also a very profitable one.

So, until someone creates a news network with a new playbook that benefits us and not the media, I guess we’ll just have to watch the same plays over and over again, only with different players. Hey, maybe the new playbook is already in the works and we just haven’t recognized it yet (here’s looking at you, Jon Stewart).