This morning we were treated to the spectacle of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick being marched out in front of the press to answer media charges over deflate-gate. It was a rather sad scene as the coach went on at great length to explain how he not only knew nothing about anyone deflating any balls, but that he wasn’t even aware of the rules regarding ball inflation or how they are tested before each game. He refused to answer any other questions except to say that he had told the reporters everything he knows and any further questions should be directed to the league. (He also seemed to somewhat throw Tom Brady under the bus, saying that he could speak to “how he likes his footballs” and directing questions toward the quarterback.)
All of this was odd, particularly for somebody known to be a micro-manager like Belichick. Is it possible that he’s gone this long in his highly successful career without ever even hearing about these regulations? I’m sure there will be more to come on that. But a different issue came to mind for me as I was watching the coverage on CNN. Carol Costello was the anchor (yes, yes… we could go on for days as to why I hadn’t already changed the channel, but somebody has to keep an eye on her) and she had assembled a crack panel to discuss who knew what when.
I was particularly struck by one of the questions she put to an ESPN reporter who had joined her to comment.
Does anybody really care about Deflate-gate?
With that one query, I was reminded of the gulf which exists between the political class (sadly including yours truly) along with the media which reports on politics and government and the rest of the nation. So, does anyone really care? Yes, Carol… they do. This is football. More specifically, this is the NFL. And this might be an opportune time for a reminder about perspective.
Those of us who cover the political beat tend to get lost in the weeds because we soak in the affairs of Washington nearly 24/7. But that’s hardly the norm for most Americans. If the subject were anything more tawdry than politics (and we’re not talking a large difference here) the rank and file citizen would probably refer to us as fetishists. While I can’t personally think of anything which should be more important to every citizen than the manner in which their elected representatives conduct themselves, the sad fact is that the vast majority of citizens really aren’t that tuned in to it. To pull a recent date out of the hat for which figures are available, on January 7th of this year, 205K people tuned in to watch Carol in the coveted 25-54 age demo. Fox and Friends (which always does a bit better) raked in 233K. Now, to put this into the proper context for a conversation about what real Americans are concerned with, during that exact same time slot on the same date, 1.07 million people were tuned in to Sportscenter. (And that’s during off hours when most folks are at work.)
For perhaps a more dramatic and current example, 31 million people watched the President’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. And that was blanket coverage sucking up time on every major network and all the cable news outlets. I think there were more than a dozen channels on my cable lineup carrying it. Maybe that sounds like a lot to you. But for the proper perspective, consider the upcoming Superbowl. If they have one of their worst years ever it will dwarf the SOTU, and last year the big game drew 112 million viewers.
So does anybody really care about this, Ms. Costello? I can assure you that there are one heck of a lot more viewers who are up to date on everything to do with football in general and the Superbowl in particular than could tell you the current status of our embassy in Yemen or what Chris Christie’s poll numbers look like. I’m not saying I’m happy about that, but it’s the way of the world. It might be time to step out of the media ivory tower and remember who it is that you’re serving as a dispenser of news.