CRAWFORD | Fake news? Sports wrote the book on it
Fake news in sports? WDRB's Eric Crawford says you better believe it -- or not believe it, actually.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When you do this job, you receive lots of email from public relations types, pitching interviews with “experts” on various topics. The latest one got me to thinking.
“Has Fake News spared the sports world?” the email subject line asked.
I almost spit out my Heine Bros. coffee (onto my WDRB eclipse glasses). Product placement achieved.
Has fake news spared the sports world? Is this a joke? Some expert is offering to talk about questions such as:
- Has the ‘fake news’ epidemic reached sport networks?
- The level of threat that ‘fake news’ can have on the sport industry.
- Are sports platforms immune to this intrusion?”
With all due respect to this particular “expert” – and I swore off experts after they told me the Clintons had a 95 percent chance of victory over the Trumps the day before the Big Game last fall – sports journalism is not immune to fake news.
Sports invented fake news. And it’s way ahead of politicians in berating the press. Long before the current administration described the media as “the opposition party,” college football coaches around the nation had determined that reporters were adversaries.
Every White House press corps member who thinks the president’s people are rough ought to head down to Tuscaloosa and go to a Nick Saban news conference. A sample:
“You do what everybody else in media does, just create some s---, throw it on all the wall and see what sticks,” Saban ranted to reporters in May of this year, before adding, “which is what I see happening everywhere.”
I remember back in my beat writer days at the University of Louisville, John L. Smith, before a big game with East Carolina, had standout linebacker Chad Lee do a series of radio interviews, one with ESPN and a couple more in North Carolina.
What’s fake about that? Well, Lee had suffered an injury the week before and wasn’t going to play against ECU. All right, you say, that’s just innocent misdirection.
What about the time a dozen or more years ago that Rick Pitino and his assistants were frustrated that recruiting information was hitting the message boards a little too often? They suspected they knew where the leak was coming from, and planted a fake recruiting story with him and watched the subsequent message board discussion.
Jeff Sessions, take note.
Many of you no doubt remember the literal fake newspaper stories that Marquette coach Tom Crean found in Louisville’s locker room after the Cardinals departed from a game in Milwaukee, with borderline disparaging information Marquette people had never said about Louisville among the contents.
Ivan Renko? Anyone? He was a 6-8 Yugoslavian that Bob Knight made up out of thin air to gig recruiting gurus back in 1993. He mentioned that he’d been glad to get a commitment from the big man during a taping of his TV show, then several recruiting analysts took the bait.
All of those are charming examples, of course, aided by the happy ending that all, in the end, were just amusing stories told around drinks one night.
Some are less amusing.
How about the annual John Calipari-to-the-NBA story? Maybe someday it will wind up having substance behind it, but so far, it has been quickly rebutted each time by Calipari.
Or how about every coaching search story ever written? Throw a bunch of names in and get a bunch of web hits. Les Miles to Mississippi? Was that ever a verified possibility?
In 2015, four teenagers in Ireland used nothing more than their Twitter accounts to prank SkyNews into reporting a soccer transfer that was fictitious. The player in question even saw his Wikipedia entry changed temporarily.
And herein lies a bit of difference with “fake news” as it pertains to sport. Coaches (or others) are planting, or attempting to plant, stories with the media all the time. Sometimes I’ll have things pitched my way, but I’ve been down the road a few times and passed on them, only to see them elsewhere. To each his own.
On our weekly Sports Page Live webcast Wednesday morning, Rick Bozich and I were asked a question, based on “what you’ve seen of practice.” Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any practice. From the second day of workouts on, every report you get is based on what a coach has told the media, or what players tell the media, or what is generated through the sports information office. It is all done with the seal of approval of the coaches.
It’s how Lamar Jackson can throw the first pass of the season two years ago with little to no mention in the preseason coverage.
There’s still a huge market for preseason college football coverage. Just be aware – much of it is fake news.
Sports fans, in general, are pretty sophisticated when judging news – except when it involves their own team. They’re skeptical of just about everything they read. They take reporters' biases (real or perceived) into account when looking at stories. And they’ve become pretty good online investigators themselves. Not much gets past them.
Last December, a guy on Twitter put out word that the Minnesota Vikings would house the homeless in their new football stadium in response to cold weather. It wasn’t true. That didn’t stop it from appearing on national news outlets. Turns out, the guy was just trying to shame the Vikings for not housing the homeless in their stadium on cold nights.
The story only lasted a few hours. It was identified as a hoax, and the record was corrected. Now, there’s the problem that the incorrect story got more web hits than the corrected reports, but that, as they say, is a problem with you folks in the public, and for people like me, who value being right above web clicks. Don’t worry, there won’t be many of us around in five years. The market for being right may well be shrinking.
At least in sports, when we find fake news, it gets exposed as such before too long. In other areas of journalism, you see people try to move along to the next story – hoping it isn’t fake – without ever acknowledging the problem with the last one.
But don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s no fake news in sports. In fact, sports has written the book on it.
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