In recent years, an entire industry has crept up around the notion that the mainstream media is biased in its coverage of the news. Mostly on the right, but increasingly on the left as well, there are whole organizations dedicated to proving that certain people, outlets, or the media in its entirety are in the tank for one side or the other. It’s even gotten to the point—the Trayvon Martin case being a recent, sorry example—in which events themselves aren’t even covered anymore. How the media covers those events is more often than not the story.
The political bias game has been likened to “working the refs,” as spinners attempt to play on media members’ fear of the bias label, much the same way a coach would intimidate the ref into calling fouls his way.
This is another example of politics becoming more and more like sports. But at the same time, sports has stolen something back: Sports fans are starting to see media bias against their team everywhere.
We could be talking about the choices TV networks make in which games to show, the way certain studio announcers or commentators talk about the teams, or (especially) the way play-by-play announcers call the games themselves. It feels like more and more fans, in Philly and elsewhere, are constantly under the impression that national TV broadcasters are siding against their team.
This is silly for multiple reasons. First of all, 95 percent of the time it isn’t actually happening. And even if it were, it wouldn’t matter.
During any game of the current Flyers-Penguins playoff series, you could find plenty of people on Twitter arguing that the announcers were openly rooting for or against “their” team. This is a common sports talk radio talking point too—that game announcers aren’t being sufficiently evenhanded with their praise or criticism.
Baseball fans tend to believe that Fox’s Joe Buck/Tim McCarver baseball crew favors the Yankees—except for Yankees fans, who think they’re in the tank for the Red Sox or maybe St. Louis (since both men have ties to the Cardinals.) And I don’t know that there’s a baseball fan anywhere in America who doesn’t believe ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball announcing team is biased against his team.
In both baseball and hockey, the majority of games are called by local announcers who are employees either of the team or local television network, who are going to call the games with a certain degree of homerish-ness. Therefore, when a playoff or nationally televised regular season game is called by non-local announcers, it can be jarring to hear the differing style, as the announcers are broadcasting to a national and largely neutral audience.
And besides, if the announcers are praising one team way more than another, it’s not usually because of bias. It’s because the team that’s being praised is winning, or at least playing better. During last year’s Cardinals-Phillies playoff series, yes, TBS announcers had more positive things to say about the Cardinals. I wouldn’t necessarily chalk that up to deep-seated antipathy for the Phillies or the city of Philadelphia.
But even if the bias-hunters were correct, and the game announcers were 100 percent in the tank for or against one team, it wouldn’t matter, because it would have no effect whatsoever on who wins. In the case of political bias, there’s at least a plausible argument to make that such bias would have an impact on who wins elections.
Sure, once in awhile, a national announcer will say something strange. When a Philly team is on a network, off-hand references to booing Santa Claus and references to the Rocky movies that misstate the plot are pretty commonplace. NBC’s Mike Emrick, during Sunday’s Flyers-Penguins game, referred to Philly as “a city that is used to chaos at times.” “What’s he talking about,” someone on Twitter asked, “the MOVE bombing?”
But just because announcers do this doesn’t mean they hate Philly or want our teams to lose. And even if they did, they couldn’t make it happen.