The I-70 Series encore

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Cardinals and Royals wrapped up their interleague series last Wednesday night and released Missouri baseball fans for their one-week sentence in baseball purgatory. I think it's safe to say there won't be a replay of the '07 1-70 Series on ESPN Classic after all the fielding gaffes, managing bungles and lineup cards that read like a roster of employees at your local FedEX Kinko's. At one point during Tuesday night's game Dan McLaughlin, the Cards FSN play-by-play man, said "Due up for the Cardinals in the bottom of the 5th will be Stinnett, Thompson and Taguchi." Dan couldn't have summed up the series any better. He might as well have said, "You know what? Just go ahead and flip over to Dateline NBC during the bottom half of the 5th. You'll thank me later."

I thought about posting an article on a different topic this week, but like an old Seinfeld rerun, there's just too much comedy to ignore in this year's edition of the I-70 series. It used to be that the Royals would play the Washington Generals to the Cardinals Globetrotters, but now that the Redbirds have stocked their roster with also-rans, minor leaguers and a guy named Kelly Stinnett, there just isn't a whole lot of talent separation between the two clubs. Take a look below at the Cardinals lineup from Wednesday night's series finale, and seriously, try not to laugh:

1. So Taguchi -- A fine utility player, but the 37-year-old has no business leading off for the defending World Series Champs.

2. Aaron Miles -- So much for that "power in the 2-hole" thing LaRussa likes so much.

3. Albert Pujols -- The only legitimate threat in the entire Cards lineup. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 St. Louis Cardinals!

4. Scott Spiezio -- You gotta love Spiezio, but he offers about as much protection for Pujols as France did for its borders in WWII.

5. Scott Rolen -- Scott's line for '07? AVG. .266 HR 4 RBI 30. Yeah, that's worth about $12.3 million.

6. Chris Duncan --The next best after Pujols, Chris can hit for power and does one heck of a Lenny Dykstra impression (tobacco in cheek reference).

7. Adam Kennedy -- Oh boy. Can you hit .208 and still be paid $2.5 million? That's a shame.

8. Kelly Stinnett -- Poor Kelly. He struck out trying to bunt on Wednesday night and didn't even bunt foul on his third attempt.

9. Todd Wellemeyer -- Todd Wellemeyer has done a serviceable job for the Cards. Has a sentence ever said so much?

In theory, the 2007 I-70 Series was fairly competitive, an indication that the Cardinals have tragically tumbled from World Champs to a boring, old, broken down parody of the 2000 Baltimore Orioles. I miss the summer days when the Cards traveled to KC for a weekend set, turned Kauffman Stadium red and swept the Royals about as easily as you could say "Jimmy Gobble is tonight's starter." Now we're left with the lineup above facing off against a squad managed by Buddy Bell who, by the way, took out his closer on Wednesday night and brought in a relief pitcher only to intentionally walk Chris Duncan. After he tossed four balls to the catcher, the pitcher was immediately pulled for another reliever. This actually happened. Since when did clubs carry an intentional walk specialist on their rosters? Perhaps that's just a Royals thing. Or perhaps this series has become so bad that certain situations call for intentional walk specialists. I don't know what to think, but we can all be glad this series came to a merciless end on Wednesday.

So who will feel better after the dust settles along Interstate 70, the Cardinals or the Royals? The teams split the six-game series, and on one hand the Royals must feel good playing .500 ball against St. Louis. (A typical I-70 series usually ends 6-0 or 5-1 in favor of the Cards.) Or do the Cardinals feel inspired after finding a way to win three games with an atrocious lineup and worn-out pitching staff? These are difficult questions to answer, or better yet, questions that are better off not answered.

-- Missouri, Michael Urban

Part two of Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech at a Reuters web news organization meeting...(part one was in my Tuesday column).

My reflection after 10 years is that the real reason for the cynicism is precisely the way politics and the media today interact. We, in the world of politics, because we are worried about saying this, play along with the notion that we are the sole source of responsibility.

So I introduced: first, lobby briefings on the record; then published the minutes; then gave monthly press conferences; then Freedom of Information; then became the first prime minister to go to the Select Committee's Chairman's session; and so on. None of it to any avail, not because these things aren't right, but because they don't deal with the central issue, which is how politics is reported.

There is now, again, a debate about why Parliament is not considered more important, and as ever, the government is held to blame. But actually we haven't altered any of the lines of accountability between parliament and the executive. What has changed is the way Parliament is reported or not reported. Tell me how many maiden speeches are listened to; how many excellent second reading speeches or committee speeches are covered. Except when they generate controversy, they aren't.

If you are a backbench MP today, you learn to give a good press release first and a good parliamentary speech second. But my case, however, is: There's no point either in blaming the media. We are both handling the changing nature of communication. The sooner we recognize that it is about a change in context, the better because we can then debate a sensible way forward.

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st-century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not actually the masters of this change, they're in many ways the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact." Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is often secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unraveling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion toward sensation above all else.

Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressure as broadsheets. The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked.

The consequences of this are acute. First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light.

Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism, but there is a Ph.D thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what has impact.

Third, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than, the news itself. So--for example--there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustration pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.

In turn, this leads to a fifth point which I the confusion of news and commentary. Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine.

The final consequence of all of this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media. Things, people, issues, stories, are all black and white. Life's usual gray is almost entirely absent. "Some good, some bad"; "some things going right, some going wrong": These are concepts alien to much of today's reporting. It's a triumph or a disaster. A problem is "a crisis." A setback, a policy "in tatters." A criticism, "a savage attack."

Then in turn, the NGOs and pundits know that unless they are prepared to go over the top, they shouldn't venture out at all. Talk to any public service leader--especially in the NHS [National Health Service] or the field of law and order--and they will tell you not that they mind the criticism, but they become totally demoralized by the completely unbalanced nature of it.

Is it becoming worse? Again, I would say, yes. In my 10 years, I've noticed all these elements evolve with ever greater momentum.

It used to be thought--and I include myself in this-- that help was on the horizon. New forms of communication would provide new outlets to bypass the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media. In fact, the new forms can be even more pernicious, less balanced, more intent on the latest conspiracy theory multiplied by five.

But here is also the opportunity. At present, we are all being dragged down by the way media and public life interact. Trust in journalists is not much above that in politicians. There is a market in providing serious, balanced news. There is a desire for impartiality. The way that people get their news may be changing; but the thirst for the news being real news is not.

The media will fear any retreat from impact will mean diminishing sales. But the opposite is the cast.

They need to reassert their own selling point: the distinction between news and comment.

It is sometimes said that the media is accountable daily through the choice of readers and viewers. That is true up to a point. But the reality is that the viewers or readers have no objective yardstick to measure what they are being told. In every other walk of life in our society that exercises power, there are external forms of accountability, not least through the media itself. So it is true politicians are accountable through the ballot box every few years. But they are also profoundly accountable, daily, through the media, which is why a free press is so important.

I am not in a position to determine this one way or another. But a way needs to be found. I do believe this relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair. The damage saps the country's confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.

So there are my thoughts. I've made this speech after much hesitation. I know it will be rubbished in certain quarters. But I also know this has needed to be said.

-- Conclusion of speech made by Prime Minister Tony Blair at Reuters headquarters in London June 12, 2007.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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