clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Unfairness Of It All

There's no winner in this week's " how will John Feinstein work a Duke bashing into his latest column?" contest, since Feinstein eschewed his normal disdain, although Eric Harnish gets an honorable mention when he says Feinstein would criticize himself.He didn't do that, but he did follow up on his last column, where he said "[t]he Duke football seniors are now 4-34. Lots of good memories there, no doubt. And yet no one does a thing to make life better for them or those who will come after them. Just fire a coach every five years and say I'm a bad guy for criticizing the school."

Or another column, about Michelle Wei, where he ended it by saying:

"Team Wie needs to say those three little words sooner rather than later.

"My guess is that won't happen. My guess is they'll get in touch with the people at Duke to get my e-mail address so they can tell me that I'm wrong.


In the current column, as we said, Feinstein doesn't directly mention Duke, which is a bit of a surprise as he manages to work a rant into most columns lately, but he focuses instead on the media and how people perceive it.

The story is built around the fit Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy threw about an article written by Jenni Carlson of the Daily Oklahoman.

We'll go along with Feinstein's take on Gundy's Angry Gusher, but it's worth saying this too: Carlson's column really did suck. And we're sure it offended members of quarterback Bobby Reid's family, and why go there?

When you read a column that uses phrases like "word is"...and "if you believe the rumors and the rumblings"..."tile up the back stories told on the sly...", rather than citing actual sources, you know you're heading for trouble.

She went on, basically, to personally attack a 21-year-old and to a lesser extent, his mother.

Gundy's reaction was way, way over the top, but his point was fair. To recollect what Mike Krzyzewski says about Bob Knight, you have to filter out the way he says something and focus on what he's actually saying. And Gundy was fundamentally correct in his criticism of Carlson, just as Feinstein is likely correct in saying that it wasn't a spontaneous eruption.

Feinstein's primary fascination, narcissistic though it is, is with how people have reacted and that they see the media as bad guys:

"And yet, one thing is clear to me in all this: we're still the bad guys. Which is fine. Those of us who do this for a living receive a lot of perks, just like athletes do. With that comes responsibilities, ones that most of us take seriously. Getting ripped... is part of the job.

"...Most people blame the media. That is one thing that will never change."

Well, yes and no.

We've gotten to know a lot of reporters over the last decade, and we can say that most of them are really good guys who take their profession and ethos seriously.

But in a big-picture sort of way, Americans in general have long been fed up with the media, and it's not a left-right thing, either. Our feeling is that there's a sense that the media isn't often held responsible for biases, mistakes and excesses, and this has been reinforced while reading the book about the lacrosse case, Until Proven Innocent, by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, which we highly recommend to everyone. We all read the case as as story strung out over a considerable period of time, but when you read it as a whole, it's just infuriating, not least of all because of the feckless (or worse) performance by the media, and particularly the local media.

In his many criticisms about the case, we don't recall Feinstein decrying the lynch mob mentality which saw the News & Observer write an early story about Crystal Gail Mangum which was grossly unfair and which eschewed the word "alleged," instead treating the allegations as fact. The Herald-Sun was even worse. And when the New York Times started to pay attention, the Gray Lady was probably worse than both, certainly in terms of the influence the paper carries if nothing else.

The media is, or should be, a serious check on power. In the lacrosse case, it failed. Among many other miscreants, someone should take Nancy Grace out and, well, you know what Auntie Em said to Elvira Gulch when she wanted to tell her off. So never mind the woman with least appropriate last name of all time.

But you can point to any number of cases where the media has really mucked things up, and any number of explanations for why things were so thoroughly screwed up. Feinstein knows this, and knows that the anger people feel towards his profession didn't happen in a vacuum. It's not that they're telling us stuff we don't want to hear, whether we're coaches or just plain citizens; it's that all too often, they're telling us what they want us to hear, for whatever their motivations happen to be.

Feinstein's repeated cheap shots at Duke are a prime example, and the responses which he's referred to several times now are not just because Duke people don't want to hear criticism, but rather, much like Gundy, they don't want to hear unfair criticism delivered with the considerable power of the Washington Post megaphone.

Much like Gundy's, Feinstein's protest is disingenuous. In the Duke case, the media clearly deserves much of the blame. His inability to separate his own anger at Duke with the facts of the case are responsible for his dismay that people are seeing him as a bad guy.

It's not that they want to kill the messenger, or even to shut him up. It's that he's wildly, grossly unfair, and he has one of the biggest tools on the planet with which to spew his venom. The sheer size of the Post's influence demands responsible behavior.

This is, as we noted, his third column recently where he is clearly discomposed by the perceptions ordinary people have about the media, and his own performance, and his estrangement has moved from Duke fans to consumers of media produced content in general.

Being loved shouldn't be a goal for a tough-guy writer like Feinstein. But being respected should.