“What do you want me to reassess and hope for?” Jeff Tedford snapped, defibrillating the overwhelmingly moribund press conference after Cal’s equally lifeless performance against ASU. “Reassessing — I don’t know what that means.”
He was responding to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter’s leading question — “Does a result like this cause you to reassess your team, and what you can or hope to accomplish?” — which sought to place Cal’s season in a preconceived narrative: That preseason expectations were too high and required recalibration.
Maybe there was an element of truth to the assertion. But Tedford refused to play along.
And why should he? The production of preconceived narratives pervades our media today. From local rags to national broadcast networks, reporters often write their stories before putting pen to paper.
Take, for example, the preseason college football poll. Based on their biases and observations of squads during practices, journalists and coaches vote teams into a hierarchy that often proves unbending over the course of the season.
This year, LSU — one of those traditionally “premier” programs — has yet to fall outside the top 10 despite a litany of poor performances, off the field issues, and a mirage of an offense. Two narratives — that the SEC is the best football league on the planet, and LSU is one of the best teams in the SEC — overwhelm journalists and prop LSU up.
The media has drunk the Kool Aid, and $10 says voters will keep the Tigers near the top of the polls even if they lose one or even two more games.
In 2009, our Bears exemplified an even more egregious case of the media constructing a prevailing wisdom. With voters sold on the Jahvid Best for Heisman campaign, Cal began the year at No. 13 in the AP poll before voters bumped them all the way up to No. 6. Subsequent losses caused the Bears to plummet into the realm of the unranked.
Still persuaded by their invented understanding (read: extreme overestimation) of the Bears’ quality, voters refused to admit their folly and twice reinstated Cal to the top 25. It took four-win Washington smoking the Bears in the final week of the season to convince voters to drop Cal from the top 25 for good.
Polls are just a microcosm. Sports media churns out phenomenons only as quickly as it can discard them. At every drop of a labor report, the national media scrambles to mold the numbers to its cookie-cutter plot lines.
Yet any disciplined news consumer knows that each outlet will soon sing a different tune. Jeremy Lin will supplant Tim Tebow as Sports Illustrated’s cover boy of the month; MSNBC and Fox News will simply switch sides on whether statistics are reliable or not.
It becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy of journalistic narcissism: The media writes its own genius. By creating narratives and adhering to them, the media can highlight both its prowess for prophecy and its nose for the story. Controlling the record from start to finish allows the media to not only say, “We were right,” but also, “We knew about it first.”
So when journalists go to write the obituary to this season’s Cal football team, it will surely include the following story arc: Team looks good on paper, wants to compete for bowl; five games in, playing like rubbish and requiring revamp; bravehearted comeback ensues, wins next game; bravehearted comeback ultimately falls short, team makes low-end bowl or misses altogether; media beats chest for identifying trend early. Finish copy, submit, publish.
New story, please.
Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected]
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