Daniel Snyder, the despised owner of the Washington Redskins, has decided to take more control over the use of his team’s name. He recently told the Washington Post to stop using the team’s name in anything other than a fair-use way. That way, Snyder can create his own TV shows, magazines, and radio broadcasts using the Redskins’ name. So the Post now calls its “Redskins Insider” blog “Football Insider.” After all, the name “Redskins” attracts eyeballs, and why shouldn’t Snyder cash in?
The problem, as some people see it, is that when a team controls its team name and thus the shows that have its name in the title, it will give fans biased coverage. A show called “Redskins Insider” that is produced by the Washington Post will hit a lot harder than one produced by Daniel Snyder Communications. And taking the passion out of debates about a sports team could mean fewer fans, who thrive on tendentious discussions.
What is ironic about this is that some people making this point belong to media outlets that journalistically are doing exactly what Snyder is. They decry the boosterism that Snyder’s decision will bring, ignoring their own political and social boosterism. The media, which stifles debate by only hiring liberals and only allowing their voices on their pages, is ticked off that Daniel Snyder is doing something similar.
An example of this came from Jack Shafer at Slate. Shafer is a predictable contrarian; whenever anyone does anything that pisses off 98% of people, it’s only a matter of minutes before Shafer and Slate post a “in defense of” column. Creepy Joe McGinnis is stalking Sarah Palin? “In Defense of Joe McGinnis.” Gilbert Gottfried makes Godzilla jokes shortly after a natural disaster takes thousands of lives in Japan? According to Shafer, the second human instinct, after asking about the welfare of the victims, is to joke — “In Defense of Gilbert Gottfried.” (Shafer’s wife is an editor at the Washington Post; I wonder if he’d be guffawing at Gottfried so much if she was in Japan now covering radiation levels.) This tired contrarianism has been a Slate shtick for years. (Of course, I’m still waiting for Slate’s “In Defense of Human Life” or “In Defense of Real Marriage.” That would truly be contrarian at Slate.)
In his column about the Redskins, Shafer, while defending Dan Snyder legal right to control some of the use of his team’s name, criticizes the owner for not recognizing that the kind of argument and debate that fires sports blogs and radio and TV shows is good for business. “Teams that steer coaches and players away from outside media and toward in-house outlets will do so at their own risk,” Shafer wrote. “The best fans disdain the home-team rah-rah that in-house media tend to produce . . . Intense fan-hood is about arguments about players, trades, and the plays called on the field.” Shafer also cited good stories about Snyder’s media takeover, one by Paul Farhi at the Washington Post, the other by Dave McKenna at the Washington City Paper. I’ll explain the importance of this anon.
Can’t that sentiment of more debate being better be extrapolated to journalism? Aren’t the best, most exciting and informative news outlets the ones that open themselves up to all sides of current debates? There is no doubt that Fox News leans conservative. But I don’t think that’s why it destroys its competition in the ratings. In my view, Fox kills because they are anxious to engage the other side in debate; I wouldn’t tune in to Fox to watch Sean Hannity talking to New Gingrich for an hour. When Rachel Maddow launches into one of her Orwellian lectures about abortion, she does not then have Robert George on to debate the other side. But when a culture war story breaks, the first thing Bill O’Reilly and his staff do is get a liberal involved in the fracas on the show. That’s why his show’s ratings are so high. Melody Maker, my favorite magazine from the 1980s, used to run two reviews when a really big band would put out a record — one pro, one con.
Liberal media outlets — outlets like Slate — are in fact no better than Daniel Snyder. They have very narrow parameters of what can be said and who is allowed to write for them. A few years ago, Slate began revealing how its staff had voted in presidential elections. The entire staff except for two people voted for Obama (at least the conservative outlets don‘t claim to be objective). At one point in his article, Shafer second-guessed his premise that sports fans thrive on heated argument: “Perhaps most sports fans want to live in a team-owned universe, suck sodas and beer from a bed of cotton balls, and never hear a negative word about their teams or their players.” Yes, and perhaps some media consumers want to live on their own bed of cotton balls, sipping chardonnay, listening to NPR, and reading Slate.
It is interesting that Shafer criticizes “rah-rah” home team coverage. When I saw that phrase, “rah-rah,” I knew I had seen it before — in fact, from Shafer himself. When the infamous Journolist scandal, wherein “journalists” were caught cheerleading for liberalism and trying to kill stories that hurt Obama, broke last year, the first casualty was Dave Weigel of the Washington Post. When Weigel — like Shafer, a liberal posing as a libertarian — resigned from the Post, he was snatched up by Slate. In a tweet announcing the news, Shafer wrote: “Weigel joins Slate. RAH! RAH! RAH!” Slate is owned by the Washington Post. Weigel didn’t even change teams. He just got sent down to the minors. Talk about keeping everything in the locker room.
In fact, liberal media outlets are exactly like sports teams. They create their own self-contained universe, where outsiders are suspect if not outright repelled. A conservative trying to break into Slate or NPR or the Washington Post is like a Redskins fan, pimped out head to toe in team gear, walking into Texas Stadium (full disclosure: I was born and raised in D.C. and hate the Cowboys). Earlier in this piece, I noted that in his piece Shafer cited two other articles about Snyder, one by Paul Farhi at the Washington Post, the other by Dave McKenna at the Washington City Paper. At the end of his piece, Shafer makes this disclosure: “Paul Farhi and Dave McKenna are friends of mine. My wife, who works at the Washington Post, edited the Farhi piece. Small universe, eh?”
No, the universe ain’t small, Jack. Just your corner of it.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.