A simplified story instead: This has become a very bad week for discussing Perfect Examples.
That said, the simplification of narrative is all around us in the mainstream press. Routinely, our “journalists” transform complex stories into simpler tales which lead us to the moral judgments they like.
For an example which carries high interest but minor consequence, the New York Times is at it again, transforming the “Deflategate” conundrum into a settled matter. Your assignment, should you choose to take it:
Read this 1500-word, front-page report from yesterday’s New York Times. See if you’re told, at any point, that a controversy exists concerning the science of the NFL’s Wells Report.
Even in a lengthy front-page report, the simplification of this story—its sanitization—is essentially total.
At one point, reporter Ken Belson does quote Don Yee, Tom Brady’s agent, saying this: “Neither Tom nor the Patriots did anything wrong.” But how odd! At no point does Belson explain the basis on which Yee is making that statement.
Does a dispute exist about the Wells Report? Not if you read the Times! Below, you see the closest Belson comes to reporting the fact that a controversy exists. As is the norm in matters like this, Belson has skillfully crafted language which is extremely murky:
BELSON (7/29/15): The investigation of and penalties against Brady and the Patriots have divided fans across the nation, generated a debate over the integrity of the nation's most-watched sport and brought scrutiny to how the N.F.L., the country's largest professional sports league, treats misconduct among players.Say what? Some analysts “argued that the game balls did not have to be manipulated to lose air pressure?”
The controversy has also cast a pall over the Patriots, the Super Bowl champions, who will be without their starting quarterback until Oct. 18, and will raise fresh questions about Brady and his legacy on a team with a history of controversies. The accusation that he impeded the league's efforts may prompt some fans to abandon their sympathy for him, while undercutting some analysts who argued that the game balls did not have to be manipulated to lose air pressure.
Was that absurd construction crafted in good faith? If so, Belson and his editors should all be instantly fired.
In fact, every analyst agree with that statement. That includes the people who wrote the Wells Report for the NFL.
It's true! The game balls didn’t “have to be manipulated to lose air pressure!” NFL footballs lose air pressure during every cool- or cold-weather game. The Wells Report explains this fact with perfect clarity.
The actual question is different: Did the game balls have to be manipulated to lose as much air pressure as they lost by halftime?
A controversy exists on that point, though you’d never know it from reading Belson’s front-page report.
At this point, an irony appears. Did someone associated with the Patriots reduce the air pressure in the game balls? For ourselves, we don’t know, in large part because we read the New York Times.
That said, a controversy exists on that point, as one section of the Times acknowledged in mid-June. On June 14, the paper’s high-profile Sunday Review published a report on the subject by Kevin Hassett and Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute.
The report ran under this headline: “Deflating Deflategate.” The writers offered this nugget concerning a study they had conducted:
HASSETT AND VEUGER (6/14/15): Deflategate is a dispute about whether the New England Patriots used deliberately underinflated footballs in their playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts in January. (Each N.F.L. team provides its own footballs when on offense, and an underinflated football may be easier to handle in cold or wet conditions.)To read the full report, click this. To read the study on which it is based, you can just click here, although we don’t recommend it.
The N.F.L. commissioned a study, known as the Wells report, that concluded that it was ''more probable than not'' that Patriots personnel deliberately violated the rules and that Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, was aware of it. Following the release of the Wells report last month, the N.F.L. penalized the Patriots organization and suspended Mr. Brady for four games.
Our study, written with our colleague Joseph Sullivan, examines the evidence and methodology of the Wells report and concludes that it is deeply flawed. (We have no financial stake in the outcome of Deflategate.)
Seven weeks ago, the Sunday Review thought that piece raised a serious question about the NFL’s basic claims. Seven weeks later, Belson, in a front-page report, doesn’t even tell Times readers that such a dispute exists.
Check that! He does tell readers that “some analysts have argued that the game balls did not have to be manipulated to lose air pressure!” When the Times is simplifying a story, such bafflegab will be employed in place of the English language.
We have no idea why the New York Times has played this story this way. That said, you could watch ESPN discuss this topic for the rest of your life; you would have little chance of learning that a dispute exists.
In the case of ESPN, this may be an editorial decision, with the network’s assortment of NFL athletes-turned-analysts told to disappear all mention of the dispute.
On ESPN, the guilt of the Patriots in this matter is treated as a settled question. In passing, the network’s reporters may fleetingly note that Brady, Yee and Robert Kraft are denying that any wrongdoing occurred. They won’t explain the basis on which this claim is being made. They certainly won’t attempt to deal with the analytical issues involved.
(On ESPN, Tony Kornheiser routinely says that the Wells Report’s science is junk. But the channel’s assortment of former jocks speak with one memorized voice, apparently like Coach said.)
Back to the Times:
Over the past two days, the paper has published a front-page report, and several fiery opinion columns, which review the latest chapter in the Deflategate drama. At no point have Times readers been told that any dispute exists.
For whatever reason, the Times has been cleaning up the story, making it simpler, easy-to-follow. An enormous percentage of our national discourse is simplified and reinvented in precisely this way.
Tomorrow: Two sets of statistics