No matter who you are, getting people to read your writing is tough. Ever since the internet happened, beat reporters and columnists have all manner of competition for the audience’s eye. To combat the fire hose of content available to readers, journalists have employed all sorts of tactics to draw people in, including columns that aren’t really about what they purport to be about. This is where the term “clickbait” came from. You literally bait someone into giving you a click. The Merriam-Webster even has an official definition of clickbait, calling it “something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.”
What I’m saying is, it’s hard out here for a journalist. And it’s getting harder.
None of that, however, excuses the shoddy excuse for journalism Phil Mushnick and the NY Post put out last week, essentially telling their readers that ESPN announcer Anish Shroff had been fired for using the term “guerilla tactics” during his broadcast of the Army UT San Antonio football game. Here’s how Mushnick began his column:
“They fired him. Right after the telecast last Friday night. They told him to get out and stay out. They had no choice. It had to be done.
He had proven himself to be an unmitigated, unrestrained on-air racist. ESPN, its standards unimpeachable and inflexible, would have none of that.
So, Anish Shroff, immediately after calling the Army at UT-San Antonio game, was done. No trial, no applied context, no appeal. At 41, his sportscasting career was over. He has forever been branded a racist.”
Mushnick goes on like this for the first seven paragraphs of his column, ranting about how Shroff’s career is over and how unfair it all is.
The problem is that it’s all false. Shroff was never fired. Not even disciplined. In fact, Mushnick seems to be the only one who even batted an eye at Shroff’s use of “guerilla tactics.”
When you get to paragraph eight, Mushnick lets the reader in on his “joke”, saying, “Of course, none of the above happened, other than Shroff complimenting Army for its ‘guerrilla tactics.’ Even a mild rebuke from ESPN would have been totally unwarranted, thus his firing was too preposterous — too unfathomably stupid — to even think possible.”
That’s a great point, Phil. It also would have been unfathomable that I kick the winning field goal for Alabama on Saturday. That didn’t happen, either. But just imagine the wealth of story ideas available if we start writing about things that didn’t happen.
If you’re unfamiliar with Phil Mushnick, I’m not even sure where to start. Check out this piece, where he suggested the New York Nets should change their name to a racial slur after Jay-Z got involved with the team. Here’s his piece on how the USWNT is “hard” to root for. Here’s what he wrote about Serena Williams’ “rotten behavior.” Here’s Mushnick complaining that Michigan and Michigan State players jawing at each other before a college football game was comparable to a “prison yard riot.” Think of the most racist, sexist, misogynoir-filled columns you’ve ever read, and most of them were probably written by Mushnick. Most of his columns focus on why the world of sports is going to hell in a handbasket and why can’t things be like they were in the good ole days? Johnny Unitas, now there was a haircut you could set your watch to!
Back to the piece at hand. “What’s the problem?” you may ask. He told the truth eventually, right? And that’s true, Mushick eventually comes clean, then goes on to rant about former ESPN tennis announcer Doug Adler, who was fired in 2017 for saying Serena Williams “put the guerilla effect on” during the 2017 Australian Open. Mushnick thinks about this firing a lot. He wrote about it in 2020. And in 2022. He wrote about it again in January of this year. And he wrote about it last week. I’ll leave it to you to imagine why Mushnick’s mind so often turns to a white man getting fired for using racist language.
But here’s the problem: Anyone who works in journalism can tell you that we know readers too often don’t read to the end of the story. Hell, sometimes they don’t read past the headline. There’s even software available that tells you how far down on the page most readers go. And when the first seven paragraphs of a story is telling the reader “this person was fired on Friday,” that’s what a huge portion of the readers are going to take away from it. I know this because readers have been emailing us all weekend, asking why Shroff was calling the NC State–Virginia game on ESPN, because they were pretty sure they’d read somewhere that he’d been fired.
The NY Post recognizes that this piece is problematic. We know that because they took down their original Instagram post of Mushnick’s story, which showed a picture of Shroff and was captioned, “They fired him. Right after the telecast last Friday night. They told him to get out and stay out. They had no choice. It had to be done.
He had proven himself to be an unmitigated, unrestrained on-air racist. ESPN, its standards unimpeachable and inflexible, would have none of that. Find out more in the link in bio.”
The world we live in today is rife with misinformation. Just look at what’s happening to Travis Kelce for doing an ad for COVID vaccines. A third of Americans think the sitting President of the United States stole the election. The former POTUS started his own social media platform so he can lie with impunity. I don’t care if you cover sports or the United Nations — deliberately giving readers a false impression is inexcusable. Worse, it’s dangerous. See, e.g. January, Sixth of. Given that it’s Phil Mushnick, I expect nothing less, but there have to be editors at the NY Post who raised an eyebrow at Mushnick’s column.
And if there aren’t, we’re all in more trouble than we think.
Original source here
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