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Of Bloggers and Bias

A lot of you have probably seen this already, but if you haven't, Jack Harry of Kansas City's NBC Action News unequivocally stated in his "Jack's Smack" segment this week that KU should drop its football program.  That's right, if you watch the video, he doesn't state his opinion as a joke, or satire, or anything other than his strongly held belief that KU should drop football.  If he was joking, he has a poker face that's incredible.  I couldn't even keep a straight face watching it.

Now granted, KU is awful on a pretty grand scale this year in football.  They lost to an FCS team, and in three games against middling Big 12 competition -- Baylor, K-State and Texas A&M -- they're losing by an average of 45 points per game.  Still, one (really) bad season is no reason to drop football.  K-State was terrible at football for more than 100 years, and they didn't drop it.  Well, OK, they considered it, but they knew that dropping football would mean losing their Big 8 membership.  Even assuming KU's administrators have considered dropping football -- and assuredly they have not -- they would certainly realize they would be dropped by the Big 12, realize it would be the end of the sport that makes the real money in college athletics, and would be the end of their cherished basketball program as a result.

So no, nobody with the capacity to reason is suggesting KU actually should drop football.  But maybe Harry was just being facetious, or took the opportunity as a fan of Missouri to stick the needle in KU at a time when the 'beaks are vulnerable.  Regardless of the explanation, there's a major problem with it.

Jack Harry is a member of the traditional media.

That's right, Harry is one of those held to a higher standard, who holds the keys to the most important sports information of the day, who keeps you, the fan, informed.  He's the sports anchor for one of the major news outlets in Kansas City.  He's supposed to be an objective, unbiased, well-informed journalist.

Only he's clearly not.  If he really thinks KU should drop football, he's on the losing end of the argument no matter how you spin it.  Thanks to a couple appointments today, I had occasion to be driving around town and caught a little of Kevin Keitzman's "Between the Lines" on 810 WHB.  Keitzman played Harry's diatribe, and went on to ridicule Harry's opinion, which should make for interesting radio tomorrow when Harry makes his weekly appearance on Keitzman's show.  Which may have been the reason Keitzman even mentioned it.

Anyway, Keitzman clearly has the winning side of this argument, as does anybody with a functioning human brain.  However, Keitzman then went on to make a curious point.  He noted that Harry's rant was posted on the Internet and, as such, maybe it was held to a different standard from what would be required of Harry were he actually on NBC's broadcast.  To illustrate, he pointed out that the Internet is filled with "all these bloggers" who cover specific teams, and are therefore biased toward those teams.  Keitzman then went on to claim that he is different, because he tries to be "fair-minded" in his coverage of all teams.

That's right.  One of the interesting dichotomies that I've noticed over the years is that sports-talk radio personalities, while all avowed fans of a certain team, like to pretend that they have some switch that allows them to turn off their bias and see things objectively.  So Keitzman, a known K-State fan, Stephen St. John, a Missouri diehard, and Nate Bukaty, who is actually employed by KU as a sideline radio reporter, are imbued by their training as journalists with objectivity glasses that they put on when they need to do so.

There are several problems with all of this.  First of all, if Harry is truly the objective, unbiased, neutral reporter that he claims to be, then no matter the medium he deals in, he should be required to maintain that stance.  Tim Fitzgerald of made a similar point in the panel discussion of the media's conference realignment coverage in which I participated, when he pointed out that reporters seem to be using Twitter as an outlet to distribute information that they haven't vetted for truthfulness.  When you're a reporter, and you are regarded by your news consumers as a legitimate news source, you don't get to turn that on and off, regardless of the medium by which you convey information.

Now granted, Harry wasn't conveying a news story, but rather was doing the broadcast equivalent of a newspaper's opinion column.  Except this, in combination with ESPN's continued employment of Mark May, Lee Corso and Lou Holtz, should put to rest the "they're on TV, so they must know something" notion.  And that's really the point.  Keitzman claims that bloggers who cover a specific sports team are biased, at least in part because their stuff is on the Internet, whereas he and the other sports radio journalists are "fair-minded" in their coverage of every team.

Herein lies the problem with this line of thinking.  I consider myself fair-minded in my evaluation of the facts that I encounter, whether they involve K-State, another Big 12 school, the Big 12 in general, or any other issue.  That's not to say I don't have my biases.  I'm a K-State fan first, I despise KU, think a lot of Nebraska fans have a warped view of themselves, and hold a host of other opinions derived from my following of sports.  Whenever I set forth an opinion, I try to use facts and arguments to back it up.  So do the guys on the radio, whoever they may be, and yet we're biased bloggers and they're an objective source of news that is fair-minded in the opinions they deliver on that news.

Funny thing is, we never claimed to be a news site.  I found another line of work to go into, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy discussing K-State sports.  And thanks to the excellent reporting of beat reporters like Austin Meek, we get information about K-State sports to discuss on this site.  It's essentially what a sports columnist or sports radio host does, but their opinions and insight are apparently entitled to more credibility because they can go to the press conferences, even if they don't always do so.

The sports blogging world is an interesting place.  It's a place where a lot of voices are out there, but only those that are interesting in some manner develop a following.  If I were merely a purple-slanted, see-no-evil K-State shill, this blog's following would be even smaller than it is, and it wouldn't be the following I want.  Moreover, my opinions would be shredded by outsiders and more rational Wildcat fans.  I want readers, and interaction with readers, who fairly evaluate the known information and make sound arguments in favor of their opinions.  Differences of opinion are fine, and we don't shout down people just because we disagree.  And we have an advantage over TV, radio and newspapers in that we have almost unlimited space to express those ideas.  No air time or column inch restraints here.  I'd like to think we have done a good job of following K-State pretty objectively here.  It was almost a point of pride for me that our BOTC Twitter was publicly unfollowed by someone who was put off by the negative tone of some of my tweets on Saturday.

Alas, perhaps Harry was engaging in a bit of shock jockery, presenting an outrageous opinion in the hopes that it would drive some page views.  Toward that end, he undoubtedly succeeded, as I'm guessing his video has been linked on every K-State, Missouri and KU message board that exists.  But at what price are you willing to sell your intellectual honesty?  Again, if Harry really believes what he said, then he isn't being intellectually dishonest; he's just presenting a stupid opinion.  But if he doesn't believe it and just said it to get attention, then can we really take him seriously as a journalist (assuming we did in the first place)?  Neither alternative is appealing.

Think back to this summer, when I wrote my "Guide to Nebraska Fans" for the Huskers' new Big 10 colleagues.  It was linked on quite a few Husker sites and drove a ton of traffic to BOTC.  But I didn't write it just to get a reaction.  I wrote it in reaction to the PDA that was occurring on Corn Nation between Big 10 fans and Husker fans ("ohh, Nebraska, I love you so much, you're so wonderful...mmmm, I love you, too, random Indiana fan, we were just meant to be!")  Furthermore, everything that I put in that post is based on my observations of Husker fans in real life, not to mention that most, if not all, of the characterizations were borne out in the 500+ comments on the post.  The bottom line is I didn't, and wouldn't, write a piece like that just to be a jerk and drive traffic to BOTC.  I wrote it in response to the actual Husker-Big 10 lovefest and because it was factually accurate.

But I'm just a biased blogger who can't possibly have valid insight into any sports issue, so what do I know?