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Assessing the "Collective Failure"

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Then from 200 million throats and more there rose a lusty yell;

It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;

It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,

For Mitchell, mighty Mitchell, was advancing to the bat.

The three-worded four-column headline blazing across Friday's front page of USA Today summed up more than one crisis. "A COLLECTIVE FAILURE" it shouted. At first, I wasn't sure what it was about when I first glanced at it in a gas station on the highway. I could see four pictures below it.

I thought it might be the McPaper's verdict on the war or the Bush administration. But, alas, the photos were not mugshots of the cabal in power from some police station line-up.

Nor were they headshots of Wall Steet biggies responsible for the global credit crisis that is already stealing homes from millions of American families, melting down markets or driving up prices.

How naïve to think that a leading mainstream newspaper would so nakedly indict men in power. No, this story was not about Busheviks or bankers. It reported on the alleged use of steroids by some baseball players. The photos were of sports stars accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

As I looked closer, behind me, customers were lining up to pay for petrol with arms full of over-priced performance enhancing "energy" drinks to pep them up as they hit the road again.

Mitchell used to roam the Senate, a Down Easterner's Voice From Maine

He then Put Politics Aside to Cash In On the Nations Game

He had made the Irish Peaceful, brought the Troubles To an End

And so Disney brought Him on the Board and The Red Sox He Did Tend

This big Page One spread focused its fire on players and their union and totally absolved team owners, as sports writer Dave Zirin quickly commented in his own indictment of George Mitchell's much ballyhooed report costing no less than $20 million dollars.

"The former Senate Majority Leader unleashed his "investigative findings" speaking with the somber, deliberate tones of an exhausted undertaker," he wrote. "Mitchell strained to convey scorn upon both baseball owners and the union for being "slow to act."

Yet beneath the surface, his report is ugly sanctimonious fraud, meant to absolve those at the top and pin blame on a motley crew of retired players, trainers, and clubhouse attendants. This is truly the old saw of the magical fishing net that captures minnows but lets the whales swim free."

The news machine went into overdrive when it came out because there were more fallen celebrities to exploit and divert public attention to. Soon the nation's first baseball team owner ever to be selected as president was outside the White House intoning that the "sport had been sullied" in what he called the presumably now gone "steroid era."

There was ease in Mitchell's manner as he rounded up his case

There was arrogance in Mitchells' bearing and a scold on Mitchell's face.

And when, responding to the press, he heavily doffed his sad report,

Despite speaking to no players and allowing no retort

Of course, the sport was never "sullied" when avaricious owners like Mr. Texas Rangers wrangled large taxpayer subsidies to build a huge new stadium with treats of moving out town in order to add more luxury boxes for corporate "fans" and jack up the price of tickets and cracker jacks. Of course, a star system also coddled big players with obscenely high salaries in an industry driven by sports agents and TV channels. This wheeling and dealing, not inter-team rivalries, are our new national pastime,

Advertising rates also skyrocketed as clever new electronic ad boards showed up next to the scoreboards right behind home plate allowing the insertion of ads for all kinds of drugs, including for Viagra, lest the viewers at home need another kind of performance enhancement when the game gets dull. (Daddy, what's Viagra?, I can hear some youngster ask.)

And have you noticed that it was an outside investigator, not the "inside" media companies so heavily invested in sports rights, that "broke" this story. I must have missed the investigative documentary on Fox whose sportscasters can't stop showing us every celebrity in the park (especially ones associated with their network shows) or talking over every pitch with a gusher of trivia and self-promotional hype.

All the TV eyes were on him as he shared his salacious dirt;

All the pundit's tongues applauded, no matter who he hurt

Then while Roger and the Commissioner ground the ball into his hip,

Defiance gleamed in Mitchell's eye, a sneer curled Mitcthell's lip.

The hypocrisy is also suffocating, says Zirin. "Mitchell paid lip service in his press conference to "slow acting" owners -- calling it "a collective failure." At one point, Mitchell said -- without explanation -- that baseball execs were slow due to "economic motives." Yet the overarching narrative is that the owners and general managers were merely ignorant or obtuse, with a complete absence of malice."

For the term "economic motives," substitute the fever of profit maximization or the word greed and you get closer to what's really going on.

Unmentioned in most reporting was that few players even testified before Mitchell or his own conflicts of interest as a board member of the Boston Red Sox and Disney, owner of ESPN. There has been a lot in the sports press about ways the game was already "juiced" with harder bats and a constant focus on who will hit the most homeruns.


"Fraud!" cried the maddened media, and echo answered fraud;

But one scornful look from Mitchell and the audience was awed.

They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,

And they knew that Mitchell wouldn't let that debate go by again.

Zirin also adds a political comparison that no one in the sports world or news world every make:

"This is the same kind of political cover -- as Naomi Klein has written so brilliantly -- that the mainstream press gives the Bush administration on Iraq. Errors made are ones of people with good intentions who made terrible choices. Those who suffered from these choices are blamed for their barbarism and self-interest."

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and Casey still plays ball;

But there is no joy in Mediaville - The National Pastime Took A Fall.

So let's also add our media moguls to the list of those complicit in many of our "collective failures." As Rupert Murdoch takes over and makes over The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, as the FCC prepares to vote in more media concentration and as the economy continues to unravel, there are far more important failures to worry about.

How are they being covered and will they be covered at all?

News Disssector Danny Schechter edits His new film is "In Debt We Trust." His new book is Squeezed (Coldtype,net) Comments to