There are more insidious things about ESPN than "boo-yah" and an unhealthy obsession with Terrell Owens, according to David Weintraub, a 35-year-old blogger on Daily Kos. A part-time teacher and part-time law student, Weintraub became an instigator of controversy last week with a post about ESPN's broadcast of a Monday Night Football game between the Falcons and Saintsthe first NFL game played in New Orleans's Superdome since Katrina. Weintraub's charge: ESPN piped in fake cheers for former President George H.W. Bush as he took the field for the pregame coin toss, even as the crowd booed him heartily.
Courtesy David Weintraub
Davefromqueens doesn't trust ESPN.
Kos diaries get notice by being recommended. Weintraub's got hundreds of recommendations. "People started recommended it, and all of a sudden people started seeing it, and recommending it," he said. "I guess it struck a positive chord with a lot of people." The post was also linked from popular sports blog Deadspin. As of today, the post has also generated more than 600 comments, ranging from suuportive ("I think you are correct that ESPN caters to the right wing crowd mostly out of a misplaced sense that sports fan = mindless winger") to quite skeptical ("Do you have an ounce of proof?").
Eventually, thanks to a Google search for "fake cheers at espn," Weintraub found a blog that had posted video of the tape: TheMostBoringBlogInTheWorld. "This is a recording so all can hear and see it," Weintraub wrote to Gelf. "I've watched and rewatched it 20+ times to verify. To me it's obvious."
To Gelf, it's not. In the clip, it sounds like mostly cheers when ESPN's Mike Tirico is announcing Bush, and a more mixed cacophony when the broadcast switches to a mic on the field. There are multiple mics around the stadium, and tens of thousands of fans, not all of them acting in unison. Listening to the clip raises the question, Is it always possible to pinpoint whether a sports crowd is primarily cheering or booing, whether you're in the stadium or watching on TV?
Then there's the implausibility of a network-mandated bias: If one existed, a left-leaning employee probably would have leaked some proof by now. In a follow-up post, Weintraub acknowledges this line of criticism, writing, "I don't see 'conspiracy theories' everywhere. If you're looking for someone who believes in UFOs or 9/11 inside jobs, then you are looking in the wrong place."
An ESPN spokesman told Gelf, "It is a completely ridiculous claim and is totally false." He added, "We presented the game as it happened."
The blog I Have No Life, which reported that the crowd did boo Bush, pointed out that there were reasons for the crowd to cheer him: "GHB spent almost every waking minute of last year going around the country and the world raising money alongside former President Bill Clinton to help the Katrina victims."
Weintraub acknowledged, "there's always going to be a few people who are going to cheer," but he added that Bush's son is unpopular among many Katrina victims for FEMA's bungling of the crisis. Plus, Weintraub said, the elder Bush is "married to a woman who goes to the Astrodome and sees evacuees from New Orleans and sees them sharing a bathroom with 100 people, and lying on the floor of a sports stadium, and says, well, most people are better off, anyway." [Snopes.com]
He also sees a wider sports bias at ESPN:
ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh for political purposes and were embarrassed by his racist diatribes. Limbaugh only resigned because of public pressure. [USA Today] ESPN has also called home runs as Rush Limbaugh shots, fair and to the right. [Chris Myers; Wikiquote] Mike and Mike in the morning often inject politics by giving out a Shut Up Award which almost always goes to anybody who expresses a liberal point of view. During the 2004 Presidential race, John Madden and Al Michaels had to apologize for their flip flop remarks during Monday Night Football for taking false pot shots at John Kerry with Karl Rove's sound bites. [Media Matters]
Weintraub said he would be game to discuss the matter further with ESPN, and try to back up his claim. "They can ask me questions; I am not afraid." And he plans to keep writing for Kos: "I'll keep writing. I'm not intimidated by this, at all."