Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Hypocrisy Of Mainstream Media At Work

What if Michael Phelps was black? What if Phelps was a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Team USA's men's basketball team and was caught taking a hit off a glass lettuce burner?

Are we ready to be honest? Before you answer, name the last time a black athlete was pardoned in public for owning a scandalous photo similar to the one that Phelps recently cop'd to?

I'm not taking up 'The Cause' -- whatever that is -- because there are a ton of instances that offer no rhyme or reason for why they occur within our media's obsession with the instantaneous crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of the subjects pushed in front of our collective conscience in the same knee-jerk fashion most of us would like to push our in-laws out in front of rush hour traffic. Bill Clinton was crucified for banging a not-so-very-hot intern; George Bush was ignored for purposed war crimes. Go figure. Why do Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmerio get a virtual pass for their suspected roles in baseball's performance-enhancing scandal when compared to the outright vicious response Barry Bonds has elicited from media and fans? Please don't tell me it's just because he owns baseball's most famous mark, because to do so would be an outright admission you're living with your head in the sand.

That said, I find it somewhat amusing that Phelps gets a pass on this photo in the manner I've witnessed. In the Detroit Free Press Monday, the the Off Beat column penned by Krista Jahnke was titled "So Michael Phelps Is Human After All". Nationally-syndicated radioman Jim Rome was quoted as saying with a DUI on his slate already, he's not human, he's building a body of work. Today's edition of The Detroit News featured columnist Bob Wojnowski pleading for calm and reason in relation to the mistake Phelps made.

It makes me remember Detroit Southwestern High grad Jalen Rose being arrested during his first year at Michigan (1992-93) for playing video games in a Detroit house that doubled as a drug den. I was on the desk at The Ann Arbor News on the Saturday night a story came hurdling down the wire almost a year after the actual arrest just minutes before the morning edition's 1:00 am deadline. As you can imagine, we held production and made room for the story on the front page above the fold. We told ourselves we were being responsible journalists. Today I look back and cringe.

Rose wasn't smoking, wasn't selling and wasn't buying. He was playing video games, but he played a brash, in-your-face style of basketball. Rose played the 'City Game', and White America wasn't ready for Rose's style of talk-you-down, break-you-down, drive you down on your ass and shout you down the court while wearing shorts with a foot more material than any player in America. After Mick McCabe, the Detroit Free Press prep writer, discovered and published news of the October 4, 1992 arrest on March 9, 1993, six months after it happened, Rose was crucified for weeks and painted as a ghetto gangbanger. Fans and pundits alike called for his suspension. Wire services crackled with updates.

Phelps was inhaling from a glass stanchion the size of an exhaust pipe from a certified used Mini Cooper. He admitted to it. America's response? The mainstream media and sponsors alike call him human.

For the record, I have no problem with Phelps. I think the public backlash is punishment enough, and any prosecuting attorney willing to prosecute this as a criminal offense needs to just open a Facebook page like the rest of us if he really needs the attention that bad.

If nothing else, I hope you enjoy reading the paper in the morning all the more with eyes wide open.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries. Cameron's 2nd title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, is due in August this year!

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