Nick Thomas Media Matter
Sorry to repeat myself, but the importance given to sport by our news media is getting on my nerves in more ways than I can count. And, as I sit in this office this boiling Monday afternoon, with the severe risk that the sweat pouring off my face is going to swamp the keyboard and short out the system, I am emboldened to pursue the theme by the kind letter of support I received a couple of weeks ago from a reader in Essex. He wrote privately, care of this paper, so I shall not embarrass him. Let me just say Thank you, Father, and may your parishioners be civilised by your admirable sense of proportion.
For the lack of any such sense elsewhere, apart from the heat, is what’s really getting my goat at the moment. The last time I addressed this subject I was merely moaning about the triviality of sport, as it were, in the abstract. But today, as New York and Washington went on red alert against the threat of terrorist attack, and the horror continued to unfold in Iraq, Bangladesh and Sudan, what was the top story on our best, hardest news shows? The resignation of the Football Association’s CEO because of some ill-considered liaison with an employee of the FA, who apparently is now attached to the England coach, that Swedish bloke whose name I can’t be bothered to spell.
A BBC TV film crew was camped, along with dozens of other representatives of the press corps, outside the FA HQ at lunchtime, so that they could bring us the unmissable live pictures of a man walking into a building. And on Radio 4, that superb anchor and interviewer Nick Clarke was obliged to devote nearly half of The World at One to this nonsense by the perverted news values of a media culture gone mad. It was sickening, like watching a Shakespearian actor chairing a gameshow. What an insult to him, and to all of us. The weather that might be responsible for this idiocy was a bigger story.
And it is, of course, going to get worse. Not only is the football season starting up again after barely enough time for our highest paid athletes to find a decent foreign nightclub to get thrown out of, but also we are shortly going to be swamped with hourly bulletins about the Olympic Games.
At least there might be some comedy value in the news from Athens, as the uncovered swimming pool loses its spectators to heatstroke and its contents to evaporation, and runners find that the hurdles they were expecting to knock over have been welded into the track by the sun. The BBC has been making me laugh already, in the advertising for its own coverage. “Legends will be rewritten”, apparently. As copywriting goes, that’s pretty feeble, but it could almost pass unnoticed next to the film it closes. Just in case you’ve managed to miss this masterpiece, we have an athlete (of unidentifiable ethnic origin, natch) who appears to be the human subject of an Olympian chess game. The Zeus figure puts up various monsters and Titans to compete with him, and he keeps winning, backed by the goddess on the other side of the board. He’s a hero, you see. Of course he is. He’s got a daft haircut and he can run fast and throw things a really long way. I gather that’s what it takes.
But who is his heavenly champion? She’s much too young-looking to be a credible Hera. Pallas Athene maybe, who sprang fully formed from Zeus’s head, already tooled up for battle? An interesting idea, for the host city’s own divine patroness to support the competitors at the Games against the Old Man, who has clearly instructed Apollo to fry them all alive.
Anyway, she’d better not be Aphrodite, because that lady’s favourites get into all kinds of bother, not unlike those boys at the FA. I couldn’t take that much news.