A major round of layoffs has occurred at ESPN, triggering a crisis of identity for the titan of sports networks and prompting a reflection upon trends in television media as a whole.
This trend was best articulated back in 1995, when astronomer Carl Sagan said the following:
“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”
It was highlighted again in 2004, when comedian Jon Stewart executed one of the most effective take-downs of a television show in history. He came onto “Crossfire” on a mission to point out, in case we had forgotten, that shows like “Crossfire” and “Hardball” and “The O’Reilly Factor” were nothing more than political theater, shrouded in self-righteousness and short on substance.
While sports talk radio has long been a staple of afternoon drives around the country, debate shows about sports were still few and far between on television. “Around The Horn” and “Pardon The Interruption” popped up around 2001 and since then Bristol has been on a slow march toward turning everything it airs into a debate.
Nowhere has this been more evident than with the relentless promotion of “First Take.” A nightmarish experience for me personally every time I’ve tuned in, I’ve yet to make it past five minutes viewing. That’s usually two high pitched Stephen A. Smith exclamations or two Skip Bayless bad takes, whichever comes first.
The program revolves around two individuals screaming at each other about their own opinions. This is the exact same format CNN uses when it comes to Trump. Individuals yelling bloody murder at each other utilizing contrived partisan talking points in an effort to make viral videos.
The coverage and programming is about selling, not reporting.
And it’s this truth that leads to all networks, and many print outlets, glorious coverage of war. The “experts” in the room are all generals or intelligence experts. Dissenting voices get canned. Bombs become “beautiful,” a concept so dystopian it is painful to write.
Many people and organizations profit from life-and-death conflict. When it is compartmentalized to feel like a sports argument, we often lose context about its importance.
And as tensions escalate with North Korea, keep in mind who would profit from a war…and who would be hurt.