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On the Cheering in the Press Box

Sports was about the only beat we never covered during our many years of toil for the local newspaper, but there was one occasion many basketball seasons ago when the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats all made the men’s collegiate tournament, and the Lady Jayhawks and Lady Wildcats qualified for the women’s contest, and the sports staff was stretched so thin that even we wound up with some swell court side seats and free eats and drinks and the fanciest hotel rooms of Lincoln, Neb., and all the other media perquisites for the opening two rounds. One of the games involved teams our readers had no interest in and we were not obliged to write about — we still somehow recall it was the Vanderbilt University Commodores pitted against the Pittsburgh University Panthers — but it proved such a compelling scrap that when a skinny young Commodore shooting guard heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer to send his underdog team into overtime we raised our arms and said something to the effect of “wow.” The more seasoned sportswriter we were assisting was visibly embarrassed by such an emotional outburst, and he leaned over to sternly remind us of the old journalistic dictum that “There’s no cheering in the press box.”
That long-ago hard-learned lesson was brought to mind as we read up on a more recent sporting event, the Democratic Party’s first televised presidential debate, where the reportorial young whippersnappers were violating that once ironclad rule with impunity. When self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declined to make political hay of rival candidate and former First Lady and Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ongoing private e-mail scandal, and instead snarled that he was sick of hearing about it, which was the event’s equivalent of a skinny underdog heaving a half-court buzzer beater to tie the game, most of  the press room reportedly responded with unembarrassed cheer. Reporter Dave Ruben was so unabashed about it he immediately “tweeted” how “The entire press room just exploded when Bernie said that about Hillary’s e-mails,” another unapologetic “tweet” by his colleague Hunter Walker confirmed “Audible clapping and laughter in the press room after Bernie Sanders’ ‘enough of the e-mails moment,'” and given our long familiarity with the press we have no doubt of it. There might well have been a few more seasoned political sportswriters around who were embarrassed by the outburst, and they might even have offered some sternly glaring reproach, but so far as we can tell none have bothered to deny it happened.
It is hard to say, we must admit, who those cheerers in the press box were cheering for. They could have been rooting for Clinton, who had just been handed the unexpected gift of her most threatening rival taking her most troublesome scandal out of the Democratic primary debate, or they could have been celebrating Sanders, who got all the thunderous applause and came off looking rather gallant to Democratic eyes and seems to have made more hay among his party’s faithful than he ever could have by attacking a female rival before a Democratic audience, or they might have been cheering against themselves, who have lately been obliged to report on the continuing revelations about Clinton’s arguably illegal and inarguably national-security-endangering and obviously-intended-to-cover-up-embarrassing-stuff e-mail practices when they’d much rather be digging into some Republican’s parking tickets or some other Republican’s sensible pronouncements about the inadvisability of electing a Muslim president at this point in time. In any case, our conservative temperament and old school sensibilities are still embarrassed by the cheering in the press box.
As with so many other once iron-clad rules, there were sound reasons for the prohibition on cheering in the press box. When you’re cheering you’re not watching, for one thing, and as the late and great baseball player Yogi Berra once explained, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Whatever portion of those press box cheerers who were rooting for Clinton were probably too preoccupied to observe that Sanders had received the most thunderous applause and came off looking very gallant and confirmed to his most loyal supporters that he’s more concerned with their socialist revolution than any fellow Democrats’ trustworthiness. Those cheering for Sanders did so while neglecting to observe that he actually had just taken her most troublesome scandal out of the primary debate. As for those reporters who were cheering against themselves in hopes they’d at last be freed to write about Republican perfidy, they likely enjoyed their momentary forgetfulness that Clinton’s e-mail scandal is still a bigger deal to most of their readers than some Republican candidate’s most recent misconstrued statement and that they’re still stuck with it through at least several more news cycles of Congressional hearings and criminal investigations and the latest leaks from highly placed administration sources.
The obvious obverse of the old journalistic rule about cheering in the press box is that there’s no booing in the press box, and we think our few friends in the conservative media would do well to comply. Most of the right-wing commentariat seems to have concluded that Sanders declined an opportunity for a devastating attack, and Clinton’s more polished performance thus won the day and made her nomination once again inevitable, but we think they fail to notice that by the very different rules of Democratic politics Sanders seems to have gotten the best of it. Aside from the gallantry and polite insouciance about official misconduct of his gift to Clinton, Sanders’ lack of polish probably appealed to a yearning for even the most rough-hewn authenticity that both parties suddenly seem to have.
Striving to be appropriately stoic here in our self-appointed Internet press box, we observe that the game is still in play. Although we’re not so dispassionate about the contest as we were when the Commodores and Panthers squared off in that memorable game of hoops, we are about equally predisposed to Clinton and Sanders, and we’re trying to follow the game according to these convoluted Democratic rules, so we consider ourselves more or less objective, and to further mix the sports metaphors a bit with boxing we’ll score the round to Sanders. Whether this is something we should cheer or boo remains to be seen, as it depends entirely on which of them proves more palatable to the public and which of the political neophytes or more stridently anti-establishment office holders the Republicans might choose to put against either of these horrible people, so we’ll keep following the game. There will be some cheering and booing, of course, and at times one can’t help raising his arms and saying some to the effect of “wow,” but we’ll try to do that only only when justified by our more dispassionate observations. In the meantime we note that the same Democratic debate press box that cheered for either Clinton or Sanders or against themselves largely did not rise for the national anthem. They were in another room, which might mitigate the seeming disrespect, but it does seem an odd contrast to their more unrestrained enthusiasm for Clinton or Sanders or their own self-loathing.
We always enjoy watching the most seasoned of the local sportswriters at his court side and free-eats and perquisite-laden seat at the ‘Shocker games whenever we get the chance to attend. He always looks so bored, even when a ‘Shocker is heaving a buzzer-beating half-court shot to send in the game into overtime, and although he always, writes it up  with the partisan perspective that his readership expects he rarely neglects to mention the big moment that occurred when everyone was too busy cheering or booing  to notice. He stands for the national anthem, too, and although he also looks understandably bored during that we give him credit for the gesture. There’s something to be said for the old school, and it is always good to know which side the writer is on.

— Bud Norman

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One response

  1. Rush Limbaugh commented yesterday that it was the advent of his show that changed the press for ever. BL (Before Limbaugh) the press spoke with one voice and that voice pretended neutrality. They could do that because there was no actual popular alternative and without an opposition there is no way to determine bias. Once the opposition emerged, AL (After Limbaugh), the veneer of impartiality was shed faster than a Playboy model’s underwear and that’s why cheering in the press box only shocks us old codgers.

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