There’s a moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of John Grisham’s best-selling debut novel, The Rainmaker, when the young lawyer, Rudy Baylor, played perfectly by the wonderful Matt Damon, is attending his first showdown with the lawyers on the other side of his big case – the first of his career. They have thoroughly messed this young guy about, dragging him halfway across the country, knowing he’s done the journey on a bus and not a plane, because he can’t afford the airfare, aching hours of it. Whereas they spent the night in luxury hotel suites, he has spent his in a crummy back alley room you can probably rent by the hour.
He’s turned up at the meeting to discover two of the witnesses he was there to interview haven’t bothered to show up, and he is frustrated and badly outgunned. The head of the defence team for the enormous global company he’s taking on is a sleazy scumbag who blatantly insults this young kid with a sneer and a snide comment.
Baylor, who knows this is as much a battle of brass necks as it is legal skills, knows he has to claim some kind of scalp here, to establish some respect. He looks at his nemesis, and he finds the mark absolutely beautifully.
“I wonder,” he muses, “do you even remember when you first sold out?”
The line hits home like a sledgehammer. On the other side of the table, his rival positively bristles. His pride is stung. His professionalism is being questioned, but more, his integrity. What I love most about the moment is that he actually looks offended. The idea that he’s gone over to the dark side has probably never dawned on him before.
It’s a fine moment in what’s a very fine film. I watched it recently, and I got as much of a kick out of that moment as I did the first time I saw it.
The day might come when I get to ask a member of the estimable Scottish media the same question. The only difference is, they won’t take it personally. It won’t hit home and sting the way it does Leo F. Drummond in the movie. They’ll take it in their stride. Without ever having opted in, after all, how can anyone ever accuse you of selling out?
They don’t do walking away. No-one else would employ them if they did.
Their ineptitude is already the stuff of legend to those of us who have witnessed their lack of professionalism or character these last couple of years.
They had some of the biggest news stories of this generation, or of any generation in living memory, right there, on their own doorstep, and they either ignored it or chose to report it according to how one side wanted it spun.
They singularly failed to cover it as neutral observers, preferring to take their cue from one of the myriad PR companies being employed on the side of one group or another, whoever had the most money or access to the editors.
That failure killed one of our biggest football clubs, one of the biggest in the world.
The collapse of Rangers has been laid at many doors, but above them I am going to lay it at the doors of the media who first helped Whyte get control and then treated the Internet Bampots as if we were mugs. The people who stepped backwards and let it all go down, the people who stood on the sidelines and let lies be spun as the truth, who didn’t so much allow the Rangers fans to buy into the bullshit as they led them there, like lambs to the slaughter.
They call themselves journalists.
Jesus, but what a colossal insult that is to the men and women across the globe who have performed that role with distinction, with pride, at great personal risk, at the cost to life and limb. What a disgusting slur it is on those people that this lot even pretend to belong in their class. Theirs is a hallowed order, and the Scottish sporting press has disgraced it.
I call it an order. The distinguishing characteristic of an order is that whole idea of “opting in” and that’s the difference, you see. Because I graduated as a media student, not as a journalism student, and for a long time I thought there was something sacred about those who chose the path of journalism. I mean, surely it can’t all be about getting grammar right and having to write in complete sentences? Can it?
I always thought there was more to it than that. Otherwise, can’t anyone do it?
Well, actually … yes. Anyone can. Including me and you.
That bugs the Hell out of them.
It bugs them because even when you reduce journalism to that – and in Scotland, sports journalism has been reduced to exactly that – there are people who are better at it than they are. Much better. The hacks might draw the salaries, and command a higher public profile, but slowly but surely something is happening out there.
The blogosphere is gaining ground. Some of the bloggers are becoming as influential, if not more influential, than the hacks. That ties them in knots. The idea that the likes of us – unpaid, unsupported, unprotected by their teams of lawyers and proof readers – can do it, can take them on at their own game, it drives them nuts.
Sooner or later their editors might start questioning the five figure salaries these guys get. And you know what? They should. They absolutely should.
Some of these people are not worth it. Some of them found their limits on student newspapers, and local publications, where they didn’t have to rock the boat. Some of them would have been better off as stenographers, sitting at the back of press conferences taking down every word verbatim, because when you regurgitate club press releases, when you transform your entire paper into a PR arm for certain individuals, that’s what you become.
I look at the news media in Scotland in the last 36 months, and very few of its patrons come out of it with a shred of credit at all, but these last few days have left me baffled, and a wee bit angry. I understood, you see, how the Rangers thing happened.
Their fans didn’t want to hear bad news. The media desperately wanted to believe that the club would be saved, because without the daily PR releases from Ibrox they would have to find real work.
I got their silence, to an extent. I didn’t excuse it … but I sort of understood it.
Over the weekend, I thought we might see some acknowledgement, in some quarter, that there had been two high profile suggestions that our game is corrupt, that matches are routinely fixed, that there are people on the take. One journalist – Gordon Waddell – wrote an article on McCoist’s brandished list in which he omitted any mention at all of “officials”, a word McCoist clearly used, and used specifically to threaten the SFA.
That, in itself, that a high profile manager would publicly threaten the association with scandal, is a monumental news story. That he did so by alleging corruption is the stuff news reporters have wet dreams about. Real news reporters anyway.
There was no follow up at all on the revelations by Gordon Parks, that he knew of players who had actually bet against their own team and effectively thrown games. These are amongst the most staggering revelations made in the recent history of football in the UK, and not a single journalist has taken the obvious next step and phoned Stewart Regan to interview him about the allegations. That Regan himself is not calling an immediate summit is ludicrous, of course, but that’s a subject for another day. The media here are beyond belief.
They have sneered at the Rangers Tax Case blogger, and have questioned his winning of The Orwell Prize, but let’s not kid ourselves here, they are motivated by jealousy there and nothing more. The Scottish media awards, which a few weeks ago handed a prize to Keith Jackson as if he was some kind of crusading journalist, have become a back-slapping, inside joke, with no-one outside of the circuit able to take them seriously.
The Orwell Prize is a bigger deal by far, and none of them have ever had as much of a sniff at something like that.
Yet, let’s not beat about the bush here; those prizes were there for the taking last year and the year before it. The stories about Craig Whyte’s past were in wide circulation. Everyone in the blogosphere knew Whyte was not the real deal, and everything from his empty offices to his time as a gold trader was online, where anyone in the media could have seen it, and did the background digging that would have firmed those stories up and made them into something fit to grace the front pages of our national newspapers.
The front pages. Not the back pages. The real tragedy here is that what was happening to Rangers – what is still happening to Rangers – is not just a sports story, but a real life, honest to God news story, the kind that does see awards conferred upon the writer. The allegations made by McCoist, and repeated by Parks, are an honest to God news story, not just a football one, here today and gone tomorrow. It’s the real thing.
And nobody in the mainstream media even wants to touch it.
I am baffled by it, and I am offended by it, as a student of media and someone in the business. I am staggered at the ineptitude and cowardice which their silence reveals in them. What are they afraid of here? A little hard work? Something else?
There isn’t some secret puppet master out there holding a metaphorical (or literal) gun to their heads, so what in the Hell is it with these people?
Do none of them dream of being good? Does the idea of glory, of one-upping the opposition, of getting something no-one else has no longer have appeal?
Did the rules of the game change when I wasn’t watching?
When I was at university, I was the founder of a notorious website called Union Uncovered, and during its run we broke one almighty story wide open, the plan to close one of the campus bars. We had the whole thing, including an insider who fed us details so tantalising I couldn’t wait to publish them. The thrill I got from getting that story online was like nothing else I’d ever done at that time. It wasn’t earth shattering stuff, but it was one Hell of a story, and got everyone on campus talking. It was a special accomplishment, one I’ve always taken pride in.
Because I thought that was what the business was all about. Getting the truth out there. Getting the story. Getting the exclusive.
Does no-one want that? Does no-one want to be the journalist who got Stewart Regan on the record as being worried about these allegations? The hack who got him to call for an inquiry? Or better, the hack who got Regan to express total disinterest in the story, and who then got to slap it all over the front pages that the SFA weren’t interested in investigating corruption. The stuff of legend. The stuff of journalism heaven.
Yet it’s not just about that either, is it? Part of the buzz, for me, in finding out about our campus bar was the notion that publishing the story would get the ball rolling to save the place, and indeed a campaign was born to do just that, albeit that it was sadly unsuccessful, with the decision being already rubber stamped and as good as signed and sealed.
If our game really is as bent as first McCoist and then Parks said, then surely it is in the interests of everyone who cares about football here that this be fully explored, and the details exposed? The crusading aspect of the thing should appeal to any hack who aspires to anything at all. To be the guy who set that in motion, and helped make the game better? Who brought cheats to book and cleaned out the Aegean Stables once and for all.
Jesus, that is the Holy Grail of journalistic accomplishment. The sporting press hasn’t seen anything like it, ever. Within the insular little world of the Scottish game, it would be like Woodward and Bernstein bringing down Nixon.
It would go down in history. And no-one wants a piece of it?
I am sometimes accused of being unfair to the media, of writing about them with a certain amount of contempt. That’s hardly an unfair accusation. What I feel for many of them is contempt, and I’m glad that comes through loud and clear.
This weekend, they earned it in spades.
I am shocked that any of these people can look in the mirror, that they can pick up their wages without feeling ashamed and their publications are little better than institutional cut and paste shops. They are a disgrace to a once noble calling.
I’ve given up hope of seeing signs of life.
The sports news industry in Scotland needs putting out of its – and our – misery, because their silence has made them complict, and it has rendered them irrelevant.
The bloggers are now the only show in town.
Fellow Internet Bampots, it’s over to you …
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