Sports Talk Radio Exploits Lunatic Fringe

by Rick Stephens, AllHabs.net

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — Joseph Goebbels

MONTREAL, QC. — Some time ago, political parties figured out that dumb people vote too. Why go to the trouble of presenting intelligent arguments in support of a platform that would only be fully understood by so few? There is a huge pool of the electorate that is easily influenced by other means.

The politics of division, negative ads, and fear mongering was popularized.

Similarly hard core sports enthusiasts study game footage, pour over statistics, and seek out in-depth analysis. It’s no different in the NHL. But as hockey reaches new fans and diverse markets, those new to the game arrive looking for the mega-mall rather than the specialty shop.

In stepped the 24-hour sports talk shows to fill the void. But the burning question screamed, where would they get the content? There is only so long that one can discuss the latest power-play scheme or the idiocy of the trapezoid rule.

While Montreal likes to think of itself as having the most knowledgeable hockey fans in the world, the house of cards is teetering. Booing home team game stars, disrespecting foreign anthems and valuing birthplace more than talent are just a few of the dents in the Best Fans cup.

Just as political parties appeal to fringe special interest groups, sports talk radio learned to feature the crazy fan. You know the one. They are exasperated, at their wits end, and always making the call just before they tear up their fan club membership card.

Many readers will recall “Angry Sal” who became somewhat of a cult hero during the first round of the playoffs last Spring against Washington. The rant of an obviously frustrated Canadiens fan was exploited by an opportunistic radio host. It wasn’t pretty.

On Saturday night, “Harry” called a Montreal radio station to announce that he was giving away his collection of Canadiens loonies. Harry hates goaltender Carey Price so much that he is becoming an Ottawa Senators fan. He is divesting himself of all things bleu, blanc et rouge.

Let’s all wave goodbye to Harry.

My personal favorites are calls that begin, “I didn’t see the game, but…” Of course, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t got the first clue. If a radio station was interested in an intelligent debate of issues, how would these people get on the air?

The truth is so boring.

Instead, some radio personalities have learned to state something outrageous, repeat it often and reinforce it by recruiting and spotlighting fans who can be described as being on the edge.

Soon, these crazy ideas, promoted and repeated in the hothouse environment, start to be considered part of the mainstream and assumed to be supported by a majority.

It’s scarily similar to the formula described by Goebbels.

The Minister of Propaganda said that truth was the biggest threat to this approach. If you host a radio show, it’s easy to maintain the message within the bubble. Callers who might bring reason are simply screened out.

Whether driven by curiosity or ego, some hosts have decided to step outside the cocoon into the realm of social media. To their dismay, they are encountering very knowledgeable fans who are capable of making rational and intelligent arguments. It’s just the kind of Kryptonite that could destroy their insular world.

So what’s a radio host to do?

Well, if he’s on Twitter, there’s the power of the block.

We’re not talking about blocking someone for rude or threatening behaviour but for an alternative view or in some cases, simply asking for clarification.

Yes, I read somewhere that it was “vitally important …to use all of its powers to repress dissent.”

It’s sad situation. A so-called celebrity who allows personal insecurities to get in the way of communicating with some bright, reasonable people.

Why is this important?

It’s more than just an opportunity lost to engage with fans. It is the ideal environment for agenda-driven journalism. Issues are primed for manipulation.

How many people really participated in mocking a goaltender, booing an anthem, or rioting in the streets?

Some commonly held myths were born in such a setting: Canadiens management having a policy restricting player negotiations during the year; Andrei Markov saying ‘nyet’ to the captaincy of the team; and Price demanding a five-year contract.

None are accurate.

But what about when falsehoods turn to character assassinations? You may recall the fairy tale about the Kosititsyns and Roman Hamrlik being involved in mob activity. We were told that exposing it would be the worst scandal in the 100-year history of the Canadiens from which it was uncertain whether the organization would recover.

It was nonsense.

It’s not only players who are targets. Matthew proudly wore his Carey Price jersey out to Complexe Sportif Bell in Brossard to watch a Canadiens practise. He was met by a group of angry Price-haters who verbally-assaulted him.

Why is this happening? We have been treated to mega-doses of commentary from the lunatic fringe over the radio waves describing the Canadiens number one goaltender as being lazy, aloof, disinterested, immature, unmotivated, arrogant, reckless, undisciplined, and self-absorbed.

And how do we know this? Well, someone’s neighbour’s cousin knows a guy who saw him… “Oh really,” says the host. That is, of course, is in addition to his own little “sources-say” gems.

Is this anything more than tabloid journalism?

The combustibles have been added, and the pot stirred. It’s usually at this point that the reporter claims no responsibility.

Is there any wonder why a vacuum exists and is being filled by the new media?

Regarding the issue of Carey Price, right now, it’s a powder keg. The Canadiens fan community has been described as being on the verge of civil war.

There is a small but vocal group who are filled with hatred who have lost all ability to make rational judgments. They demand blood.

How did we get here? There are many reasons. But the biggest slice of the pie has to go to the media who stoked a controversy in their own self-interest.

Objectivity be damned when BBM ratings are to be gained.

The more important question is how do we get through it? There is a path. It will be bumpy but manageable.

It won’t be easy to put the dragon back in the box. It involves open discussion, objective and responsible reporting, and eliminating pedestals for the nut-bars.

But what happens when the host and content of the show is such that it mostly attracts wing-nuts?

To that I say, Canadiens fans deserve, and should demand, better.

About the Author

Profile photo of Rick Stephens
Rick is the Editor-in-Chief, lead contributor, and owner of the All Habs network of websites. His mission is to build a community of Canadiens fans who are informed, engaged and connected. He is the vision behind all four sites within the network - All Habs, Habs Tweetup, We Are Canadiens, and The Montreal Forum - and is responsible for the design and layout of each. In concert with the strong belief that "Habs fans are everywhere!", Rick is pleased that people use All Habs as a conduit to find and connect with other Habs fans worldwide. He is also proud that Habs Tweetups have allowed fans to meet in person and develop long lasting friendships.

8 Enlightened Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Cowhide and Rubber » All Carey Price, All the Time | September 27, 2010
  1. Jared says:

    I remember working an Alouettes post-game show on the radio after a loss and have someone call in saying Anthony Calvillo was a joke and washed up. This was four years ago.

    Point is, fans act on emotion, and that’s why they are fans. Bloggers and to a certain extent radio hosts and journalists are fans too, but what separates them is the ability to have a certain filter, or to look at the big picture.

    Obviously callers calling after a bitter loss will be angry and emotional. Obviously. But there is a difference between the lunatic fringe, like you say and the rational fan who either listens and laughs or just turns it off altogther.

    People like to hear themselves talk. That, too, is human nature.

  2. Tyg says:

    Unfortunately I fear that your logic and truth will be lost on those who need to heed it the most – the media hacks and the rabid overzealous fans. Ratings trump all for the former, and unfortunately for the latter human nature means it’s easier to be a sheep than a wolf. This is why my attention to MSM reporting on this team is down to almost nil, and I turn to trusted social media commentators now for insightful analysis of the team, the players and the sport itself. Great blog.

  3. moeman says:

    Extremely well written article.

    I’d suggest all teams have similar problems and what is sad is I don’t see a serious MSMer, that covers the Habs, that could emulate a Jean Beliveau request for some sanity in the stories. The media has proven that it will wash, rinse, repeat even if there is no real (lasting) stain. The lies and innuendo about Hamrlik and the K Bros is a perfect example. Richard Labbe’s machination was never taken to task and simply buried. What stood out for me was the CH’s organizational class to not fall into the media jackal’s trap.

    RDS, for me, is becoming unbearable in its pure wool slant and continued haranguing of the Quebecois first and foremost and almost only reporting. Regardless of what actually takes place on the ice and with the team, if the story isn’t Francophone, then make some shit up. (NB – je suis Francophone). L’antiCHambre is a couch full of mostly Habs haters and pro-nordiques shills. One of ‘their’ own, michel langevin, spent many hours on the radio (CJAD) last year suggesting Sergei be ‘lynched’. I got into a heated back in forth via email and not until I threatened to bring in my complaint to the CRTC and other public air wave verificateurs about using such a loaded term did he ‘listen’. I had to explain to langevin the origins of the word. He eventually apologized but not until deriding me for not using the proper term for ‘listeners’ en Franais. Now I know it is ‘auditeur’. All this to say the MSM remains mostly unaccountable.

    In a similar vein (I’d say even more extreme) you have the Globe and Mail paying a cub reporter who tries to pass himself off as a serious, objective journalist cum blogger whilst being nothing more than a subjective shill for his team, the leafs. Together with his so-called ‘sports editor’, they are making sure to eradicate all opposing views while cramming their biases in what is suppose to be a ‘national’ paper. I’ve compared their marketing efforts to that of Leni Riefenstahl and I think your Goebbels quote up top is very appropriate.

    Thanks for letting me rant. Voices need to be heard. Sometimes too loud. Sometimes to proud. Better read than dead.

    • Number31 says:

      That mob story crap still bothers me. Didn’t the Flyers players threaten to sue the guy that publicly suggested the Carter-Hartnell-Wife baloney causing rifts in the room? I know the Habs were all class by not falling into the trap, but an open apology certainly was warranted… After all, back home, Hamr apparently faced worse false character assassinations in his local media because of this false “scandal”.

  4. Kyle says:

    I think Tyg is right. The people that most need to synthesize this advice will probably not make it half-way through the story before deciding that it doesn’t apply to them.

    Nevertheless, the argument that Habs fans are, as a group, the smartest fans in hockey dies a little more each day.

    What’s going on?

    Were the legends ever true?

    It seems that the lunatics outnumber the sane, or, are they simply being given the platform to spew their nonsense?

    We shouldn’t be surprised that businesses cater and pander to whatever makes them the most money and ratings.

    I used to listen to sports radio all day, everyday. Now, even at work, I’m listening between 6-10, and then again at 3. The rest has become too much of a tabloid, and I’m quickly tiring of it.

    If we want to know where the “smartest fanbase” label went, it has followed the lead of popular opinion makers, who only want to further their careers and shake the beehive.

    Of course, it should be noted that as with the fans, there is a minority in the media that are having disproportionate amounts of sway. Somehow they are the flame and the silly fans are the moths.

  5. Number31 says:

    We need less sports media.

    Once upon a time CHOM was a rock station who’s morning show had a little tidbit on sports (Ted Bird’s editorial thingy that lasted barely a minute) and just passing on the news. It’s the only station I can stand that I can get semi-clearly in my building to wake me up in the morning. Now PJ Stock is there and he feels it’s his god given right to give his opinion every time he gets the mic. Because a guy with 4 minutes of ice time who can barely string two coherent words together is perfect to give his opinion on goaltending and proclaiming that the Habs have Brock Trotter penciled in to provide offense on the 3rd line (which would be an incredible achievement if he could do that all the way from Latvia). Where’s my rock music? My traffic report? The entertainment segment appears to have disappeared too. This isn’t a sports station. I now have an annoying buzzer to wake me up in the morning which puts me in a terrible mood…

    You know, I still see people with Huet shirts. Funny that, they never get cornered for his usual weak goals and inability to win a playoff series regardless of the offense in front of him eh.

    The tipping point: I honestly can’t wait for the Nordiques to return. Hell they can’t get back here soon enough. And though I don’t want my money going to the arena (especially when at least one extremely rich individual want the team but really just wants the profits and not pay a cent to help build it), if it means some sanity by having the attention partially turned to that team then fine, take my money. Save us.

  6. I find it interesting how some members of the media choose to use social media as extensions of their primary roles in the industry while others – more progressive thinking ones – use it to expand and enhance their reach both in scope and to better interact with their listeners or readers as the case may be.
    Tony Marinaro chooses to use Twitter as an extension of his weekday morning show. Often sensationalistic in my opinion. He really only seems to care about what?s on his mind and seems to bury his head in the sand when it comes to opposing views. Evidence of this came to light the day of the infamous Carey Price conference call to address his newly signed contract. One blogger -Launy Schwartz whose presence on the call raised an eyebrow or two – had the nerve to ask Cary Price about technique (and his gear). I was listening while at work and the only thing that kind of made me stop in my tracks was his intro ?from one goaltender to another?. I carried on with what I was doing. Not long after a tweet came across my feed from Marino himself; something to the effect that Schwartz was an embarrassment. I learned the next day that Launy was going to appear on Marino?s show. While Marino could be applauded for having Schwartz on, it was clear he had one objective in mind. Embarrass him to kingdom come. During Schwartz? appearance Marinaro invited someone who sounded like one of buddies to attempt to further humiliate Schwartz. This went on for a good 15- 20 minutes. Marinaro stated that Carey Price must have hung up the phone shaking his head in incredulously at the nature of Schwartz? questions. Quite honestly the one he was probably more troubled by was Abe Hefter?s ?a mainstream media member – sarcastically phrased question regarding Price?s off season rodeo activity.
    At the conclusion of Schwartz? appearance Dave Stubbs and Mike Boone of the Gazette were Marino?s guests. 80-90% of their time on the air was spent discussing what an embarrassment to everyone Schwartz was. And it occurred to me that this had gotten under Marinaro?s skin. It seemed to me that he saw Schwartz? presence as some sort of threat to him. He was on his turf so to speak. The Carey Price signing became a sidebar. This was crazy to me and I felt strongly about it. The Carey Price signing was one of the most highly anticipated stories of the Montreal Canadiens? summer and he chose to allow Launey Schwartz to be the focal point in the day or so that ensued. I tweeted my support to Schwartz and that Marinaro should move on. Somewhere in there I must have offended him. So he invoked the power of the block on Twitter and chose to use it on me. I must represent some type of threat to him as well. Those who follow me on Twitter would maintain that I?m not disrespectful or rude. Sometimes a tad irreverent and yes I throw out the odd juvenile nugget of humour. Tony Marinaro, you indeed must be one insecure fellow. The nerve of me to disagree. Well if I?m not allowed to follow….The logical conclusion? I no longer allow myself to listen to his show.
    Sports Talk Radio Exploits Lunatic Fringe indeed!

Top