Inkblots and ipse dixits

Like many of us, I tend to pass my Sunday morning catching up on anything in the various sports media that I might somehow have missed on Horse Tracks. Yesterday, I noticed anew just how easily the written word can twist the facts at hand - or create them.

I caught two particularly egregious examples in the Denver Post yesterday, and since both were from Mike Klis, I decided to get to the bottom of the situation. Curious, I wrote this email to Mike:

Mike:

I enjoy your work, and appreciate that you are in the business of selling papers. However, I have been seeing that you are willing to kind of stretch the facts in recent columns. To wit, today you wrote in one article:

"At least 10 teams have called to express interest, and the Broncos are listening."

Well, maybe. Sort of, at least, if you call not violently hanging up on people as the same thing.  But, not according to the Broncos, and not according to your own newspaper, and your own writing. You see, on this same morning, from the Roger Goodell article, which you apparently also wrote, I found this:

More lobby talk.

There was some Cutler buzz among coaches and executives in the hotel lobby Saturday but the overriding sense is he will remain the Broncos' quarterback in 2009.

"My guess is this thing is overblown," said an NFL coach. "It might be his reaction that has caused it to be overblown, but from what I've gathered, I don't think they're trading him."

"It's only March," said an AFC coach. "You've seen these type of things happen before and they always get resolved."

In fact, the Broncos have said repeatedly that they aren't trading him. He's got 3 years on his contract. He has said that he will show up for mandatory activities. Several coaches have said that they were told by the Broncos that they aren't interested, so while they may not hammer down the phone, they aren't interested, and they are listening to offers, as in having a willingness to participate in negotiations.

I'd appreciate knowing why you are choosing this route. Are you saying that you have inside information that is contrary to the Broncos' stance and to the responses gleaned from coaches around the league? Again - I like your work, and you are doing a tough job, but it seems from the outside like you're just posting the former info to keep the story going that you yourself don't seem to believe. Could you clue me in here? Thanks.

Dr. Emmett Smith

Later in the day, Mike was gracious enough to respond:

Emmett,

You ask good questions. What the Broncos say, and what they do, can be two different things. When this is finished, maybe it will all become clearer.

Mike Klis

Sure, Mike. It is all becoming clearer.  From PFW, also on Sunday, I found:

"Although some have questioned why the Broncos wouldn't be determined to make a player with Tony Scheffler's ability fit into their system, we hear the team is entertaining offers for him. Word is head coach Josh McDaniels doesn't view Scheffler, a pass-catching tight end, as a good fit for his scheme on offense, which is supposed to feature bulkier, blocking-oriented tight ends. Sources say the team isn't set on trading Scheffler, but an offer to their liking could be enough to spark a deal."

Okay, what are the similarities among the above quotes? They are entirely self-contradictory and have no useful basis. And, they serve as excellent Rorschach tests of how each of us perceives the world around us.

I think that Mike Klis is basically a good guy. Like his stuff or not, he's underpaid, under deadlines and under a huge microscope. Out here in San Diego, you at times wonder if the sportswriters aren't blogging to themselves - they don't even bother to put out a Chargers article on Sunday during the offseason. There is no analysis to speak of. Klis, on the other hand, has to come up with a few Broncos articles every week, and several during most weeks. He's looking at set limits to the length, which doesn't support deep analysis, either. But when you are trying to keep a story alive so that you have a topic, sometimes you might get caught sneaking over the edge of appropriate journalism. Suggesting that it was just the Broncos' fault doesn't pass the smell test, Mike -  you wrote both of them. One might be true, but not both.

His response to me smilingly ignored why it was that he was saying two opposite things in a single day's posting. Maybe when all is over I'll really understand. Somehow, I think that I already do. But he's still a good guy, and at least he was polite enough to respond, which I appreciate.

The article - blurb, really - from PFW is just as lowbrow and is generated for the same reason - they want to sell ‘news', they want to generate traffic, and since Horse Tracks is there to show us links to what's out there (and (Doug) is doing a heck of a job, too) and not to rank the stuff, it worked - a lot of folks, me included went to their site because this bit was on it.

Notice what the blurb didn't say. It starts by saying that the Broncos might be wanting to trade Scheffler. But, they say, Scheffler really should be fit into McD's system and there is no reason to trade him, yet McD might want be trying to anyway and that if so, McD isn't that smart. It goes on to say that, well, sources say the Broncos don't want to trade him, but that they MIGHT, if given enough reason, go ahead and do so. It doesn't say that they are actually interested in doing so.

Other than his reasonless and emotionally-based demands to be traded, there is no evidence that the Broncos have any reason to trade him, nor interest in doing so. But, would they?

Well, sure. Offer Albert Haynesworth for Tony Scheffler and agree to pick up half of his fat contract and the Broncos would do it. There is a deal out there for everyone, sooner or later. McDaniels got into trouble with Cutler for simply noting, perhaps at the wrong time, that anyone could get traded. It might have been better to let it go in that moment, but McDaniels wanted to make a point and it's a fair one - anyone might get traded. Montana got traded. Elway was on the block. It happens, and it's just part of the business that is NFL football. The nonsense from PFW is self-contradictory as well as self serving.

A lot of it happens because they have to post something and don't have any new thoughts. If you're a serious fan, you probably know more than many/most journalists in the sports media. Look at the incredible ripples sent out by Styg's great piece on Bus Cook. The MSM was starved for news (especially on McJayGate) and it made one media outlet after another, some of whom gave Styg credit (see Guru's synopsis here). Look at the level of  knowledge that HT, Guru and Styg bring to the table. You aren't finding that in very many MSM sources. So, when you are reading things that someone wants you to believe, there are some things you might want to do.

The next time you read something that gets your blood up, ask yourself a few questions. The first is, ‘What is this really saying?" Is it making a factual statement, or just passing on a rumor? maybe it just wants to incite you, get you worked up and seel 'news' that isn't news. Many, perhaps most, fall into the latter category. It's the nature of the current business. That's one reason that Bus Cook was able to plant so many rumors as fact until our own Styg50 helped up the light that a lot of other media quickly referred, with and without giving credit. There was once a saying in journalism school that if your Mama says she loves you, verify it! Since too many sources don't, you have to do that yourself before accepting it at face value. I've gotten caught recently on that one. Most of us do - for a while.

The second is, "Do they have anything here other than an unnamed source?" I would agree that journalists need sources, and at times they have to be unnamed. But having a brew with Harv the janitor who tells you that he didn't hear them say that they aren't going to trade Grabenpowski doesn't mean that a deal is in the works. It just means that nothing was heard. Since ‘nothing new' isn't generally newsworthy, sometimes writers try to make that nothing into something.

"Did they just take this from another bunch of other articles that cite no one but unnamed sources, or do they have some other source or insight?" The old child's game of telephone has a new modern variant - recycling, not of the green kind, but of the black and white.

We have Thomas George's recent article expressing that, as he said on Wednesday, that nothing had happened nor was anything imminent, yet in his opinion it was inevitable (a masterpiece of obfuscation which should land him a job with the speechwriters of the Obama administration within the month). We also have an incessant referencing of other articles in the media, generally without attribution, and a regular misstating of them to prove otherwise untenable points.

One of the things that I've enjoyed about the McJayGate silliness is that back in college I studied Rorschach tests. They are the ones where you look at a bilateral ink blotch and tell the shrink what it reminds you of. If you say that it looks suspiciously like an ink blotch, you lose points for being passive-aggressive. If it reminds you of ‘Dogs of War II' you get points for being outright aggressive, since that's considered more interesting.

The info that has come out during this ‘crisis', such as it is, hasn't particularly amused me, but the responses of some of the readers has. That's because most of the stuff that is being put out is much like those Rorschach tests - you can see anything in it that you want to. Whatever tendencies you yourself may have you can find support for, because fellows like Mike Klis are writing things that disagree with things that they themselves have written - sometimes, like this one, on the same day.

Do you dislike Josh McDaniels? You will be able to clearly ascertain that he blew the whole thing. Think he's too young? You'll be able to ‘prove' to yourself that his ego is too big and it wouldn't ‘let' him apologize to Jay. Do you think that Jay is immature? You'll know that for sure after reading that other article. And so it goes.

To be honest, I doubt that you will run out of blame to spread about, but a lot of where you apportion it gets down to your perspective. Most of what's out there came from Bus Cook, who is hardly an uninterested onlooker. A little comes from dedicated over-parsing of statements by Bowlen (or, if your preference lies that way, insufficient statements by him) or by McDaniels. There are rumors of unrest in the locker room, and those rumors have almost no evidence other than ‘Don't you think that...' statements by members of the media. No, I don't think, because I tend to want an odd little thing called evidence. It's a useful thing to have. In its absence, you can ‘prove' almost anything.

There is something called an 'ipse dixit' which is Latin for "he himself said it." An ipse dixit is something that you have no evidence for other than being told that it is true by someone else. In one sense, nearly everything that you know is or was an ipse dixit at one point, but the idea goes beyond that. We should be observing the world around us with an eye towards challenging our vaunted opinions, rather than a desperate desire to support them, even if the evidence is flimsy. Ipse dixits are things that we accept no further evidence for. Human nature being what it is, most of us are far more comfortable gazing at our opinions with contented happiness, and so we ‘prove' them regularly to ourselves. That's worth looking at.

But doctor, about that last ink blot - it reminds me of space aliens. In fact, that bit over there is a flying saucer, that other one is a football, and that line there is obviously a pen, which you use for signing contracts. You know, if Bus Cook is a space alien intent on overthrowing the Broncos and throwing the region into a panic so that they will have to call out the National Guard to protect the City of Denver, which might leave Cheyenne Mountain unguarded and permit the Bilinardi from Celtius Prime to take over our missile defenses and conquer our nation, it would explain a lot....

Got it! That makes perfect sense. You read it first in the Mile High Report, folks. That means that it has to be true.

Originally posted at MHR

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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