Wednesday, November 10, 2010

LeBron James: Is the Media Picture Fair?



AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan

Written by Chris Shore:

The nation waited desperately as the decision was being made. For weeks, one man held the attention of the American public and media creating all sorts of rumors and speculation. It came down to the final day, broadcast across the country, everyone wondering where he would go.

Then it all finally ended. LeBron James announced he would be joining the Miami Heat for the upcoming season.

The decision, broadcast live on ESPN, has provided enough drama to rival any primetime television series. LeBron was cast as both hero and villain throughout the selection process; whichever he ultimately is remains anybody’s guess. But is it right to judge LeBron James based on the media image we are given? Our perception of the man is skewed by media sensationalism, but we still form opinions based on this, unfairly judging LeBron.

As Walter Lippmann notes in his book, Public Opinion, “whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself.” Instead of relying on facts we imagine our own “pseudo-environments” filled with drama; the media is heavily responsible for this distortion.

The articles give us a hollow outline of the man that is LeBron James then fill it with stories of kingdoms, broken hearts, and betrayals.

“The King will bestow upon his faithful subjects a proclamation that will tear apart the kingdom of LeBron James fans,” declares an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Another L.A. Times article names LeBron “the most coveted free agent in sport’s history.”

“The LeBron James free-agency saga is nearing its fateful and surreal conclusion,” proclaims The New York Times. “The fate of five franchises will turn on a single sentence.”

Clearly we should be ready to condemn LeBron as he shakes the fate of the nation. Yet without the fa├žade of crumbling kingdoms, fighting franchises, and heartbroken hometowns, all that is left is a man making a career choice. We cannot rely on these exaggerations to develop opinions because they do not tell us who he is.

True the situation is more complicated than a single decision. The addition of LeBron James to any roster would guarantee higher ticket sales and a more competitive team.

But rather than focus on the genuine complexity, the media simplifies, inserting instead, stereotypical images. Lippmann suggests with complex situations, “we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it.”

So LeBron is forgotten as an individual and we concentrate on LeBron as an entity. The New York Times talks about the unselfish, soft-spoken hero whose “obsession with basketball has more to do with a unique sense of team.” Meanwhile, other sources call LeBron a coward and focus on the resentment Cleveland citizens felt as they, “burned the jersey of the player they cherished for seven years.” So which of these familiar stories should we allow to prompt judgment?

Neither.

We cannot make fair assessments based on simplified or distorted stories. Instead of understanding who LeBron James is and what he is going through, we only see a caricature; a familiar imitation of a man with no originality. We cannot objectively judge an individual when we are already presented with a subjective interpretation.

While complete objectivity is impossible, the media must strive to report as objectively as possible. Such reporting would lead to not only a better informed public, but one that is more open-minded and full of individuals that form their own opinions. After all, people believe what they see, even if it is only what they see in their heads.

Nike Basketball: LeBron Rise commercial, video from YouTube.

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