A few months ago, Jack Shafer wrote a story
whose subhed ("Spotting a bogus trend story on Page One of today’s New
York Times") could probably appear quite a few times on his Slate columns.
So I’d like to get in on the act as well: It can’t just be Shafer and Radosh
spotting bogus trends. Let the bogus-trendspotters multiply!
the story. The headline is this:
Surge in Racist Mood Raises Concerns on Eve of World Cup
The story is 1,875 words long, which is surely enough space to actually adduce
some evidence that the "surge" of the headline exists. But I’m sure
it will come as no surprise to Shafer that the author, Jere Longman, never quite
gets around to that.
He’s good at following the standard bogus-trend template, though. He starts
off with two anecdotes, showing the problem. Then comes the nut graf:
International soccer has been plagued for years by violence among fans, including
racial incidents. But FIFA, soccer’s Zurich-based world governing body, said
there has been a recent surge in discriminatory behavior toward blacks by
fans and other players, an escalation that has dovetailed with the signing
of more players from Africa and Latin America by elite European clubs.
Did FIFA really talk about "a recent surge in discriminatory behavior"?
Did it, perhaps, characterise the extent of that "surge"? Has there,
in fact, been a marked increase in Latin and African players in European leagues
of late? Longman has no time for such practicalities, since according to the
hard and fast rules of bogus trend stories, the next graf is where he needs
to put his news hook:
This "deplorable trend," as FIFA has called it, now threatens to
embarrass the sport on its grandest stage, the World Cup, which opens June
9 for a monthlong run in 12 cities around Germany. More than 30 billion cumulative
television viewers are expected to watch part of the competition…
I’ll leave it to Radosh to debunk the "30 billion" figure, since
he did such
a good job with the Oscars. But even Longman feels the need to backpedal
on the World Cup aspect of his story just a couple of paragraphs later (although
after the jump to an entirely different section of the newspaper):
Experts and players also said they believed the racist behavior would be
more constrained at the World Cup than it was during play in various domestic
leagues around Europe, because of increased security, the international makeup
of the crowds, higher ticket prices and a sense that spectators would be generally
well behaved on soccer’s grandest stage.
So which is it to be, Jere? A surge of racism which threatens to embarrass
the sport of soccer, or a sense that spectators will be generally well behaved?
Of course, this is a bogus trend story, so we need to get anonymous "experts"
in it, preferably saying the blindingly obvious:
Racist behavior at soccer matches is primarily displayed by men and is fueled
by several factors, according to experts…
But Longman fails the bogus-trend template in that he doesn’t manage to quote
even a single anonymous "expert" in support of his main thesis, that
racism in soccer is getting worse.
He quotes Kurt Wachter of Football Against Racism in Europe saying that "we
will see some things we’re used to seeing". He talks a lot about the extent
of racism in Germany more generally, and what politicians are doing about it.
And of course he mentions the war, with a very weird verb formation:
The German government has intended to confront its Nazi past while preaching
openness and tolerance.
No, I have no idea what this means, or what it has to do with racism in soccer.
In fact, most of second two-thirds of the article seems very confused, to the
extent that one wonders if Longman himself actually believes in his own bogus
The Bundesliga in Germany is one of the world’s top professional soccer leagues,
and has not experienced widespread racism.
So if there’s no widespread racism in the Bundesliga, why is Longman so worried
it will turn up during the World Cup? Remember that earlier on in the article
he was predicting all manner of horrors:
Players and antiracism experts said they expected offensive behavior during
the tournament, including monkey-like chanting; derisive singing; the hanging
of banners that reflect neofascist and racist beliefs; and perhaps the tossing
of bananas or banana peels, all familiar occurrences during matches in Spain,
Italy, eastern Germany and eastern Europe.
But when he gets around to quoting a black member of the German team, he ends
up going back a decade to support his thesis. Even then, the match in question
was not an international match, but a club match about as deep into the former
East Germany as it is possible to get:
Gerald Asamoah, a forward on Germany’s World Cup team and a native of Ghana,
has been recounting an incident in the 1990′s when he was pelted with bananas
before a club match in Cottbus.
In fact, in the entire article, Longman comes up with not a single example
of racist behaviour during an international match, although that doesn’t prevent
him from speculating at length on the sanctions that FIFA may or may not apply
should such behaviour occur this year.
The New York Times, like the rest of the world’s media, is only just starting
on its World Cup coverage, so we have no idea whether this story is a harbinger
of how future reporting is going to turn out. But it’s pretty horrible that
the first World Cup story to hit the front page should be an ill-sourced bogus
trend story about a "surge" in racism which almost certainly doesn’t
There’s one thing we can all take comfort in, however: the New York Times will
never pass up an opportunity to demonstrate that it knows nothing about soccer.
This in the second paragraph:
Then, as he went to throw the ball inbounds, Onyewu said a fan of the opposing
team reached over a barrier and punched him in the face.
As he went to throw the ball inbounds? Sigh. That’s basketball,