The San Diego Padres are not a good baseball team. It has been six seasons since they had a >.500 win-loss record. They’ve played in the World Series twice, but won just one game. Last year, their best player was Drew Pomeranz – until they traded him at the All-star break. This year, they were decimated in the Dodgers’ home opener, 14-3. Last year, there were decimated in the Dodgers’ home opener, 15-0.
Visit padres.com, however, and most of that would fly by the radar. Instead, you will be greeted with “Friars strike first, but LA pulls away in opener” (I can think of no worse participation trophy than, “well, we scored first.”) – along with headlines about prospects the Padres are sure will “compete for rookie of the year” and grand think-pieces like “Padres break the mold with roster selections.”
This is not just a Padres thing. I’ll pick on my Angels for the sake of fairness. The Angels are not a good baseball team. It is probably fair to say they are wasting the best years of Mike Trout’s career. Mike Scioscia (remember that time he won a World Series?) is fielding a team this season that probably won’t win 75 games, despite having the MLB’s best player. Their Opening Day starter was Ricky Nolasco, who flirts with being the Ambrose Burnside of Active Pitchers. But on angels.com you will find similar propaganda: articles praising “bullpen depth,” since the Angels’ starting rotation is…well, spearheaded by Ricky Nolasco; as much content about Trout as possible; stories hyping Albert Pujols’ slow and slowing climb up historical stat lines for hits and home runs.
In these alternate universes, at worst, the Friars and Angels just had a rough day. But there is so much to look forward to! There is always a bright side! And, of course, there is always a reason to buy Padres/Angels tickets.
The point of this post is to argue that the endless barrage of cheerleading and vacuous “yes man” commentary on these sites has an unfortunate political analogue: Fox News. No major news organization has done more to minimize obvious governance failures in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, while dutifully promoting the preferred narrative of the White House.
For example: The Trump administration would like you to know that they dropped the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal. The President would, no doubt, like to project strength after a series of policy failures in immigration, healthcare, and foreign affairs – that have all come with an endless stream of internal leaks, the worst personnel problems of any modern presidency, and an inept public relations operation run by the empty piñata once known as Sean Spicer.
Fox News gladly fills the void. Their home webpage runs stories and clips promoting the desired message of the Administration. A clip of a veteran claiming President Obama’s reluctance to use such ordinance in the past cost him his legs, the Pentagon’s video of the strike, and a link to an opinion piece (written for another site) defending the use of the MOAB. Plans to use the weapon began before President Trump took office, and it did not require his approval. And other major news outlets (like CNN, CBS, NYT, Washington Post) both dedicate far less attention to the bomb, ignore it entirely, or run headlines questioning its effectiveness.
This is not limited to this (minor) event. On any given day, the cheerleading slant is evident across the foxnews.com homepage. Today, Trump “plays hardball” with Democrats! He’s right about North Korea! Obama was weak! Sean Spicer is in the Navy! Liberals are at it again, complaining and protesting! Sad!
For Major League Baseball, team web design is transparent and not difficult to understand. Phillies fans aside, people don’t want to go see a team that sucks and has no hope of winning. People don’t want to wear caps for a team that will earn them ridicule. In other words, the sites are promotional. They’re fun, and help locals escape the reality that their starting rotation is horrendous, they’ve got no one who can hit, and every team in the division is better.
For Fox News, the reporting strategy is shockingly similar. Trump supporters do not want to be told that they have no chance of winning. They do not want those red caps to be bold reminders of a mistake they once made. So Fox News is promotional. They help Trump supporters escape the reality that their President knows almost nothing about governing, can be manipulated by whomever has spoken with him most recently, is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, has produced no concrete policy changes, and that almost any politician – regardless of party or ideology – would be better at this.