Sunday, August 14, 2005

Prediction, Reporting, Results

Elections, for example, sports.

The paper shows the morning line, Cappy narrates progress around the track, then, in a close race, everyone waits around until the officials announce which horse crossed the line first, second, third ... Supposedly, nothing counts until the officials have sorted among the photo finish, the witness of their own eyes, complaints of fouls from the jockeys. Sometimes it’s easy: no fouls are claimed, and everyone saw, saw clearly, that Seabiscuit was many lengths ahead of War Admiral.


But what if sponsors have spent millions to ride the high profile of the Yankees? or Tiger Woods? Tom Dewey? or Richard Nixon?
What if you own the newspaper and you want the election results on the street, an extra edition: and you want it on the streets before the votes have been counted, show what a magician you are? Why then you herald "DEWEY!" across the front page! But in the morning, when Truman wakes up, the votes show that he’s President Truman.

CBS spends expensive minutes over hours, Saturday and Sunday, analyzing in close up every move made by Tiger! by Vijay! by Phil! Those are the spending minutes; they are balanced by the network’s earning minutes: Tiger is driving a Buick. Tiger is smiling. The Buick is dominant, makes everybody happy. Tiger had damn well better win the tournament.

And he does. Lots. But not all. What do we do when the cameras have spent Saturday and Sunday on Tiger, on Vijay, but it’s Ben Curtis who finishes 18 with the low score? Who? The experts never mentioned him, never showed a shot of his until he suddenly grabbed the lead at 17: while all the big names fell down.

Before the race you can talk up any horse you want. Before the race you can put up your money, demand that others put up their money, or shut up. But after the race, we’re all supposed to shut up: except to acknowledge the winner: and the winner is the horse that crossed the line first, no fouls judged against him.
At the convention we can curse all the other candidates. On election eve we can incandesce our hatred of the major opponent. On election eve we can still threaten to move to Canada if the other guy wins. But the morning after the election we’re all supposed shut up: except to say Yes, President Truman.

Today’s final round of the PGA Tournament, this year again at Baltusrol, spun me between annoyance and enjoyment. I read all the articles that said Tiger should win easily. As difficult as Baltusrol may be, it was supposed to set up perfectly for Tiger’s game. I’m all for that. If Tiger won every tournament for the next twenty years, it would be fine with me. I missed him on Carson when he was a toddler, but I’ve avidly ridden his bandwagon since he was a teen: a dozen years of pk joining Tigermania.
But Tiger flubbed, Mickelson shone. Then Mickelson flubbed.

Sometimes it seems like some hero seizes the limelight. On Sunday they go eagle, birdie, birdie ... leap up the leader board. There’s been very little leaping in this tournament, and a lot of falling down: bogey, bogey, bogey.

You want to know about the week’s tournament? Thursday through Sunday? Seventy-two holes? Read the paper on Monday. A sensible person wouldn’t watch the horse race. Get a heart attack. Just scan the tote board after the race results are official. What difference does it make which horse had the lead at the turn? Only the finish line counts.

But no. Budweiser, Buick, IBM ... they all want it to be a horse race: where heroic will counts the most.
No. CBS, NBC, ABC ... all want the experts to narrate for us, between commercials: and want the experts to be right. The Yankees must win. Hell, they spent the most money. Dewey must win.

We really shouldn’t count the votes.
Counting the votes can make the experts look bad.

And this PGA is making everybody look ... well, if not bad, then human.

One thing’s sure though, surer all the time: a no-name may win a sporting event, but no major election will ever be won except by the Yankees, by Budweiser, by Buick. Sports are just window dressing, to pretend that everyone has a chance.

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