I have an aunt who used to watch "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" every morning. She wasn't interested in Regis Philbin's rants or Martha Stewart recipes or interviews with Tom Selleck about his latest TV movie. She tuned in because she loved to hate Kathie Lee Gifford.
This space isn't big enough to afford Homerism the opportunity to lay out the reasons behind my aunt's near-pathological loathing for the woman who made third-world sweatshops a cause celebré. All in all, I think it was just the totality of the Oral Roberts University dropout's being that drove my aunt up the wall. Listening to her spew invective at the TV screen from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., I always wondered why she would willingly engage in such an obviously irritating activity every weekday.
Reading the final column of ESPN's outgoing ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, this week, I was reminded of my aunt's daily Kathie Lee hate-athon. After receiving 30,000 pieces of correspondence from fed-up users/readers/viewers, Schreiber diagnosed consumers' main complaint about the Worldwide Leader as a distaste for its tendency toward "excess."
Schreiber consistently has offered dead-on analysis and criticism during her two-year stint as ESPN's internal gadfly. Homerism doesn't need to see her clogged-up inbox to know she hit it out of the park with her last piece of advice to "tone it down." Be it alleged bias toward teams or conferences, superstar burnout or puffing up the latest "greatest team of all time," sports fans' bitching about ESPN's uber-hype is ubiquitous around barstools and water coolers all across the country.
Seeing as football arguments can be about as contentious as a congressional bailout hearing, it's no surprise that college fans of all stripes read the most evil insinuations into the media giant's coverage. During the past season, Homerism spoke with college football fans who have accused ESPN of:
- underplaying the SEC's strength;
- overhyping the SEC;
- politicking for USC as co-national champion;
- displaying "East Coast bias" and portraying the Pac-10 as weak;
- stumping for Texas in the Big 12 South fiasco;
- pumping up Oklahoma to put the Sooners in the national championship game.
(And that doesn't even begin to address the issue of disrespecting/deifying Tim Tebow.)
What to make of all these widely conflicting opinions? Well, given the instant analysis and bloviating punditry that ESPN has come to specialize in, you could probably find instances of all of the above. On a daily basis.
The bottom line is that ESPN's only bias is toward its bottom line, which historically has been pretty fat. Insane hype and celebrity opinion death matches are the kinds of infotainment that move the needle. Milquetoast analysis and truly informative journalism just doesn't make for compelling TV. I mean, think about what a letdown it is on Sunday morning when you hear the "Outside the Lines" music and see Bob Ley pop up on screen. Can you imagine what the ratings would be like if everything the network aired was like that?
Truth is, like a CBS sitcom, it's hard to find anyone who will admit to actually liking ESPN. We all profess to hating the hype. Yet, it's not like ESPN is our only option for sports news and entertainment. As much as we say we'd love to see less excess and more insight from the network, our eyes give us away. Just as my aunt couldn't tear herself away from the TV, sports fans dutifully tune in and log on.
We might as well admit it--as college football fans, ESPN is our Kathie Lee.