The return of Caesar’s wife

72

It was Tregaskis who kicked it all off.

Then came the replies.

I couldn’t resist adding my three penn’orth.

To which came the responses (one of which was surprisingly testy):

I defended with a very straight bat:

It’s a shame that both Lawrence and John appear to have taken it slightly personally, as I have never criticised either of them, on any platform, even when the latter swallowed-whole a complete load of bollocks about Kevin Pietersen’s hundredth-cap present (a still-unexplained mystery). Neither have I suggested that either allows their personal copy to be influenced by unduly close relationships with players or management.

But it does happen, and to suggest otherwise is naive. The incestuousness of cricket’s inner circle muddies the waters to such a murky degree that we, the poor old audience, struggle to tell where the press ends and the team begins.

Is anyone seriously going to suggest that such a close friendship between a broadsheet cricket correspondent, and a (then) senior member of the England management, would never colour what ended up being written in any way which wasn’t fully transparent?

And is it just coincidence that the Daily Mail’s Paul Newman is, in copy, so relentlessly supportive and admiring of Alastair Cook – and then we read this and this.

The miasma of toxic cosiness emanates much more strongly, though, from the broadcast commentary boxes than Fleet Street. Alastair Cook once referred to Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain as “one of my best friends”. On TMS, Graeme Swann openly refers to his close friendships with Cook, Stuart Broad, and James Anderson.

Bias not does have to be intentional or overt to be bias. I’m sure that both Hussain and Swann approach their commentary work with conscientiousness and the best of intentions. But they’re only human. Are they – is anyone? – truly capable of analysing their friends’ work with total detachment and objectivity, at all times? And can they express views which have not been influenced by unreferred-to off-record conversations?

It was reported today that Shane Warne and Alastair Cook have buried the hatchet, a further development since their telephone conversation last year, when they “sorted things out”, following Warne’s on-air criticism of Cook.

What requirement was there either to bury a hatchet or sort things out? Why was this rapprochement brought about? Cook is captain; Warne commentates on him. Why do they need to be on good terms? Do you ever read about Jeremy Paxman ringing up David Cameron so they can be buddies again?

Mainstream cricket journalists set great store by access to, and contacts with, England players – and these factors were at the heart of the argument put forward by Lawrence Booth and John Etheridge. It’s OK to get matey with the squad, so the logic goes, because the relationships generate good material.

But this philosophy too often leads them up a blind alley while simultaneously jarring with the appetities of the cricket media’s audience.

Where does access to players lead you? Almost always, to dull-as-ditchwater interviews with cricketers who are too young, too boring, too scared, and too PR-managed, to utter a single interesting comment.

What’s that you have? An interview with Ben Stokes, at a corporate event for Investec? Wow, that really will be an amazing read.

It was suggested on Twitter that I should stick to subjects I know about. Well here’s one. I’ve spent my entire life around fellow cricket-lovers – family, colleagues, friends, team-mates, online debaters, and bloggers. And I’ve watched my cricket from the same viewpoint as everyone else – on TV, or from the stands. So I know something about what cricket fans appreciate when it comes to media coverage of the game.

They/we enjoy (a) the action itself, (b) pithy, honest analysis and (c) truth. Like any audience, cricket watchers respect, and demand, truth. In terms of cricket punditry, this translates into a genuine, heartfelt opinion, based on evidence and experience which is made explicitly clear – as opposed to prejudice or innuendo. And when it comes to cricket news, it translates into the exposure of the real facts – which are not always the same as unattributed briefings, or off-the-record conversations, passed off as fact.

Ultimately, though, the real point is not whether cricket journalists are misinfluenced by their relationships with players and management, but the perception that they might be. Hence our return, as Tregaskis pointed out, to Caesar’s wife.

This is the point which Lawrence and John appear to miss – as does virtually every other member of the mainstream cricket media. Even if some recognise that readers will draw conclusions from their conduct about their independence and partialiy, all but a few feel it’s beneath them to do anything about it. On a broad level, this reflects the press’s general arrogance and sense of entitlement, a belief that their position alone confers unquestioned authority and demands unconditional respect. The idea that a discerning reader or viewer might not obediently lap up their every word, but instead question their authority, impartiality, and judgement,  is anathema.

Cricket is a multi-billion dollar sport, run by politicians, and awash with skulduggery. It demands ruthless, serious journalism from inquiring and tenacious minds – not lazy, pub-chat, matiness, Ironically, John and Lawrence are two of the most intelligent and broad-minded operators on the circuit, both possessed with the acuity to understand where people like TFT and Dmitri come from, what motivates us, and and why we bang the drums we do.

So I hope they and their ilk can come to appreciate why “doing their jobs” involves maintaining a perception of independence and detachment. Cricket has to play by the same rules as every other branch of journalism. Despite what they say, Laura Kuenssberg simply doesn’t go on golfing jollies with George Osborne. And only in cricket would you see a photo like this.

 


image1

Maxie Allen.

72 Comments

  1. Hello Maxie et al..

    You have connections to the media so I am genuinely amazed you think there is anything remotely sinister about a few cricket writers playing golf with members of the England team and management.

    First, the background.

    Ian Botham had booked some tee times at a course in Dubai on Thursday. There were spaces and he asked whether some of the newspaper guys wanted to play. Myself, Dean Wilson, Lawrence Booth, Mike Selvey and Nick Hoult went along. From England, there was Trevor Bayliss, Ottis Gibson, Ben Stokes and Alex Hales.

    All the names were put into a hat and drawn out to form two fourballs and a threeball. Afterwards, we had a few drinks and a barbeque.

    This in no way compromises how we report the tour. There have been many cricketers over the years with whom I’ve dined, drunk or played golf (it happens less frequently now, partly because tours are more congested, partly because players are treated more like sheep and partly because many players are now younger than my sons and don’t want to hang around with a 54-year-old!) and, genuinely, what I write has never been affected by those friendships or social interactions.

    It is our job to find out stuff and the best way to do that is to speak to players or management in social situations. When they relax, when trust is established, they are more likely to say things.

    It is one of the tenets of journalism – create and cultivate contacts.

    And it is one of the differences between bloggers and mainstream journalists. Bloggers write what they see and what they think might be true, journalists make it their business to find out the facts. We don’t get everything right but it is not for the want of trying.

    Some of the journalists you most admire on here – George Dobell, for example – is able to write with inside knowledge precisely because he has become close to influential players and administrators within the game. It’s pretty obvious, really.

    The notion that the Sun or Daily Mail are somehow in bed with the ECB is too laughable for words. We fight a daily battle for access, interviews, information, non-sponsored chats and so on. Sometimes, it all becomes quite heated.

    You mentioned political journalism. Well, the lobby system is alive and well. Drinks, dinner and information are shared on a daily basis by MPs and Whitehall correspondents.

    And cricket is probably unique in that reporters and teams are travelling together overseas for months on end.

    On the Pietersen cap story….for the umpteenth time, I decided that I couldn’t put a full explanation on a public forum. I have mentioned the background to a couple of people I met in person.

    Anyway, got to dash – another nets session awaits.

      • I’ve spoken to John about this over dinner and a bottle of wine. I’m comfortable with his explanation. However, it is an interesting point regarding closing out in public what he started in public.

        The best but of the whole thing was I alerted KP about it and told him to post the pic of the silver cap if it was bullshit. Which he duly did. Trust developed 🙂

    • John,

      Thank you for your comment. On the golf front, I’ll refer you to my earlier response to Lawrence. The point I wanted to make was about perception and detachment (I went into no detail about the golf and did not criticise either of you personally). As I said in the piece, I do not suggest that you or LB allow your copy to be influenced.

      You refer to my day job, but I think it’s actually *because* I work in (unrelated) branches of the media that I appreciate just how eccentric, incestuous, and self-indulgent, the cricket press can be (not all the time, and not every practitioner, by any means).

      I consume journalism of all kinds (and have worked in some of it) and have observed its various methodologies – and to my mind there is nothing to match cricket for its matey insularity, its condescension towards audiences, and its lack of detachment between subject and object.

      Of course I understand that journalism involves fostering contacts (this is where news comes from, I know) but there are different ways and means of doing things, and different tones to strike.

      In political journalism, yes hacks go for lunch with MPs, and so on, but in that field, the impression is not given of a jolly bunch of mates who share a bond. Pol corrs don’t call cabinet ministers by their nicknames. They don’t post photos of them guffawing away with the Home Secretary in a wine bar.

      I did not suggest that the Sun or Mail are in bed with the ECB. And in terms of finding out facts, blogs do do a little of this too – you might have seen our ticket price survey or our research into Sky Sports audiences and how the ECB spend their budget.

  2. Hi John. Thanks for coming on here again. I do have a lot of sympathy for what you’re saying. We don’t live in a perfect world. I suppose we could get into a debate about whether objective truth even exists. I guess we’re all relativists at the end of the day.

    I just wanted to pull you up on one thing though. Bloggers do care what the actual truth is. It’s not just about opinion. We go to great lengths to find out what we think the truth is. Of course, we’re not best placed to access information first hand, but we can form good opinions based on the numerous and sometimes contradictory evidence presented by those who do have direct access to the protagonists.

  3. It has been really interesting reading a lot of the comments made here. It is clear that there is something seriously wrong with the independence of most broadsheet journalists in this country, whatever the likes of the defensive and arrogant Selvey say.

    One thing that I can say is that the events of the last year have practically ended my love of watching this game. I can never forgive the press for the way they joined in with the establishment in their vilification of Pietersen. I can’t support England until Cook is kicked out of this side – his role in that should never be forgotten and I hope (although it is looking increasingly unlikely) he will get his just desserts for the way he has behaved. I think it is important that blogs like this continue to challenge the establishment line constantly. One thing is clear – this is the one thing they all hate, being open to scrutiny and questioned for their behaviour. That’s why they keep telling us to “pipe down”.

    I agree with this article completely – in fact, I would go further. The establishment’s behaviour has bordered on North Korean levels of suppression of the truth and we need far far more articles like this to expose the mainstream cricket journalists’ toadying behaviour

    I would be interested to hear what James thinks can be done by the establishment to address this. It is immensely frustrating for us cricket fans that we seem to have absolutely no forum (other than one or two blogs like this) with which to challenge what is being said. It seems impossible to get any voice for us to say how we feel. If this was football, what had happened to Pietersen would have caused booing of the manager, the ECB being forced to answer questions as to why they had done it etc.

    Pietersen was the player that made me start watching English cricket again. I deeply resent the way he has been treated – without bringing politics into it, it is comparable to the Iraq war. The establishment got away with it and despite all the anger and marching, no-one has ever paid the price (at least not as we speak). I do feel there is a need for journalists outside the ECB bubble to push things much harder. If this means getting directly confrontational with Selvey and co, then so be it. You are the only voice we have and it needs to be heard much more than it currently is.

  4. I should stress in the above article that I mean broadsheet cricketing journalists – many journalists in other fields show remarkable professionalism and independence.

  5. Pingback: A Hornet’s Nest – Being Outside Cricket

    • Access to the players being now a marketable asset that’s sold to sponsors for as much money as possible, probably not.

      Bayliss and Farbrace themselves seem more forthcoming than Flower, though.

  6. One thing that I didn’t make clear and about which some might have made false assumptions.

    This game of golf wasn’t a freebie, it wasn’t hospitality from the ECB or England.

    We all (and that includes every journalist and all representatives of the England team) paid a green fee and some additional money for the drinks and barbeque.

    • John E: “journalists make it their business to find out the facts”. My god, can I sue for harm suffered to my belly which has just split?

      I’d agree investigative journalists make it their business to find out the facts. However, the MS cricket media have not made IT THEIR BUSINESS to find out the facts.

      They’ve made it “their business” to report whatever the ECB/Flower told them to report. Perhaps most importantly, you know this to be true; hence your reluctance to come clean about the KP returned cap story to ran an “exclusive on”. Sorry, but you’re full of ….
      Let me know when you (and others) return to actual journalism.

  7. Test match cricket on

    People know these journalists are prejudice and not objective because they are too close to the players/ECB. They’ll spin that they have to do it but in reality, they aren’t willing to do the hard yards and challenge. They are sheep.

    I don’t see it changing so tbh, I’ve accepted the game is dying and will eventually be dead at grass roots (save a few 2020 slap and tickle) and top level will just be a bunch of top tier doing series after series (the player quality will be lower but will ‘seem’ higher because stats will be broken,, after all, it’s easier for Cook to amass his runs now there see little to no ‘greats’ in the bowling stocks (and the odd one there is, is one played a max of 5 tests in a career anyway)

  8. Pingback: Caesar’s Wife and Sports Journalism – When is Close too Close? | DropInPitch

Leave A Reply