Funny how life forces a mind into flashbacks through the most bizarre of circumstances. All I planned to do was indulge in a decent dinner. Instead, the restaurant television tossed me down a memory lane that landed me at my laptop for this first-hand tale of fighting corporate media lies, and my “exclusive” that never was.
Here in Berkeley, California, the chances of a neighborhood restaurant showing the NHL hockey network are remote. Yet there it was, with my hometown St. Louis Blues logo grabbing my attention before I could even grab a seat.
No sound needed. A full-screen graphic revealed the somber news of the death of former Blues Chairman Mike Shanahan. The likable Shanahan was an amazing hockey ambassador for the city of St. Louis who also generously made himself available to the media, including me during my eight years working news and sports at KTVI-TV.
The station was an ABC affiliate when I arrived as a writer in 1990. After several ownership changes, KTVI became a FOX affiliate in August of 1995. The impact of the network change hit home within weeks.
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch announced it was putting the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team up for sale. A small-scale panic began to buzz through the city, since St. Louis sports fans had watched their football Cardinals abandon them for the Arizona desert less than a decade earlier. Could their beloved baseball team be next to bail?
Naturally, the news managers loved the flashiest spin possible, so they began working all the angles of the sensational, fear-inducing “Cardinals might leave town” story. I couldn’t blame them at this point, but my instincts were also telling me the team, with its rich local history and tradition, wasn’t going anywhere.
When I decided to start working the phones near the end of my early shift, I called Mr. Shanahan first. He and his business partners had been saviors for the Blues when they kept the hockey team from moving to Saskatchewan. In our conversation, Shanahan immediately made it clear he was not buying the baseball team.
However, Shanahan went on to tell me he did indeed try to buy the Cardinals, but a deal was already done, and he wasn’t in on it. The parties involved just couldn’t yet publicly announce the sale for legal reasons. Essentially, they needed to maintain the illusion of an open-market sale when in fact it was a sweetheart deal.
Even better, Shanahan gave me this news nugget — the pending sale was in place to investors with St. Louis roots who were definitely not moving the team. To confirm this news, I spoke to a high-level source at the local public relations firm handling the sale. My second source confirmed everything exactly as Mr. Shanahan told me, including most importantly, that the team was definitley not moving.
This was huge for me, personally and professionally. Despite the apparent glamour of television news, actual “scoops” that give a news person that special rush of accomplishment are far from everyday occurrences. A journalist lives for that feeling, so I was riding high on the drive home, after giving my managers all the news they needed to dispel the fear settling in on St. Louisans who faced another possible loss of a major source of civic pride.
Except my bosses took my story and buried it in their back pockets. I watched at home with my family, eagerly anticipating my work on the late news. Instead, our top story featured our reporter holding a six-pack of Miller Lite beer, announcing she’d just talked to Miller, and they were interested in buying the Cardinals. She then speculated where the Milwaukee-based rival brewer might move the team.
Are you kidding me? By the time I could confront my news director the next day, I’d already read that morning’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch front-page story detailing the fact the Cardinals were not moving.
I’m not sure how television newsrooms work today, but back then yelling was not all that uncommon, and he got an earful from me. My news director laughed me off for caring, and then explained that what we were doing was no longer journalism, it was entertainment, and I’d better learn to get on board.
I wasn’t the only journalist disillusioned with the our FOX news overlords. After a station-wide meeting stressing the mantra that all employees must maintain a “positive attitude” about the network, a reporter pulled me aside to mention he indeed had a positive attitude. “I’m positive this place is fucked up,” he said.
Now, I’m not claiming to be James Risen here. The New York Times never killed my stories about secret dealings at the top levels of government. At the time, I was still naive enough to think the journalistic abuses occurring at my local level would certainly cease if I could only work my way up the ladder to a more respected news source.
I gave up trying. After a whistleblower on the lie, cheat and steal news gathering practices at KTVI, and a couple more crappy corporate gigs, I eventually left the industry.
As I detail in my piece “Waking Up at 50”, another 20 years passed before the light bulb went on and I realized the news game is a fix all the way to the tops of the mainstream television networks and our country’s most prestigious print publications.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, people thought they were real news junkies if they watched a nightly report on television and got a newspaper delivered to their door. Slowly but surely, more Americans are learning we have to seek our own truth, and question the ‘common knowledge’ forced upon us. Question the beast of corporate media or the beast will swallow you into the belly of corporate propaganda. #CorporateMediaBeast
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