Sunday, October 21, 2007

Paul Bird Spins More Than Baseballs

> Sometimes, I really love my job. Here's what I wrote today about the breaking Paul Byrd scandal:
Paul Byrd, the pitcher who's been critical in the Cleveland Indians' successful playoff run this season, bought almost $25,000 worth of human growth hormone between 2002 and 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle learned today. Byrd admitted taking HGH, but told Fox Sports he was using it legally with a prescription. The Chronicle report, however, says two of Byrd’s prescriptions came from a dentist whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud.
Now, obviously this is interesting to sports fans in general, and Red Sox fans in particular. But it's also interesting to anyone interested in how the news cycle works. See that last sentence there? The one where I blow a nice little hole in his story? That didn't make it into a single story I read that was published after the Fox Sports piece.

In other words, Byrd successfully executed a perfect spin. Ninety percent of the time, the media is in the business of saying who said what. As soon as Byrd said everything was on the up-and-up, everyone went with that new "nut." It didn't take a genius to look through the Chronicle article and notice the dentist factoid, or to notice that Byrd bought the drugs from a network that's been busted for selling illegal PEDs with doctored prescriptions (all of which is in the second half of my write up.) But no one mentioned these things in the same breath, because they were from the "old" story, the one titled "Byrd Took HGH." Byrd didn't like that old story, so he manufactured a new one.

This is the exact same technique politicians use all the time. Byrd fed the beast. Once the media catches the scent of a story, it's desperate for any angle it can get. Toss it new information to chew on, and it'll fall all over itself doing so. So when an unflattering news story like "Byrd Took HGH" crops up, all an enterprising bull-shitter has to do is say something contrary, and suddenly the media launches into an insane he-said, she-said ping-pong match.

If someone, right now, were to post a "new" report saying "Byrd Prescription from Fraudulent Dentist!" a whole new wave of "updates" would be published by every site out there. And Byrd knows that. That's why he declined to comment for the Chronicle, where the headline would remain "Byrd Took HGH." Instead he patiently waited a couple hours, then called Ken Rosenthal, producing a new headline: "Byrd Says He Took HGH Legally." Much better. Throws a nice layer of "Who the hell knows?" on the whole thing. Did you know, by the way, that Global Warming is a hoax? Someone said so.

Look, I can't say for sure that Paul Byrd knowingly used HGH to improve his performance. I can't say for sure that he's lying through his teeth. But I can say for sure that if he was lying through his teeth, he picked the savviest possible way of doing it. I can say for sure that Mr. Byrd would be a great politician. He's even got the religious part down.

1 comment:

R.D. said...

Yeah, but there's also the trap story masquerading as a response story -- if the media wants it, the knockout punch is now lined up.

Bird's case is just too thin... but let him make it anyway, and run something credulous. Now he looks like an unfairly demonized ballplayer trying to defend his integrity from the media. Then wait a few days, do some research, and run the dentist stuff in more detail.

It's Marion Jones on a smaller scale.

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