Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A lot has been made of the recent outbursts of incivility in the American cable news media. As someone who is able to take in a lot of these 24-hour channels these days, I thought I'd make a comment or two on how they treat news and how they create news. Also, I wanted to write some more about tennis, considering how well it's symbolizing something more widely applicable at the moment.

On the other side of the news, there was Serena Williams' outrageous verbal attack on a lines woman at the semifinals of the US Open. I watched it unfold live, and it truly left me aghast, literally with my jaw dropped. It was a Twitter trend within minutes, and everyone knew this was the watercooler moment of the tournament. I accept that it was a big deal, but as the days went on, I saw this as a greater cultural example of what we deem to be newsworthy.

The night after the cursing, threatening and jaw dropping was the women's final, with Kim Clijsters facing off against Caroline Wozniacki. And Clijsters won, heralding her return to tennis, winning a grand slam in her third tournament back. It was an amazing story. But not amazing enough. Clijsters didn't trend on Twitter, and no one cared that a mother won the US Open for the first time in nearly three decades.

And then, in a five-set stunner, Juan Martin Del Potro managed to end Roger Federer's 2,200 day winning streak at the Open. Again, not nearly as much attention was paid to this as Serena losing a match and throwing a fit.

The pundits seem to wonder why this fit of rage is spreading. With Joe Wilson's outburst to Kanye's VMA "performance," this makes for a convenient little story about our society's anger and growing incivility. And they ask why. What I don't understand is how they can't see why. If Serena had won against Clijsters and then the championship, only ESPN would give it more than a passing thought. Of course Serena didn't do it with publicity in mind, but she did appear at the VMAs to poke fun at the incident less than 24 hours after it happened, and at the same time as Clijsters was playing against Wozniacki. Hmm...

Why are people acting so outrageously? Because that's the only thing that gets attention. Juan Martin Del Potro is a twenty-year old who had never been to a grand slam final before, who beat arguably the greatest player ever. But it was Federer's slight loss of temper with the chair umpire that interested everyone. If Serena had simply come back against Clijsters and won the match, there would have been no snarky comment to make at the VMAs, and there wouldn't be nearly as much publicity for her newly-released memoir. In being so shocked, are we simply promoting this behavior? Like children acting out for parental attention.

How can you address a problem without discussing it, without promoting it? You tell me.

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