Sports journalism continues to be diluted in an age where ‘now’ trumps ‘accuracy’ and its content continues to suffer because of it.
On the morning of 19 February 2017, Rory McIlroy played a round of golf with Donald Trump in West Palm Beach, Florida. In June 2018, I had assumed the 18 holes had been long forgotten.
Yet in a bizarre personal attack on McIlroy, author Ewan MacKenna of Pundit Arena, prompted by Trump’s immigration policy that has seen parents separated from their children by US Border officials, penned an article condemning Rory’s decision to play with Trump all of 16 months ago, as if the round bore relevance to the regrettable situation currently taking place in the States. Rather, the author managed to unwittingly highlight a different epidemic, one that has plagued journalism and those who try to consume it for years. An epidemic that shows no signs of abating.
Social media’s clickbait culture has diluted traditional journalism by taking the microphone from the informed commentator and handing it to the drunk at the bar. Sure, they’re loud in their arguments and against a wall of pub chatter they might even sound convincing, but when you break down the noise into words on a chalkboard in the sobriety of morning, their efforts at cohesion, more often than not, fall desperately short of the mark.
Make no mistake, this was a piece written to garner immediate attention as opposed to journalistic credibility. When paid by the click it’s hard to argue against it, but it still doesn’t make it right.
The author’s argument? That Rory had normalised a demon in Trump for the world by accepting his invitation to golf, and that McIlroy’s achievements in the sport should no longer be remembered because of his lack of remorse since doing so. And if you think that’s outlandish, then there’s the content itself.
In an effort to bring some statistics to his agenda, the author details McIlroy’s struggles with consistency by citing the US Open as a solitary example, where Rory’s “first-round and second-round back nines differed by 11 shots”. No mention as to why that might have been of course; the brutal pin positons, the blowing gale and the USGA course set-up that was swiftly made less severe overnight after the bloodbath on Thursday didn’t exactly fit the narrative.
But then again, I’m only making excuses for McIlroy’s stuttering start because “golf is a strange world for it is a soft-and-cuddly closed shop of excuse making that makes tennis look cutthroat”. This time the author’s disappointment lay with the commentator’s refusal to criticise Jordan Spieth’s failure to get up and down on the 18th at Shinnecock, a failure that meant one of golf’s highest paid stars missed the weekend cut. Maybe McKenna felt that Spieth uncharacteristically threw in the towel, or maybe he’s never actually played the game at all?
Either way, if it’s Raheem Sterling esque criticism he craves ala the English football media, he’s in for continuous disappointment because thankfully our game doesn’t take to tabloid theatrics, unlike this author who clearly knows McIlroy on a personal level when he writes; “he’s always spoken outside both sides of his mouth, which at times has shown him as a hypocrite and, at other times, as a coward”. This in reference to McIlroy’s unwillingness to play for Ireland at the Olympics, the only Irish golfer who cited the zika virus as the reason for their withdrawal… oh wait…
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t anger me when I force-read this utter drivel and I realise that by penning this retort I’m merely rising or stooping to the bait, but I took heart in the comment section under the piece knowing that the majority shared my view. The backlash was resounding and when I went to bask in the likes of my own little dig at injustice yesterday afternoon, Pundit Arena had decided they were on my side too by removing the piece from their social channel altogether. I guess sometimes it’s those given the platform that best not speak.
If playing with Trump was the round that defined a four-time Major winner’s career (and counting), then hopefully this article will be the one that defines the author’s.
When the world comes to its senses, history will brutally judge the clickbait era. But we ought to judge clickbait right now, and all those who rely upon it daily.
For those who have not seen the article by Ewan MacKenna, click here