FOX'S SPORTSWASHING IS KILLING WHAT’S LEFT OF SPORTS JOURNALISM
Squarely in business bed with Qatar and FIFA, the network won’t cover the human rights record and controversies surrounding the World Cup host nation, an insult to the proud legacy of Jim McKay
If a government ban on alcohol sales causes rioting inside World Cup stadiums, we won’t know. Fox won’t show us.
If gays are arrested for public displays of affection in a country that criminalizes homosexuality, we won’t know. Fox won’t tell us.
If the death toll of migrant infrastructure workers rises, from 6,500 to five figures, we won’t know. Fox won’t inform us.
Fox, you see, has jumped into bed for a business threesome with FIFA, the corrupt governing body of global soccer, and Qatar, which is hosting the quadrennial spectacle despite a horrid human rights record. Had Fox not agreed to sell out, of course, another U.S. network would have won English-language rights to the planet’s biggest sports show. This shameful leap of corporate lap-dogging surprises no one who ridicules Fox Sports as the network that features Skip Bayless and his inanity, uses a doddering Terry Bradshaw to entice problem gamblers with a suitcase of money and trots out “Hall of Famers” to giggle before and after World Series games, among other sins that counter the premise of responsible journalism.
But the decision to participate in Qatar’s sportswashing attempt is new and despicable territory for even the Murdochs and their sports henchman, Eric Shanks. It’s an affront to the legacy of real newsmen who’ve brought truth to the masses and honor to the profession at international mega-events — none shining brighter than Jim McKay, live from Munich, during the hostage massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Fifty years later, Fox is killing off the already waning craft of serious sports reporting by covering up the crimes and social immoralities of an oll-wealthy, Middle Eastern wannabe, in cahoots with the scandalous creeps who run FIFA.
Worse, the network bosses are insulting the American public in the process. They’ve convinced themselves that viewers have no interest in issues beyond the games. “We really believe viewers come to us at Fox Sports for the World Cup to see the World Cup,” said executive producer David Neal, copping out at a news conference.
Later, he doubled down in an interview with The Athletic. “When they come to Fox Sports during the World Cup, they’re coming to us to see the world’s greatest sport being played in the world’s most popular tournament. We give them complete coverage of that,” Neal said. “It is an editorial decision. We’re going to center on the World Cup. If they come to us wanting to hear stories about other things, other events that have been in the news, they can go and find them at another outlets. That’s not what we believe they’re coming to us to see.”
Never mind that “other things” involve the very stadiums in which the games are played, stadiums built by migrants, many of whom were killed, injured, unpaid and forced to live in squalor. Fox announcers will call the games in those buildings, but they won’t address the tragedies. Obviously, the network is deep-dive pandering to the interests of Qatar and FIFA, and rather than acknowledge their place in the gutter, Lachlan Murdoch and Shanks summon an underling to spread b.s. Hell, Qatar Airways is a prime Fox sponsor, with signage prominent in the Doha studio.
“The decision is an editorial decision, and it’s not made out of some fear of offending FIFA or offending the host nation,” Neal told The Athletic. “It is made because it’s a belief on our part that’s not what our viewers want. We’re not worried about offending anybody. It’s a question of what our viewers are coming to us to learn about. When viewers come to us on that first day, we believe they’re coming to us to see the World Cup, to hear our predictions of who’s going to do well, to hear the latest news about the United States, to see the opening ceremony that’s going to take place. We don’t believe they’re coming to us looking for news about workers on the stadiums or any of the other stories that have been out there for years now. It’s just a simple editorial choice … we need to be clear that our decision-making process is not about being worried about (offending a) host nation or a governing body of the sport. It’s just trying to tailor our coverage to globally believe our viewers are expecting.”
Do Fox executives have data to support the dubious premise that World Cup audiences don’t care about fraught circumstances in Qatar? I wouldn’t believe them if they did; my soccer friends, like most reasonable people, are appalled that the tournament ever landed in such a wicked place. Particularly disturbing about Fox’s editorial compromise: The network’s crew of “soccer analysts” won’t be prepared if, say, an act of terrorism breaks out. In 2022, on the other side of the world, nothing should be ruled out in planning coverage of a month-long television production. Every network should seek to match the flawless performance of McKay, the sportscaster who remained on air for 14 consecutive hours after Palestinian terrorists invaded the Olympic Village, ultimately killing 11 Israeli athletes.
“They’re all gone,” reported McKay, chillingly, delivering the three words that made a lot of us — including a very young kid in Pittsburgh — think about journalism as a career.
Now, we have Fox telling us that no one cares about Qatar. In truth, Fox only cares about currying the favor of scoundrels and recouping lost ad revenue from the 2018 World Cup, when the American team failed to qualify. For those who learned Spanish in college, there is an alternative: Spanish-language network Telemundo will cover “other things” for U.S. audiences. Said Ray Warren, president of Telemundo Deportes: “I do think we have to talk about the legacy we leave. By the time the tournament’s over, we (won’t have been) ignoring the geopolitical issues that might arise.”
That’s a blessing, because if we’re relying only on Fox coverage, we’d know nothing about the Saturday rant of FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Responding to widespread denunciation of his organization and why Qatar was awarded the World Cup to begin with — rampant bribery — Infantino ripped Western critics for “hypocrisy” and “moral lesson-giving,” saying, “I think for what we Europeans have been doing around the world for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years, before starting to give moral lessons.”
He continued, prefacing remarks with a bizarre sermon: “Today I have very strong feelings, I can tell you that. Today I feel Qatari. I feel Arab. I feel African. I feel gay. I feel disabled. I feel a migrant worker.”
Then, there was this: “You want to criticize someone, come to me. Criticize me. Here I am. Crucify me. Don’t criticize Qatar. Don’t criticize the players. Don’t criticize anyone. Criticize FIFA. Criticize me, if you want. Because I’m responsible for everything.”
OK, great, let’s criticize Infantino. But he had the last word: “I think personally, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.”
If a journalistic soldier such as Bob Costas was hosting this World Cup presentation, he’d want to lead the first day of coverage with Qatar, FIFA, Infantino’s pushback, migrant workers, human rights violations, homosexuality, even beer.
But Fox never would hire Bob Costas. Fox might not even know who Bob Costas is. What’s the network slogan, again?
“We ARE Fox Sports!”
Try: “We ARE corrupt!”
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.