Saturday, May 19, 2012

Coach's Feet, John Edwards, and Loretta Lynn

 Several years ago, I heard a story that a prominent college football coach had worn the wrong pair of shoes at a bowl game.  How can a football coach be said to wear wrong shoes?  Apparently, his university was contractually obligated to adorn themselves exclusively with the products of a certain apparel company, but this particular coach decked his feet out with a competing brand.  This apparently became an "internal matter" at his university, but the matter never became public knowledge.  I only found out about it through a contact in the sports media who had a contact in the university's athletic department.

But wait, one might ask.  How is it that somebody in the media knew this but the public didn't?  Isn't it the media's job to inform the public?  Although the matter might have held a modicum of public interest, no media outlet would report on a story like this, which would effectively destroy its relationship with a university, while deriving no real journalistic plaudits in return (we're not exactly talking about the Watergate scandal here).   But, really, why blame the media for withholding information that was readily available for anyone who was paying attention?  The coach's shoes were right there on TV for millions of people to see, but nobody noticed.

Since then, I've occasionally thought of this story in relation to other news stories that pop up.  In our wired and superconnected world, I wonder how anything can remain a secret.  We are days away from a verdict in the John Edwards corruption trial.  Whether he is guilty of criminal malfeasance or not, it is apparent that anyone involved in his 2008 presidential campaign who was "paying attention" had to know that something was amiss in the candidate's personal life.  The New York Post gossip column ran a "blind item," which in hindsight was obviously referring to Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter and the National Enquirer ran detailed allegations, but for the most part, Edwards was able to carry on his campaign unabated for longer than one would have expected.

Aside from this sordid tale, the news that "broke" this weekend that I found particularly fascinating was the story that Loretta Lynn is three years older than originally thought, which means that the Coal Miner's Daughter mythology that she constructed for herself (namely, that she was married at age 13) is not factually accurate.  For at least 30 years, the public story was incorrect, even though a wealth of public documentation exists which shows that she was born in 1932 and married in 1948.  So how did she get found out?  According to an Associated Press article:
An AP reporter recently found Lynn's birth certificate online that listed a different birthdate from the one listed in the news agency's database of celebrity birthdays. The reporter changed the date in the database; when the new birthday was used in a recent story, the Country Music Hall of Fame contacted the AP about the discrepancy.
Basically, for the first time, somebody paid attention. In this case, it happened to be someone in the news media.  But given the relative ease with which a layperson might now access information, and given the social media platforms through which findings might be disseminated, I look forward to a future in which we can crowdsource the task of paying attention.


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