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Why is the Local Media so Divided on the New England Patriots?

Patriots Microphone

It’s been a year since the New York Jets and Rex Ryan’s big mouth came into New England an upset the Patriots.

It was a humiliating offseason for Patriot fans as they had to hear a lot of talk about the changing of the guard. This Saturday, Jan. 14, the Patriots can accomplish two things: First they can end a three game playoff losing streak. Second, put the embarrassment of last year in their rearview mirror.

With Tim Tebow coming to town, its going to have the hype of a Super Bowl, which will be fun for everyone.

For the first time since maybe 2001, the Patriots have become a slight underdog. The Broncos beating Pittsburgh might have changed that but they actually have the “disrespect” card that Rodney Harrison used to play, and it came from the strangest of places — the local New England media.

“But I can’t escape the feeling that this is a mirage. Yesterday doesn’t change anything. The 13-3 Patriots are a house of cards, a castle of sand, all smoke and mirrors.” – Dan Shaugnessy, of the Boston Globe.

Now I am never one to make excuses for Dan who ala Sonny Corleone talks when he should listen. But, Dan like almost everyone did not foresee the Broncos beating the Steelers.

It’s been seven years since the Patriots hoisted their last Lombardi trophy. It’s been four years since their last Super Bowl appearance. For 99 percent of fans that would not be too big a deal. In fact, most people would feel fortunate just to have their team in Super Bowl contention.

But, despite one of the most dramatic winning streaks a major sports region has ever experienced, (three Super Bowls Titles, two World Series, NBA Championship, Stanley Cup Championship, four NCAA Hockey Championships) it hasn’t been enough.

But, what has perplexed me the most is why the Patriots have become so divisive with the media? So let’s delve into this topic with three theories.

Theory No. 1: Media, Fan Connection

The media are in essence fans and they are angry the Patriots have not been more successful.

Never believe the lie that media members don’t root for teams. They do. They root for teams when they are at the national level, they root for their colleges, home states and in New England the majority of them root for the Patriots. Ron Borges has been covering sports for so long that he has publicly stated that he is not a fan of “teams.”

I actually believe Ron when he says that, especially the New England Patriots. But the majority of the network anchors, reporters and beat writers in the region root for the Patriots on a weekly basis. Now part of that is, the longer the team survives, the more work and that’s true.

But its human nature to develop a rooting interest when you cover a team.

One of the things I admire most about Bill Simmons is that he is a sports writer, who openly admits he’s a fan of Boston sports teams. It’s what makes him somewhat unique. Simmons was somewhat of trailblazer in that regard. He also stated he had no desire to be in the locker room, preferring to cover the Sports world from the perspective of the fan. It has served him quite well.

You will often hear contradiction from Tony Massarotti in regards to rooting interest.

Tony will openly state that he is not a “fan” of local teams. But then on his show he will go on and on about what angers him about how the Patriots or Red Sox play. Simple logic, if you didn’t care about the team you wouldn’t care about their mistakes.

Michael Felger on the other hand, has never tried to hide that he is a fan of three of the four local teams. (Exception: Celtics) His fandom is often cloaked in contrarianism but we’ll discuss that later.

So while most media members would probably fall into the “fan” category, it’s most likely just a small reason why the Patriots are divisive within the media community. Therefore, it remains just a theory.

Theory No. 2: Does the Media just hate Bill Belichick?

There is no doubt that that the Patriots beat is no picnic.

The press conferences are boring by design, and Belichick gives no real information on injuries, and how people are playing or why they are playing. He doesn’t answer questions about what’s going on in the NFL or anyplace else. It’s all about the next week’s game and opponent.

He’s not overly charismatic and at the podium following losses he’s particularly droll and sometimes rude, offering the same refrain year after year; “We have to play better, coach better do everything better.” Now Glenn Ordway will say often that Belichick offers much more when he does his weekly interview on WEEI, but that’s only moderately true.

He’s obviously more cordial, especially after a win, this week he even broke down to tears when discussing Myra Kraft, but for the most part the weekly interview offers no true insight into the team.

Of course this is all by design.

The Patriots organization believes that a complete focus on one game at a time is not just the “Patriot Way” it’s the only way. Coaches on the staff are not allowed to speak to the media without special permission. The players offer very little to the media in terms of game plans or injuries. It’s not so much like the Naval upbringing Belichick received from his father, an assistant at Navy, its more like the CIA. Heck, the CIA has much more leaks than the Patriots organization.

But to Bill’s defense, you see why the Patriot Way works. Look what happened with the Red Sox and the New York Jets after their collapses. The truth is while it is true that there really is not much to gain by being more friendly to the media, its not part of the job of Bill Belichick to make the media’s job easier.

So he refuses to do it. There was a time about seven years ago when the “Patriot Way” was not even questioned except by a select few in the media.

Then came the ludicrous “SpyGate” scandal. It gave the national and local media the opportunity to attack Belichick for I am sure what they felt were years of mistreatment. The media is a very insecure and touchy group. Since Spygate, the Patriots have not WON a Super Bowl, which still leads people like Ron Borges, Bob Ryan and Michael Felger to mention that they think Belichick needs to win another Super Bowl to achieve a pristine championship.

Of course the educated observer, without an axe to grind realizes that Spygate had little to do with “tainted” championships and everything to do with a “witch hunt” and jealous fans and players. Get over it Marshall Faulk, get over it.

Since Spygate, the attacks on Belichick and the Patriots have been centered on playoff failures in their last three appearances. It’s a convenient an easy target for the media. And it is a sore spot for Patriot fans as well, especially following last year’s embarrassment to the Jets. But, there is no doubt that there are members in the local media who take pleasure in the Patriots pain.

So who are these “Enemies of the State?” Well, Ron Borges is obviously the name that most comes to mind. Borges has never hidden the fact that while he thinks Belichick is a great coach and Bob Kraft is a great owner he doesn’t particularly like the way they run things. This goes back to the beginning of the Belichick tenure.

Borges has personal and professional issues with Belichick. He’s called him a liar and not a “good person.” This by the way is part sour grapes, we all know if Bill gave Ron nuggets and information he would be Bill’s best friend. It’s also about allegiances that Borges has made with players that he felt Belchick mistreated, like Drew Bledsoe and Richard Seymour.

Borges analysis can be quite informative when he wants it to be, but by now his objectivity is so questionable I have trouble taking anything he says seriously. Of course, CSNNE.com likes to put him on television four times a week just to fan the flames with the Patriots fans.

The belief that people will watch a contrarian like Borges just as much as someone more favorable to the Patriots like say Ian Rapaport or Tom Curran, has validity. When famous “Shock Jock” Howard Stern was working his way up in Washington D.C. market research showed that people that disliked him listened longer than those that liked him.

Dan Shaugnessy is not a Patriot hater. I think Dan has grown up here and deep down wants to see the local teams win. But, Dan was the original contrarian in this town and has made a living at taking unpopular stances on the local teams. With the Patriots it is more personal for Dan. He finds the Kraft organization arrogant.

He once was mad that I didn’t list him as a member of what I once called the “Anti-Patriot Cartel.” That cartel by the way originally was comprised of Michael Felger, Chris Gasper, Bert Breer and Ron Borges. Shaugnessy continued his onslaught on the Patriots by declaring this year’s team a “castle made of sand,” as mentioned above.

I could list out more members of the media who have problems with Belichick and the Patriots way of doing things but that could take days. There is no doubt, that the Patriot’s media approach is a factor in why they are so heavily scrutinized. We hear all the time about Rex Ryan and what a “breath of fresh air” he is.

Given sodium pentothal there are media members who would rather cover a Jets team that didn’t make the playoffs and had the always quotable Ryan as coach than Bill Belchick and the Patriots. It’s business and it’s personal. The media wants their jobs to be easier. I can understand that, we all want that, and we’ve all resented parts of our jobs that we felt were harder than they had to be. But to use a saying heard often in Foxboro, “It is what it is.”

As long as the Patriots have this coach, THIS is the relationship. Most have probably accepted it by now, but that doesn’t mean they like it or him. So Theory #2 “The media hates Belichick” I think lies closer to fact than theory.

Theory No. 3: Does the media think the fellowship of the miserable makes for better viewership?

This is the most interesting of all the theories and one that I think has the most validity. This theory also has been bandied around since Rick Pitino’s famous tirade in 1999. If you think back to that time, the Celtics were not a playoff team, the Bruins were not a playoff team, the Patriots were enduring the disappointing Pete Carroll years and the Red Sox while wild card contenders still were searching for that modern day championship. (I just can’t say break the curse. ARGH. I said it.)

Then it all changed.

The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, and have been to at LEAST the second round of the playoffs four other times including a Super Bowl lost to the Giants. The Celtics won a championship and lost in a game 7 Finals two years later. The Red Sox snapped the 86 year drought, won another championship 3 years later and have been in the playoffs six times since 2003.

And let us not forget the Bruins, who shocked everyone in winning their first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years and this year, well, it might be two in a row. So not only did the New England/Boston teams win multiple championships, they won them in all four major pro sports and also won four NCAA hockey championships in one of the few areas where college hockey matters.

But while all this success was engulfing the region the media was changing. Newspapers have pretty much died out. It’s all internet, talk radio and regional sports on TV. We finally have two LEGIT, sports stations in Boston, countless sports websites with editorial and beat writers and Comcast and NESN to provide cable sports coverage. In NESN’s case I am being nice by adding them to this conversation.

Despite all the success there is only so many sports to go around and so many glowing articles to write. So even though ratings are better when the local teams perform better, there are factions of the media who like to play the role of contrarian. As I mentioned before it started with people like Borges and Shaugnessy and then that mantle was taken up by Michael Felger. Felger plays the role of contrarian and plays it well. Felger will attack anyone he feels “sucks up” to any of the local sports teams.

Whether calling the writers of Patriots Pro Football Weekly, members of “Sunshine.com,” or characterizing Mike Reiss of ESPNBOSTON.com as the Bob Kraft’s “fifth” son.

Tony Massarotti has taken contrarianism to a new level, almost bordering on an unlistenable negativity and he’s over the top with the Patriots. Tony must be excited the Patriots are playing Denver this week. It gives him another opportunity to question the legitimacy of a potential Patriots win.

So is the lack of love all about the ratings? Absolutely, in a media world so crowded, individuals and media outlets need to distinguish themselves from each other. This is a practice that really began at the larger conglomerates like ESPN where resident contrarians, Skip Bayless, Dan Lebatard and Jim Rome bloviate daily.

The Sports Hub founded itself on being the anti-WEEI and Felger wanted his show to be the anti-Big Show. He didn’t want to “raise the bar” but to move it. So hockey which was an untapped, audience stream was featured on the station and at the perfect time no less. Also, for the first time under Belichick Patriot criticism became more prevalent on the airwaves. (Excluding ESPN’s failed 890 run)

It also came at a time when Glenn Ordway had created a culture on his show that featured a complete lack of objectivity when it came to the New England Patriots. Ordway, Smerlas, DeOssie and at the time Pete Sheppard, were almost unbearable. Patriots Monday and Patriots Friday became days to avoid the radio all together.

I am as big a Patriot fan as anyone, but I like to point fingers when they lose. That is one of the rights of the fan. You can be all in, you can be all out, or you can be in the middle.

In my opinion theory #3 to me is closest to fact. The media constantly is telling us how bad things are in the world. Go watch the news for five minutes, its depressing, but TV ratings are good, so is talk radio in all its various forms. It’s not just in New England and its not just sports.

So where does that leave us? “Tebowmania” Brother. People expect a Patriots win and if they fail it will be more than the media who will want answers. But, I find myself rooting as hard for this team as any other year with the possible exception of the “Spygate” season. I myself do not mind being wrong and I also take great pleasure in watching media folk in this town eat their words. So this month and week has a ton of intrigue to it and that’s what makes it so damn fun.

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Discussion

2 comments for “Why is the Local Media so Divided on the New England Patriots?”

  1. Great column. Keep it up.

    Posted by Norm | January 10, 2012, 12:54 pm
  2. Good job George. Great read.

    Posted by Steve from Yellowstone | January 10, 2012, 8:39 pm

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