See that picture? That’s what bias looks like. In 1998, I was Sports Director for the CBS affiliate in Hazard, KY. UK advanced to the Final Four in San Antonio. The station sent reporter Neil Middleton (on the right) and me (on the left) to cover the event, but not before sending us to Dawahare’s armed with $200 to purchase UK gear to wear ON THE AIR. No, not one of my finest journalistic moments but management figured since we were there to cover the Kentucky Wildcats, we might as well pander to the 95-107% of the audience that was made up of UK fanatics.
Can you imagine any sportscaster in Louisville wearing that getup and living to see the sun rise after this weekend’s UK-UofL basketball game?
Some very vocal sports fans in the Louisville viewing audience suspect pretty much every local sports anchor and reporter is secretly wearing a UofL t-shirt under that shirt and tie or UK underwear behind the desk.
Here’s the truth: they don’t care who wins this weekend. Really, they don’t. Not one of the anchors or reporters you see on any of the four network affiliates in Louisville graduated from either school. Sure, there are fans of both the Cardinals and the Wildcats who never attended those schools but if you think for a second there’s an on-air sports reporter or anchor cheering for or against Red or Blue Saturday, think again.
“We look for good story lines, good highlights, close games (and) great endings,” one television sports anchor told me. “That generates interest and higher ratings in what is already the highest level interest event in our market.”
A slew of sports fans will never buy that. And don’t think they’ll let that perceived bias go unnoticed. Here’s what one viewer (who claims he’s not a “hardcore” UK fan) said in an email to one local TV station.
“(Your sports anchor) left very little doubt of his bias against Kentucky Basketball,” the viewer wrote in the email to the station's anchor, news director, general manager and operations manager. “Obviously, you don’t realize that there are more UK fans in Louisville than the other college basketball programs combined in your listening area,” he goes on to say.
Another station received this nugget of wisdom from a viewer: “Louisville (is) nowhere on the same planet as (UK, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke). If you disagree, you don’t know s**t about NCAA basketball or your (sic) just another hater.”
A Sports Reporter/Anchor from yet another Louisville television station says this is nearly a daily occurrence for him.
“There are days when I’ll get an email from fans of both teams saying the coverage was unfairly skewed against their team,” he says.
His station was the only one in Louisville to send a reporter to the UK-Samford game earlier this month. After his sportscast that night, he gets this email:
“I know that your station covers UofL but there are Kentucky fans in Louisville.” Huh?
The Sports Reporter/Anchor says covering UofL and UK “mind-numbing” and he’s absolutely correct. I worked in the WDRB Sports Department for a decade and I could wallpaper a house with the emails we received from viewers who just knew we hated their favorite team. A viewer claimed one sports anchor had a large smile when he read a story about UK and failed to smile as much when he read the next story which, of course, was about Louisville.
Here’s the real deal. This weekend, not one of the sports reporters or anchors you’ll see on Louisville television Saturday night will be any happier or any sadder that UK or UofL won or lost. However, at least one local anchor will be sad if one or both lose in the NCAA Tournament. He told me about the time UofL played HIS alma mater in the Sweet 16.
“I wanted and needed Louisville to win because of the fan interest here and the financial windfall for the station,” he admitted. “It hurt a little bit when the Cards won, but it felt awesome the next week when I got a paycheck!”
So, before you fire off an email or call the station the next time you think you’re watching a die-hard, undercover UK or UofL fan slanting the coverage of your team, remember this quote from that sports anchor who quickly got over UofL beating his own school’s team in the NCAA Tournament: “At the end of the of the day, my favorite team color is green…the color of money.”
Photo: John Lewis Archives