The Anatomy of a Hit Piece

Not baseball, but this remarkable column by Adrian Wojnarowski on the Lebron James situation caught my eye. Mostly, I was amazed by the first paragraph:

The Championship of Me comes crashing into a primetime cable infomercial that LeBron James and his cronies have been working to make happen for months, a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed. As historic monuments go, this is the Rushmore of basketball hubris and narcissism. The vacuous star for our vacuous times. All about ‘Bron and all about nothing.

Agree with the premise or not, that is one hell of a way to set the tone. But how does it work? How does Wojnarowski infuse this simple little intro graph with so much seething rage? Let’s at least take a look at the first sentence.

He achieves maximum rancor by immediately setting the conversation in his own sarcastic, negative terms. “The Championship of Me” opener sets Lebron up as a narcissist. Without realizing it, by the time we get to the rest of the clause, we are already thinking in the writer’s terms.  That clause itself is a minefield of dismissive and negative vocabulary. The words “crashing down” imply, well, a crash. Of course nothing is breaking here, nothing is crashing. In fact, you could very easily phrase it differently and say that something is taking off, a new era is beginning. But nope, we’re now crashing.

And what are we crashing into? An infomercial, of course. We are crashing into the cheapest and least regarded kind of television programming. This kind of inverse hyperbole is pretty obviously ridiculous when you consider all the other fluff programming to which ESPN devotes one hour specials. Compared to National Signing Day or the 5th round of the NFL Draft, the Lebron James press conference actually feels pretty important.

Of course, unlike these other dramas, the Lebron James presser is “a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed.”  This is a beautiful piece of writing. Using the word cynical sets off subconscious alarm bells with sports fans because sports, the holy game of professional basketball included, are supposed to be above cynicism right? Sure. We really think that way. And Wojnarowski’s use of the word manufactured is perfect because it strengthens the (completely ridiculous) premise that the rest of the NBA (and sport in general) is some kind of un-manufactured, organic phenomenon. The word manufactured hits even harder when we consider that Lebron might well be departing a city deeply troubled by its inability to manufacture anything.

And who is doing this manufacturing? Why none other than Lebron’s cronies.  There’s a word without negative implications.

I would continue, but I have tickets to go watch an entirely meaningless — but delightfully organic — baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. And for the record, I’m no Lebron fan, but I don’t think his departure would mean the end of Ohio either.

1 Responses to “The Anatomy of a Hit Piece”

  • That is a brilliant paragraph, indeed. It’s almost like Flaubert writing sports commentary; each word picked with precision and care to elicit the maximum of outrage and offense in the reader. What’s really impressive is that he does it without coming across like he is yelling at you. Nice find.

    Also, I do agree that the LeBron press conference is far more interesting than a lot of ESPN specials, let alone, say, an hour of Around the Horn and PTI. Not that I don’t love Woody Paige screaming incoherently, but at least “vacuous” LeBron promises to bring a little style to the table, regardless of substance.

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