During his three terror-filled decades as the Soviet Union’s dictator, Joseph Stalin used his propaganda department to define reality for his subjects. Most famously, Stalin ordered Soviet propagandists to excise from photographs any images of Communist Party officials whom he redesignated as non-persons.
Seven decades after Stalin’s death, a revered American institution long described as the national pastime follows his lead.
Major League Baseball has joined the Biden “Administration,” various government agencies, NGOs and media lackeys in the quest for brand protection through censorship. The most egregious example took place April 28.
That night, the Oakland Athletics’ Ryan Noda hit a home run in the seventh inning of an 11-7 loss to the visiting Cincinnati Reds. The ball soared into a section of the right-field bleachers that featured homemade banners demanding owner John Fisher to sell the team and calling David Kaval, the team president, a liar.
San Jose’s KNTV-TV broadcast a clip of the home run that showed the ball sailing over the banners. MLB.com, however, showed a clip that edited the banners out entirely, preventing viewers from watching the ball’s flight path.
Numerous social media platforms, including The Athletic’s and the San Francisco Chronicle’s, reported or posted the discrepancy. One day later, MLB.com restored the original footage, with a spokesman saying the cut violated policy.
But does anybody seriously believe MLB.com would have made the change without being exposed on social media? Moreover, why would MLB.com even consider editing the video in the first place?
Because nine days earlier, Kaval announced an agreement to purchase land in Las Vegas for a stadium to be built before 2027. The Athletics could move after next season, when the lease on their current home, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, expires. The team likely would play in Las Vegas’ minor-league stadium while the new home takes shape.
Before Kaval’s announcement, the Athletics tried for years to get a new stadium in the Bay Area. The club tried to reach an agreement with the City of Oakland on a waterfront site, but began exploring alternatives when negotiations stalled.
Fans became so angry that they staged a protest April 28, the Athletics’ first home game since Kaval’s announcement. The homemade banners belonged to that ongoing protest. On May 12, the day before the team’s exclusive negotiating rights to the waterfront property expired, fans threw rotten tomatoes at a wooden board with pictures of Kaval, Fisher and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
At the other end of California, the Los Angeles Angels embraced proactive censorship this year. In April, Sam Blum, who covers the team for The Athletic, was informed he would stop appearing on KLAA-AM’s show featuring beat reporters covering the team. The Angels own KLAA-AM, which broadcasts the games.
Blum said he was told that John Carpino, the team’s president, made the decision “because I bring ‘negativity’ to an ‘up-beat’ show,” he tweeted. Sports Illustrated speculated what that “negativity” might be.
Sports Illustrated’s website alleges the club banned Blum because of his March 29 story about the Angels being one of two major-league teams not to send its radio broadcasters on the road. The club began that policy during the COVID-19 pandemic but never rescinded it.
Two months earlier, The Athletic published Blum’s story about the Angels de-emphasizing their Spanish-language radio broadcasts in the nation’s largest Latino media market. Blum wrote about how the club downgraded Jose Tolentino, the play-by-play announcer, from full-time to part-time. Tolentino even had to move out of his broadcast booth in Angel Stadium’s press box and call home games from his own home or a sound booth near the ballpark.
“I strive to be fair in my coverage,” Blum added. “Sometimes that means being critical. Sometimes that means highlighting good things/people in the org. I have countless examples of both over 2 years on the beat. It’s worth noting how the Angels can attempt to filter their team-owned media.”
Fans on Twitter were not amused.
“I think a lot of #Angels fans would appreciate more public accountability when things go badly,” tweeted an account called Beyond The Halo. “After a game filled with defensive miscues and offensive struggles, I’d rather hear the manager and players say ‘we need to be better’ as opposed to the usual ‘I’m not concerned.’ It seems like the Angels prefer to have a positive, cheery PR approach.”
“I’ve been saying this for the last couple of years,” Mike Welsh added. “So frustrating as a fan to hear positivity when there needs to be honesty sometimes.”
Even a Houston Astros fan supported Blum.
“As someone who follows the Astros, your reporting was always great: fair, enlightening, just a good different voice,” a fan named “kitt” tweeted. “Fan base rivalries aside, this is not great for that team and your fans. Hope it gets fixed asap.”
In another policy the Angels instituted this year, reporters now must submit questions to the media relations department for screening in case any reporter wants to interview one of Manager Phil Nevin’s coaches.
“Requests are denied if possible questions are deemed too negative,” tweeted Blum, who confronted that policy when he tried to interview hitting coach Marcus Thames about third baseman Anthony Rendon, an established power hitter. The Angels signed Rendon to a seven-year contract worth $245 million after he led the Washington Nationals to the 2019 World Series championship. But since then, Rendon has fought numerous injuries and his productivity declined.
As Blum was researching the story, Rendon had yet to hit a home run. That streak reached 24 games before Rendon broke it May 7. Rendon ended last season without a home run in his final 12 games, meaning that the streak reached a career-long 36 games.
The Angels “did not permit Thames to speak to The Athletic about Rendon because the potential line of questioning was deemed too negative,” Blum wrote in his May 3 story about the player. “The team said it prefers manager Phil Nevin to handle such questions.” Since Rendon personally declined Blum’s request for an interview, the writer’s next best option would be to speak with the hitting coach, who works directly with players.
The Angels’ stance not only represents the condescending paternalism of prior restraint. It imitates the Biden White House’s attempt to protect the cognitively impaired pseudo-president during news conferences by having him use a “cheat sheet” complete with questions and a reporter’s picture and affiliation, as Townhall.com reported. Biden then could prepare answers in advance.
For such an arrangement to work, reporters would have to agree. By doing so, they sacrifice their independence and credibility.
But if governments and businesses can make fighting “misinformation” mainstream, why not professional leagues, especially if reporters become acclimated to professional compromise?
If sports ultimately reflect society, then the United States has drifted far from the ideals President John F. Kennedy once endorsed.
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values,” Kennedy said. “For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”