Mr. Unreliable? In Defence of ‘The Oklahoman’ and its Heated Headline

On Thursday, The Oklahoman basted their paper with a headline that they knew only had the potential to rile up their readers, maybe the nation.

‘Mr. Unreliable’

That’s what it called Kevin Durant. Everyone knows Kevin Durant is anything but unreliable. Everyone knows he’s the man – the best player in the NBA this year, the guy who scored buckets like a 5-year-old whacking moles at a carnival, the same guy who dragged the Thunder to the playoffs despite all Russell Westbrook did to make himself an injured, ball-hoggy excuse for another ultimately disappointing season, another year for City fans around the country to say, “Well, they’re not quite the Spurs yet, but they will be.” Because, apparently, everyone wins a championship. You know, like Pistol Pete and Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller and Steve Nash and Elgin Baylor and Karl Malone and John Stockton and Charles Barkley… yeah, everybody‘s a champion.

And then, The Oklahoman had to apologize. But for what?

For being cheeky? For having an opinion? Was it for airing it? Or, was it because we – as readers and their audience – are a bunch of sensitive whiners who have to be coddled to whenever we miss our nap time?

Everyone lept to Durant’s defence like a parent does at someone else’s house party, when the patron’s 10-year-old kids tell the younger kids that Santa doesn’t exist. “Don’t worry, son! He’s just making that up!” Don’t you dare burst the Durant bubble, you mean newspaper people, you. YOU in the media, with your snarky-ness and your cynicism. Shame on you, for even suggesting that The Durantula is anything less than a hyper-powered, human-cyborg-super-arachnid.

Saying his newspaper “failed” with its headline (whatever that means, because I’m pretty sure everyone’s talking about The Okahoman now, which means it was a success, actually), sports editor Mike Sherman called the line “overstated and unduly harsh” and said it “left the impression that we were commenting on Durant’s season, career or even character. We were not. We were referring only to the Memphis series.”

But, again… so what?

Why do they even have to declare all that? If you’re reader of The Oklahoman – or The Province or The New Yorker or The Boston Globe or even the freaking Daily Mail – and you don’t understand what ‘editorial authority’ or freedom of the press is, then the onus is on you.

How can we applaud moments of individual, personal sincerity from newsman and reporters at one moment – Walter Cronkite balling at JFK’s death, or Bob Costas debating America’s gun culture, or the flood of mockery that newspeople drowned Tiger Woods in 2009 – and then choke them with a cane the very next?

Sure, those are more serious topics than Durant’s efficiency. But when The Oklahoman ran that headline, the Thunder were the news of the day in OKC. That was their story, for that evening. They owe that as much effort as they owe the rest of their coverage.

Newspapers have to comment. They need editorials and they need to be opinionated. They don’t survive on boring, tepid headlines which are copied + pasted from ESPN’s front page. And when we agree with newspapers, we love them. When we don’t… well, we expect an apology. Because we’re weak, sensitive, cry-baby readers.

When they’re shaming easy villains, they’ve done us a public service. But when they even try to step out and criticize our heroes like Durant, or Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning… well, then they’ve gone too far.

Like when P.J. Stock ranted and raved against John Tortorella in January, after he stormed down the tunnel at Rogers Arena and tried to fight the entire Calgary Flames coaching staff.

I can’t tell you how many people on my Facebook feed – and, writing that, I realize I just shouldn’t care about what I see on my Facebook feed – were knee-jerk quick to lay the verbal boots to Stock, calling him an idiot, saying he didn’t know anything (but apparently they on their couches did?), and then turning their ire onto the CBC, the national broadcaster we love to hate until it won’t be there for us anymore.

I hate to say this to you, but pretty much everyone is an idiot 90 per cent of the time. Readers are all stupid, and newspapers know this. They pander to it and they make money off it, and that is why they have to apologize to you from time to time… not because they think they’re wrong, but because they want your eyeballs. The game is in motion, even if you think anyone on the editorial side is somehow accountable to you. They’ll just apologize – they’ll fake the sympathy and the sincerity – and then they’ll do it again. Why? Because you’re still reading, and you should be.

This time, they pissed some people off. They pissed off Kevin Durant off, and he answered last night with 36 points. The Thunder rolled, and the Thunder won. So what’s the problem?

Reporters, editors, newspapers, whatever… they’re going to be wrong sometimes. They’re going to irk you sometimes.

But just remember, that’s their job.