Selective Perception

My commute each day takes me from a New Hampshire town that borders Massachusetts to an MBTA commuter rail station into Boston and back. What that means is I have plenty of time to immerse myself in the soothing bath that is sports talk radio.

This, apparently, is how my masochistic streak manifests itself because a below average tolerance for stupidity doesn't really dovetail with the level of discourse emanating from my dashboard.

My anxiety, and consequently my blood pressure, ratchets up whenever the subject turns to Notre Dame. We are CONSTANTLY bashed in the media. The media is unfair to Notre Dame. ESPN is staging a concerted, systematic effort to discredit us. Mark May is a tool.

These statements are taken as articles of faith by Notre Dame fans everywhere. With the exception of the previous paragraph's last sentence – which is undeniable, bedrock truth – would distance and a different perspective change our opinion? You bet it would.

On the ride home tonight there was a discussion on a national talk radio station about different issues in college football. The host and an expert were arguing about Garrett Wolfe, the running back from Northern Illinois who just rushed for three gazillion yards last week. The expert theorized that Wolfe is a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. The host shot back that he is a statistical oddity from an insignificant program who doesn't matter to the vast majority of college football fans. The host went on to say that, after reading feedback from thousands of listeners, his opinion was that only three things matter to college football fans: 1) Who will win the National Championship? 2) Who has a legitimate shot at the Heisman Trophy (Wolfe doesn't)? 3) Notre Dame.

He mentioned ND without rancor. It was just a matter of fact to him, driven home by the fans, that our school stands above all others in generating interest. That level of interest can only be achieved through conflict. It makes sense that if Notre Dame matters to everyone, then the old adage "you either love ‘em or hate ‘em" HAS to be true. If EVERYONE has an opinion, chances are those opinions will be split down the middle. That certainly applies to the media, too.

But doesn't it seem to you that the anti-ND faction is winning? Don't you feel besieged by talking heads who MUST just be trying to make a name for themselves by taking on an institution like Notre Dame?

Actually, they probably aren't.

Oh, there is certainly a significant number of folks with access to a microphone who hate Notre Dame with a passion and let that color their analysis. That's human nature. My contention is that all the people on the other side of this issue screaming that the media LOVES Notre Dame are, in their own way, right. Over the course of time, the number of stories slanted toward Notre Dame and against Notre Dame are probably pretty close to equal.

Not convinced? Still think the electronic world of opinion is against us? Recently, you're probably right. But now go to Columbus and ask them how the national media treats Ohio St. Or go to Norman and ask the same question about Oklahoma. Or to any big time college town. The answer will be the same: The national media hates us.

It's called the "hostile media effect" and it has been proven in study after study. It is the tendency of subjects who are highly involved in an issue or group to view news content of that issue as biased against their own point of view. In case after case where there is highly charged debate that results in lots of media coverage (think that applies to sports?) people on both sides of an issue will look at the same newspaper article or television report and come to completely different conclusions about the report's slant.

My point is simply this: Don't let the bastards grind you down. An article you think is insulting and offensive is probably more objective than you think. The chances that you are viscerally responding to one or two lines of a much larger and more neutral piece are good. And even if you're reading a full-on hatchet job, chances are it will be balanced out, in the long run, by a much more glowing piece.

Anything written this summer about Brady Quinn, for instance.

But if, like me, you just can't help yourself and you find your face getting red because of the dolt on the radio, just scoot on over to Irish Eyes. I've heard that message boards are a great place to vent. Top Stories