Blown calls and botched announcements reflect an age of uncertainty

By Tom Baxter

Over little more than two years, the wrong contestant has been announced as the winner of the Miss Universe Pageant, the Oscar for best picture has been awarded to the wrong movie, and a missed call so egregious it has prompted a lawsuit has played a key role in deciding who’s in Atlanta for the Super Bowl this week.

Things like this just didn’t happen back in the good old days, but that isn’t because there haven’t always been foul-ups of similar magnitude. Mistakes were easier to cover up when there weren’t so many camera angles capturing every play, when Twitter didn’t respond instantly to every eye twitch, when a flubbed announcement could be fixed with a sealed agreement.

Except for the inflated hype around these events, these mistakes wouldn’t have been a big deal. Two of the three were corrected quickly, and the Los Angeles Rams might have won the National Football Conference championship even if that pass interference call had been made.

In a strange way, however, these unconnected incidents of high profile incompetence are emblematic of deeper, more pervasive concerns about life in 21st Century America. These are the pratfalls of a society in too much of a hurry to get basic things straight, where technological advances have made the search for the truth more precise yet no less problematic.

We might have expected the unblinking eye of the camera to lead always to greater certainty, but in the collision with human judgment it has only made it easier for the truth to be subdivided. Human judgment declined to throw a flag on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for his hit on Saints wide receiver TommyLee Lewis, but the unfading images of the camera were sufficient for Robey-Coleman to draw a $26,739 fine from the National Football League.

The likelihood is that at some point, the suit brought by two Saints fans will be tossed out of court, but listen to how closely their complaint echoes those deeper insecurities of modern life. Because of the blown call, they claim they have suffered “past, present and future anguish and emotional trauma,” “loss of faith” in the NFL, “loss of enjoyment of life” and “distrust of the game.”

Change just a few words, and this could be the complaint of a liberal Democrat after the 2016 presidential election, or a conservative Republican after President Donald Trump’s decision to call a time out in the federal shutdown with no guarantee of a border wall in sight.

The botched announcements and the blown call resonate with an era of disputed elections and politicized news. They’re about a much bigger “distrust of the game” and a much deeper “loss of faith.”

But the game must go on, so far as the Super Bowl is concerned anyway. Atlanta dodged a bullet when the federal shutdown was postponed, avoiding the threat of monumental problems at the airport over the coming week. Snow and ice is rolling in, with all the disruption that usually brings in, but it should be gone by Sunday.

We’ll see Gladys Knight sing the National Anthem, Big Boi at halftime with some other people, a ton of expensive commercials and, hopefully, a game in which the zebras and the cameras concur.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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