As someone who relies on the media industry for a paycheck, I'm about to bite the hand that feeds me with this next comment:
There is too much media in this country.
Too many cameras, too many microphones, too many laptops, too many cable news channels, and -- yes, I'm going to say it -- too many Web sites.
There are simply too many media outlets scrambling for unique angles on the same old, tired stories, even if they aren't there.
It's a textbook case of overpopulation: Many modern media outlets, particularly those on the big-market and national stages, manufacture news as a means of self-sustenance.
LeBron James' alleged walk-off at the tail end of Tuesday's loss to the Hawks is a prime example.
LeBron lives a life we can only dream of. He can make an entire professional sports league snap-to with a little more than a glance. He can make a multibillion-dollar shoe company cater to his every demand.
But there is sharp edge to that power: Everything he does in public, and I mean everything, is caught on camera and scrutinized relentlessly.
LeBron places his Yankees cap on the table at last year's season-ending press conference. Was he simply laying down his cap? Heck, no, says the New York media. He was sending signals to Jay-Z about his desire to hook up with the Nets.
LeBron lets his frustration get the better of him and fails to get back on defense for the final seconds of an embarrassing home loss to Atlanta. A simple lapse of judgment? Heck, no, says the Atlanta media. LeBron quit on his team, they say.
ESPN picked up on it faster than you could say "Stephen A. Smith, you are on the Budweiser Hot Seat." Pretty soon, LeBron's motivation was being questioned, and the talking heads were asking if the NBA should allow a quitter to be the new face of the league.
The media went overboard, but that's what they're supposed to do. You don't get viewers/readers/site hits by being vanilla. You need to be alarmist, shocking and jump to conclusions even at the cost of being wrong.
Imagine if you had to live your life like LeBron has to. I don't mean the riches, the fame, the glory. That's all good. I mean having every action you perform and every word you utter take on a life of its own. No off-color jokes within earshot of a microphone. No expressing of controversial opinions. No lapses in behavior. Everything you say, everything you do could be taken out of context and smeared across television, the Internet and newspapers.
You have to use the strictest judgment in every word and action you produce in public. But no one bats 1.000, not even King James. And his momentary, likely frustration-fueled lapse in judgment Tuesday night became a media-created monster that called his entire character into question.
And for what reason? Gossip. Ratings. Site hits.
It's the price LeBron pays for being as great as he is. But it still must feel like a burden to know that there are scores of people out there rooting for you to mess up so they'll have something interesting to report.