Thursday, March 11, 2004

Burke shoulders the blame

Brian Burke, today began the process of refocusing his hockey team, post Bertuzzi, on the long road ahead. In an emotional press conference in Vancouver, following the suspension announcement, Burke defended his star forward, striving to insulate him from the ongoing storm. Burke declaring he would be proud to have Bertuzzi on his team anytime. Burke who has had a stormy relationship with the Vancouver media over the years, turned up the heat on his rapport with them. Burke aimed his verbal darts at the assembled media, accusing many of them of lying in wait for years, to try and bring down the guy they call Bert.

With the National media, indeed the continental media focusing on the events of Monday night with a glaring spotlight, the issue has become the main story in all media. But nowhere like Vancouver, has the issue been so all pervasive. The Newspapers have tackled the story with the same gusto one would expect of a gang war in the downtown core, hundreds of thousands of logs must have been sacrficed to keep the appetite of the reader fed over the last three days. The television stations have battled each other for space around GM Place, Vancouver General Hospital and in some instances at the foot of Bertuzzi's own driveway, all trying to get the scoop of the day, aiming to feed the media beast. And then there's the radio scene, one of the most hotly competitive talk radio wars takes place in Vancouver, no less than six local radio stations offer some form of talk radio, including two sports radio stations and the market leader in all talk radio. All seemed to dedicate their broadcast days to the Bertuzzi incident.

There was a thin wedge of truth in the statements by Burke today, many of the commentators seemed to take turns to tee off at Bertuzzi's conduct on the ice and his personality off of it. Now believe me his actions Monday night were terribly wrong, he's been punished by his league for his transgressions, now destined to serve his sentence from Colin Campbell. But some of the character assassination taking place the last few days seems a bit much. The concept of a sense of balance to the reporting, long gone with the media display. While I don't subscribe to Burke's conspiracy theory of a media vendetta against Bertuzzi, many of those in print, on television and radio could take a sober look at their comments and actions, of the last number of days.

The talk radio stations and the open line shows in particular, gave an open mike to anyone with a grudge or an ill informed opinion. The beauty and the danger of the democracy of an open line, is that the wise, reasoned contributors are provided a forum, side by side with the complete nutbars. In Vancouver, it would seem that it's a 50/50 split. Well thought out and heartfelt comments, given equal weight to the complete inane ravings of the silly and the bellicose.

To get just a small sample of the atmosphere around the Canucks today, check out the CKNW Audio Vault. While listening to the entire morning of Thursday's broadcast day would give one a wonderful overview, we realize that time is precious. So, for a thumbnail sketch of the media blitz listen to the 6 to 8 am block, just after the Bertuzzi announcement and then to the 10:00 portion of the Bill Good program when the Burke news conference was carried live. That should give you a sense of the complete domination of the media this entire event has taken on. For further research, go back over the last four nights of Dan Russell's sportstalk program 9-midnight (even longer Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights) the passion, anger and disappointment of the callers, guests and host as well, all provide a good measure of how this event has played out.

As we head into Friday morning some of the hysteria of the last three nights has begun to wind down. Callers to the talk shows not quite so apoplectic about the state of hockey in Vancouver, the reporters starting to calm down and get back to actually reporting news, as opposed to coating every word in an acerbic tirade.

While Bertuzzi disappears from the radar for a while, the games will continue. The playoffs will arrive and the Canucks will have to focus in on hockey. For Burke, the press conference today was the beginning of that transition, by becoming a lightning rod he probably is hoping to draw attention away from Bertuzzi, who has been under the microscope this week. Burke will also hope that his comments give the rest of the team, some space to get back to the job at hand.

For a guy that described himself as a lame duck less than a month ago, he's about to earn his pay. The success or failure of this team in the post season will rest squarely on the shoulders of Brian Burke, how he manages a very bad situation, will go a long way to defining how this team conducts itself. He prides himself on his loyalty to the players he has on his roster, the next month or so will go a long way to showing if his approach will show results. If not the media machine will once again be in overdrive, the papers, television and radio, all exhuming the remains of a season gone terribly wrong.

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