You know those high winds that were blowing down power lines around here over the weekend? Those were actually the result of millions of Canadiens collectively breathing a sigh of relief over the news that Wayne Gretzky and his wife probably won’t face criminal charges in connection with the New Jersey betting ring bust.

And you know that Arctic chill that followed the wind gusts? That was the North American media dropping the story cold.

It didn’t take long, either. If you tuned into the start of Sportscenter late Thursday night or Friday morning, you had to wait 45 minutes before learning that lawyers for Gretzky and Janet Jones had said that New Jersey authorities have assured them the couple won’t face charges and Gretzky probably won’t have to testify before a grand jury.

In fact, you had to wait through highlights and analysis of Daytona qualifying, pro and college hoop highlights, an Olympic roundup, a story debunking rumors of a Daunte Culpepper trade, pre-spring training analysis, and then more Daytona analysis and hoop highlights, before the Worldwide Leader got to its 30-second report about the Gretzkys. I suspect if Johnny Weire were available, they’d have grilled him on the Budweiser Hot Seat, too, before revealing the latest on hockey’s royal couple.

To be fair, ESPN wasn’t the only outlet to bury the story. This newspaper had it on page 3, though in our defense, we had Seth Wescott, a Maineiacs feature and stories on high school hockey and basketball slotted ahead of it.

Regardless, you’d have been hard pressed to find a newspaper or television outlet outside of Canada that led with the Gretzky story Friday. That’s in stark contrast to when the gambling ring story broke a little more than a week earlier, when every sportscast and sports section in the country was leading with it and ESPN was treating it like the sports version of Hurrican Katrina.

Add yet another log onto the fire of public distrust for the media. Now that the biggest names allegedly involved with this betting scandal are on the verge of being cleared of any legal wrongdoing, we’ve cast it aside as quick as you can say Bryant Gumbel.

Media watchdogs accuse us of evaluating news by its level of sensationalism, and this will just serve as another example.

Let’s look back at how the coverage of this story evolved when it first broke and you can figure out for yourself why it had such a short shelf-life. Less than 24 hours after it was first reported, the television and radio shows and newspaper columns were in full Fox-CNN-MSNBC mode. There was wall-to-wall coverage, and as anyone who has ever watched the 24-hour news channels knows, wall-to-wall coverage translates into a full news cycle that consists of 5 percent actual news and facts and 95 percent blind speculation.

Almost none of the discussion over the next week involved Rick Tocchet’s role in the ring, even though the former player and Gretzky’s assistant on the Phoenix Coyotes virtually admitted his involvement and is the only person with NHL ties facing actual charges. Instead, everyone focused on Wayne and Janet and wondered how a husband couldn’t know a wife had wagered hundreds of thousands of dollars on football or how Wayne couldn’t have had knowledge of his assistant coach taking bets from his wife. Some even made the leap that perhaps Wayne was using his wife to place bets for him or that the Gretzkys bet on hockey games.

Following the Coyotes’ last game before the Olympic break, Gretzky said he was going to make one and only one statement regarding the story, then did so. The scandal followed him to Italy, where he went in his role as the Canadian Olympic team’s general manager, and the first couple of days there, he politely deflected question after question about it, saying repeatedly that he was willing to talk about hockey.

Proving that pack journalism is just as prevalent abroad as here, the international media joined the North American brothers and sisters and continued peppering him with questions about everything but Canadian hockey. Meanwhile, pundits there and back here questioned whether Gretzky should even be in Turin because he might be a distraction for the hockey players, even though, it turns out, that distraction has been largely manufactured by the media.

What Gretzky should have done was stand before the microphones and repeated the words of Ray Donvan, the Secretary of Labor under President Reagan who was acquitted of corruption charges in a court of law despite being tried and convicted by the media.

After the trial, Donovan turned to his accusers holding the microphones and asked,”Where do I go to get my reputation back?”


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