Paul Mitchinson is a part-time writer and a full-time father of two. He writes when he can. » more about me

Wayne Gretzky is getting a hard lesson in how the media operates when it smells blood. Or rather, to be more precise, when the media experiences a collective olfactory hallucination that leads it to believe it smells blood. Because so far, there’s nothing — nothing — to be reported on what has repeatedly been described as the Gretzky betting scandal.

You can tell there’s nothing to be reported when talented writers — sports writers are always the best in the newspaper business — suddenly start forgetting how to write, clotting their prose with passive constructions, abstract nouns, actionless verbs and agentless actions.

My personal favorite is the media’s sudden love affair with the word “distraction.” Canadian athletes just want to compete and celebrate, but the Gretzky scandal is a “distraction.” Isn’t there some editor out there who could point out that “distract” is a transitive verb (though not a very vivid one)? Just who’s doing the distracting? Just who’s being distracted? Put it this way, and it’s obvious: the subject and object of the verb are the same: the media. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting column.

And so we get garbage like yesterday’s “woe is me” column by the National Post’s Mark Spector, complete with sloppy writing (“the betting scandal that enveloped Rick Tocchet and, by extension, Wayne Gretzky” — by extension, Mark? Who extended that? Oh — you?), assumption of guilt (“Peppered with flashbulbs and under the gaze of the international media, Gretzky made the perp walk yesterday …”), and — of course — the laughable attempt to erase the media itself from the story. My favorite:

But there is risk here that more news could break this week. News that will not just bathe Wayne and Janet in a negative light, but also in an impossible position. [bathe them in a position? — ed.] Gretzky’s presence stole some measure of the spotlight [um, just who’s directing that spotlight, Mark? — ed.] from the gut-wrenching, silver-medal team sprint by Sara Renner and Beckie Scott that took place yesterday morning. This columnist would much rather have been in the mountains yesterday watching athletic feats, instead of waiting for a dull press conference full of the same NHL people we speak to all year long.

But that’s not how the business works. Editors assign. Sportswriters attend. It’s a cold, hard fact — one paid for by Renner and Scott yesterday.

It’s an amazing piece of work. The villains in this whole “distraction” seem to be an abstract force known as “Gretzky’s presence” and those faceless assigning editors. The victims are Renner and Scott. And, of course, those famously passive sportswriters, er, sportsattenders.

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