someone muttered, "Evel Knievel has an enemies list."
Less than a month
after the resignation of Richard Nixon, Knievel had gone to Idaho to jump the
Snake River Canyon on his so-called Sky-Cycle—a motorcycle dramatically
modified so that it was more like a rocket, with fins and a parachute—and
130-odd reporters had gone along for the ride. At some point in this endeavor,
however, the hype had not only taken on a life of its own, but it had also
begun to create its own strange reality. On the day of the jump, for instance,
the promoters estimated the size of the multitudes around the canyon rim and
made provisions to "evacuate" the press from the launch site by
helicopter because of the massive crowds supposedly choking the exit roads.
Almost everyone wrote about these throngs, but they were never there. The state
police later put the size of the crowd at about 13,000—a realistic estimate—but
reporters, faced with a choice between believing the hype or believing their
own eyes, went with the hype almost every time.
An hour before
the jump, Knievel made his peace with the press, saying he had counted up all
the good things about them and all the bad things about them, and the good had
outnumbered the bad a million to three. "A million to three?" one
reporter grumbled. "I guess the late returns haven't been counted
All of this has
produced a lot of thumb-sucking in newsrooms and at press seminars. At the AP
Sports Editors' conference in Kings Island, Ohio, in 1985, a panel was convened
to try to answer the question "How much is too much?" The sports
editors of some of the foremost newspapers in America were called upon to
explain their suffocating coverage of major events. "We were all there
because we had allegedly overdone something," says Dwyre. The debate
eventually degenerated into self-justification and ended in chaos when the
panelists finally refused even to acknowledge there was a problem.
GREAT MOMENTS IN
HYPE #6: "I think Bill Veeck was the founding father of hype," says Tim
Leiweke, a vice-president of the Minnesota Timber-wolves, an NBA expansion team
that will begin play next season. "He knew how to create an atmosphere for
an event and still not overwhelm the event itself. For the most part."
Leiweke hesitates for a moment, then adds mournfully, "Disco Demolition
Night crossed the line."
Veeck was owner
of the Chicago White Sox in 1979 when a disc jockey at an album rock station
who abhorred disco music proposed the idea of admitting to Comiskey Park for
98¢ each fan who brought a disco record to be blown up on the field between
games of a July 12 doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. The promotion drew a
sellout crowd of more than 50,000, many of whom began tossing firecrackers and
records onto the field during the first game. After the game, the detonation of
thousands of records in a giant container in the outfield touched off a melee
during which an estimated 7,000 fans poured onto the playing field. A stunned
White Sox spokesman later reported clashes between disco and antidisco
"This is our
generation's cause," one antidisco firebrand said. After a 76-minute delay
and 37 arrests, the umpires declared the field unplayable, and the Sox had to
forfeit the second game.
Suzy Chaffee!" says Suzy Chaffee, sounding for a moment as if she can't
quite believe it herself. She's speaking to the maitre d' of an excruciatingly
fashionable restaurant in Santa Monica, the sort of place that's on the cutting
edge of Eurotrash cuisine and hostile valet parking. They know her there, she
had announced, her voice pealing like a bell, as she dialed the phone. "I'm
having lunch with Sports Illustrated and I need a table for two!" she now
explains to the maître d'. There's a long silence. Then, in a slightly more
subdued voice, she says again, "Chaffee."
Again there is a
lengthy pause. An unpleasant kind of recognition has begun to settle in.
"E-E," she says at last.
Chaffee was one
of the favorites to win the gold medal in the women's downhill at the 1968.
Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. On the day of her race, however, she used
the wrong wax on her skis and finished 28th. "But I still got the
second-most publicity of anybody there," Chaffee says, "next to Peggy