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Media Manipulation

| 2 Mar 2007 21:00

As anyone in Washington can tell you, the easiest way to turn rumor into reality is to refuse to confirm or deny it. Some people are saying Sony learned this lesson all too well this week, by "blackballing" enthusiast blog Kotaku for publishing a rumor about an upcoming announcement by the media giant at next week's GDC convention, but if Sony didn't already know this, they wouldn't be Sony. I think the real students here are still us, the game journalists. And we got schooled big time.

Question: how many people were talking about Sony Computer Entertainment President Phil Harrison's GDC keynote speech before Kotaku announced the rumor (and subsequent blackballing) about a proposed online content system for the PS3?

Answer: not many.

Question: How many are talking about it now?

If you need me to answer that one, you haven't been paying attention. Which, as far as Sony is concerned, was exactly the problem to begin with.

Let's walk through the series of events for a sec.

    Kotaku gets tipped by an "unnamed source" about Sony's "Home" service announcement at GDC.
    Kotaku attempts to confirm with Sony.
    Sony refuses to confirm or deny and threatens to dissolve relations with Kotaku if they print the story.
    Kotaku prints the story.
    Sony dissolves relations with Kotaku.
    Kotaku announces as much on their site.
    Sony relents, reinstating relations.

What really happened here? First, let's look at the threat from Sony. Regardless of how one may feel about media conglomerates, they very rarely issue decrees to media outlets like "do what we say or we'll cut you off." And by rarely, I mean almost never. They certainly can if they want to, and it has happened, but they don't. Why? Because when they do stupid things like that the outlets in question tend to become annoyed and talk about it.

That's kind of at the heart of the free press movement from way back when people cared about the constitution, and like him or love him, it's what 1UP's Luke Smith helped some of us remember when he gave the finger to certain PR flaks for being douchebags about what was and wasn't his right to print.

The idea that Sony didn't realize they would get called on this threat, or that Kotaku wouldn't just go right ahead and publish the rumor anyway, is ludicrous. As much as I would love to jump on the "these guys have no clue" bandwagon and beat the drum for Kotaku's "victory" over bad, bad, Sony, I just don't buy it. Not this time. It just doesn't make any sense. But if that were all there was to it, I'd have no choice. Because one has to admit that the company seems to be floundering in regards to public relations, and that they'll try almost anything to generate some positive spin.

But then, that's what this is really all about, isn't it?

Again, I ask the question: How many people were talking about Phil Harrison's keynote speech at GDC before this all happened? None. Nobody. Zilch. More people were excited about hearing videogame music from the past than the industry giant's future plans (whatever they might be). Not anymore.

The hubbub with Kotaku may not have made the actual news Mr. Harrison may be presenting at GDC any more relevant, but the idea that Sony would have been willing to create such a scandal over keeping it under wraps for five more days has certainly made whatever Phil has to say a lot more compelling. One has to wonder, considering how quickly Sony relented and "reinstated" Kotaku's appointments, if that wasn't actually the point all along.

I applaud Mr. Crecente for not allowing Sony to tell him what he can and can't print in his blog. I also applaud the entire blogosphere for jumping on the cause and pointing out what a dastardly deed Sony had committed. But I do not believe that any part of this incident was accidental or unintentional. Nor, honestly, do I care any more about "Home," if that is what the fuss was all about, or the PS3 for that matter. But I'll be there at the keynote on Wednesday, to listen, take notes and decide whether anything they have to say means anything, just as I had planned to be for over a week. Because that, my friends, is what we do.

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