Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ol' Buzz Bissinger Finds Deadspin's Will Leitch New & Scary, And Then Proceeds To Lose His Mind

I've posted the video in its entirety below but given that you come to my site, see a headline and then see a picture associated with that headline, I wanted to properly capture in picture the type of old angry media guy that Buzz Bissinger symbolized in his appearance on HBO's Costas Now last night. If you closed your eyes while listening to what Buzz had to say, this would accurately depict the picture in your head of the guy saying what was said(if you open your eyes, he looks like a crazed John Malkovich character with horrendous posture). But I'm getting ahead of myself...

For those who don't know, Bob Costas has a show on HBO that involves him taking on "sports" topics in front of a live audience with several panels of guests at 15+ minute intervals. The concept of the show is not a bad one and at least on the first day Costas had some compelling characters from all across the sports landscape (though 15 minutes was never enough to fully delve into any of the sometimes weighty subject material). On his first show, he took on "Sports & The Media" and brought on major players like Chris "Maddog" Russo (who was unapologetic and fantastic), Mitch Albom, Joe Buck & Dan Patrick, just to name a few. And while all that was fairly entertaining, the main event, surprisingly, was a heated battle between an enraged Buzz Bissinger and a cornered Will Leitch (with Costas playing the role of "piler on" over the "moderator role" it seemed the show intended and Braylon Edwards for some reason shoved into the mix) regarding the utility of the blogosphere. And almost before Leitch could get a word out (the first question was posed to him), Bissinger went bananas leading a sporadic profanity laced tirade that lasted several minutes. Predicably, Bissinger's beef involved your typical anti-blog cliches: no credentials, no ethics, no oversight, and no regard for traditional standards of journalism (oddly, only mom's basement was spared critique). Bissinger was not done there though, in a humorous moment, Buzz attempted to call out Leitch for not having read a random sports writer (WC Heinz, who Buzz feels is one of the greats of all-time) only to learn that Leitch had in fact read Heinz's most famous work, "The Professional." In a conversation wont of comedy, this was the high point.

Bissinger's biggest gripe, it would seem, is that blogs are poorly worded, grammatically incorrect and profanity laced drivel that add nothing to the conversation and only serve to humiliate and denigrate the poor unsuspecting athlete. And the man has a point, which is exactly why I don't understand why he gives such a damn. Much of the funniest stuff on the sports blogs is often the seedier side of sports. Whether it be Bronson Arroyo in a Northeastern dorm room, Santonio Holmes nude in the shower or stories of a Chris Berman pick-up line, these pictures & tales add very little to the greater conversation regarding the respective sports. Their only utility is entertainment at the expense of the athlete... and that's ok. What's more, it shouldn't bother members of the media one iota because this is the one area of sports coverage that the blogosphere is not stealing from main stream media ("MSM"). But beyond that, this tired argument suffered from the same misinformation and fear-mongering that permeates any discussion regarding the medium when a member of mainstream media is involved in the discussion BECAUSE NONE OF THEM HAS EVER READ A BLOG (Bissinger said that he doesn't read Deadspin but he "watched it" the day prior to the Costas show).

Here's what so enrages me about the arguments from MSM regarding blogs (or at least one of the major things): the main argument is that "many" blogs specialize in either hateful, untruthful or poorly written crap that is neither informative or interesting, so it shouldn't be read. In making this argument they cite no actual evidence of such postings and are likely relying on the good word of fellow curmudgeons who spout off the accusations via fountain penned letter and fire it off via telefax machine. If only they would take the time to look, they would find plenty of poorly worded and illogically formed sports arguments/opinions (hell, just check the archives of this site).

In an effort to make this argument yesterday, Bissinger and Costas assaulted Leitch with excerpts from Leitch's own site (though none of his actual writing, which was probably too well written for the argument to be made) and pointed out how vile and inappropriate the posts were. Bissinger went bananas, excoriating Leitch as if he were pushing crack on 8 year-olds for a living. But as Leitch so aptly pointed out, "these blogs" that Costas and Bissinger were referring to, if not well written or interesting, disappear. If there was a blog out there that started false rumors about female bowlers through the posting of a series of run-on sentences, people wouldn't read it. That may not prevent the uninteresting and grammatically improper untruths from being posted, but it would dampen their effectiveness. And if these folks were to look in the mirror they'd realize that THIS IS THE EXACT SAME WAY EVERY OTHER PUBLICATION / MEDIA OUTLET IS JUDGED. People write and say crazy shit ALL THE FUCKING TIME (check out the UFO or Al Franken / Ann Coulter sections of the bookstore) and if it's uninteresting or untruthful, it will go away (sometimes in a lawsuit). If people in talk radio can't stay on topic or formulate a sentence, people will stop listening. Simply because there are bad blogs out there (whatever your definition of "bad" happens to be) does not mean that the medium is plagued with badness. I don't think Bob Costas sucks because Brian Baldinger sucks. The same holds true for online sports opinion makers.

What's most amazing to me is that after having made these arguments for the last couple of years, MSM has failed to realize A. that the two mediums can co-exist (well, in fact. So well that it reminds me of a great scene from the film Accepted, the transcript of which you can find in the below post) and B. that in this time they haven't read any of the stuff on the internet yet they are for some reason so angry about it (this is especially so with Bissinger who is absolutely incensed but has never read a blog). The first point is what I think is most lost on MSM. As Leitch mentioned in the intro to the Shawshank style laundry room A-Raping with Costas playing the role of Boggs "discussion", people don't get the story of last night's game from the paper any longer. That information is too easily accessible and pawing through 8 paragraphs of game story that leaves out some of the most important portions of the game untouched in an ink bleeding newspaper is not worth the trouble. This is especially true now that you can get the information in so many different ways. If you want to learn about tonight's Red Sox game tomorrow, you've got a game thread on SOSH, the play-by-play on or or wherever. If you want to know what decisions affected the game you've got literally dozens of blogs and message boards across the nation to give you the information. Why the fuck do I need to listen to Dan Shaughnessy tell me why he thought the game went awry (or not awry, which he never writes about). I don't. I need the boxscore and a little information if something crazy has happened. I can find that through my trusted blogging friends. I don't need a sports writer to tell me about the game.

Where sports writers do help is in stories that bloggers just can't get. Soon to be former Boston Globe writer Gordon Edes wrote a fantastic short expose' on the life of a middle reliever (the story focused on the travails of Bryan Corey and was a really interesting look at the crazy lifestyle of a middle reliever and his family with the constant call ups and DFAs. Worth the read if you have a moment). In order to write this kind of story, you have to have the creativity to come up with it and the access to contact Bryan Corey and not receive a restraining order in the mail following that contact. Sports writers have this and Gordon Edes is one of the better ones. If Sports writers took the time to write slice of life articles or were relevant enough to write opinion articles that were able to gain the trust of the reader (either online or in paper), then that would be great. But it would never dull my desire to get my information from people my own age who may have a funny take on the exact same game/episode/play that can't be printed in a PG media format. And herein lies the problem.

It seems to me that we the media consumers have always had the desire to have it "all." Before the internet, "all" meant a max of two competing newspapers with 3 articles about your team a day each and perhaps an article about your team in SI or The Sporting News. "All" also included a short blip in the local newscast about your team usually featuring the final score and maybe a nugget about your team's star player if it were particularly newsworthy. It wasn't that we didn't have a capacity or desire to know more about our team in that game or otherwise, it was simply that it wasn't available in an easily accessible format (other than the local establishment). You think people wouldn't have eaten up a publication that featured drunken pictures of Mickey Mantle at local bars or Joe Namath spouting off to a fan? If it were easy to publish and display those snippets of information in the hopes that thousands of people could access it for virtually on cost, the sports consuming populace would have eaten it up. Today we have all that and more. We have opinions about opinions and pictures of every athlete in every compromising situation as well as funny takes on even the most mundane sporting events (daily!). And the reason all of this is available (and I think this gets lost in many of the arguments) is that the people putting this stuff out there, for the most part, are doing it for free in their spare time. Their only interest is to entertain the faceless masses (or perhaps catharsis in some cases). They are not doing it to gain revenue or acclaim and thus are unconstrained by corporate overseers and the filters they present. This is good and bad. It's good in that you can now get a take on anything you want. You can find people who agree and disagree with you on almost any subject. It's interesting and engaging. The bad can sometimes mean that people go too far and post hateful and inappropriate material. The difference, in both cases, over today and yesteryear is that the access to both the good and bad is almost infinite. And thus the consumer is responsible for filtering the information and deciding for themselves what they will allow themselves to be swayed by. And THIS to me is where the greatest fault of the MSM lies (that's probably the third time I've noted their "greatest fault" but I'm too tired to correct it... lazy irresponsible blogger).

Buzz Bissinger and Bob Costas think you and I are idiots. They think that when we read fake rumors (redundant?) on Pro Football Talk or ugly message board vitriol that we cannot distinguish it from the truth nor do we have the ability to accurately discern how to react and form our own opinions. This is what the MSM used to do. If there was a rumor out there, they'd vet it and provide us with their best guess. If there was a statement made by a player or an action that was sure to cause a fan response, the sports writer used to tell us how to react. Today we have 50 people explaining what to believe about rumors. Today we have thousands of people explaining how we should react to polarizing sports subjects and because of that we have hundreds of different ways to react. I make up my own mind about how to react and sometimes I share it. If my opinion or take on it is in any way similar to yours it may or may not help you shape your opinion. You don't have to agree with with me but you may appreciate my perspective. So why is that bad? Why shouldn't the marketplace of ideas govern how opinions are made. The more the merrier I say. And because no one's opinion is more important than others, if the only complaint from MSM is that my syntax and sentence structure is poor, you can fucking sue my 4th grade teacher. She sucked anyway (clearly). But to argue that the blog provides a dangerous forum for unapproved opinions because of poor grammar or unimaginative writing is insane (not to mention irrelevant given the MSM alternatives out there today).

Look, Bissinger has a point. If F. Scott Fitzgerald were writing the game story for the Sox every day, I'd be a loyal reader and probably wouldn't need to watch SportsCenter to know what happened the night before (and even then I'd read SOSH to learn if Tito had properly subbed Coco for Ellsbury against McGowan). Sadly, we don't have a Fitzgerald or even a Joe Heller (who would've been a FANTASTIC sports blogger). Instead we're stuck with Fuck Stick Marriotti writing about sports and smug pricks like Bissinger explaining to us how the game should be enjoyed. I share nothing in common with these two assholes and their perspective on the games is meaningless to me. There are people out there who from their couch can give me more relevant insight into a sporting event for free than any classically trained journalist ever has, and for that I feel lucky.

I'm sorry old balls journo dude, I have a high capacity for consuming fan perspective blog posts and dick jokes. Lots and lots of dick jokes.

Here's the Bissinger - Leitch debacle:

1 comment:

Yoknapatawpha Kid said...

Dear Smitt,

this is a great entry on the Bissinger/Leitch altercation! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and writer who currently contributes to 'Too Shy to Stop,' an upstart online magazine focused on culture and the arts.

I found you entry, as it would turn out, while doing research for my own essay on the legendary 'Costas Now' episode. I focus first on how much I adore Bissinger, but quickly change focus to how wrong he is regarding his stance on blogging and why.

If you have the time, check it out! I’d love for you to read it and comment.


Peter Ricci