I come not to bury Bissinger, nor to praise him. I come to say, however, that he did have a point.

(at this time I'd like to make it fully clear that this is Canadian DJM, not SML. angry letters should go this way.)

Bissinger made it rather difficult to excavate, because his tiny nugget of point was buried deep, deep in a mountain of slouchy, blowhard bullshit. As Leitch said, he immolated. There is no denying this. He was swinging wildly, like an angry child. Which is a shame, because if Costas Now had booked an actual grownup instead of an angry four-year-old, a necessary and overdue conversation might have taken place. We could have had our Jon Stewart on Crossfire moment, only this time we're the asshat in the bowtie.

Bissinger's mistakes are legion, and we could spend a day attempting to list them all without coming close to completion. Here's an abridgment: he was profane and juvenile while accusing someone else of being profane and juvenile, he acted like a fucking idiot, and he had no idea what he was talking about. I think that's a fairly succinct summary. Normally, at this point, I'd say "what a tool" and move on, but I happen to agree with the point he was trying so, so, so poorly to make, so I'm gonna give a shot at making it better.

Blaming blogs for being mean-spirited is like blaming port-a-potties for being full of shit. Like: sure, but you're reversing cause and effect, here. Blogs aren't the reason there's negativity in the world, negativity is the reason *some* blogs exist. Hell, this site's moniker is an imperative against a writer, you know?

Bissinger also made the mistake of arguing that all blogs are equal, vile, and equally vile. As long as Free Darko exists, anybody who claims that "all sports blogs are _________" is lying or ignorant.

And somehow expecting Leitch to speak for all bloggers is ludicrous, unfair, and just... stunning in its lack of understanding. The people attacking "bloggers" have not yet realized that a synonym for "bloggers" is "people." We're not some underclass coming out of hiding in the caves or, Lord help us, our mothers' basements. My mother doesn't even have a basement.

Enough covering my own ass, though. Let's get to it: Leitch isn't exactly blameless here, either.

I mostly enjoy Deadspin. I read it everyday. I have it on my RSS feed. I comment over there, from time to time. But I'm also not going to pretend that it's above reproach. It's not a watchdog site, or a news site; it is an opinion site and it *is* a gossip site. I think mocking Deadspin for posting pictures of Matt Leinart drinking from a beer bong is totally, completely, 100% warranted. That's some childish bullshit, and Leitch is smart enough to know that it's childish bullshit. His defense of it was fourfold, and each of the defenses he offered is ridiculous.

1. "It's funny!"
Why is it funny? Seriously, why is it funny? It's only funny because it's embarrassing. Leitch knows this. He's not posting pictures of Leinart working for charity, or playing with his kids, or going to the library. Leinart gets his picture posted when he's doing embarrassing shit. It's only funny because his image is being captured in moments when he'd probably prefer not to be photographed. Which brings us to Number 2:

2. They post them on their Facebook pages.
Oh, Will. We want to agree with you. We really do, but you have to know that this is horseshit. Perhaps some of the embarrassing pictures you post are from the offender's own Facebook pages, but the Leinart pictures, which were the ones under discussion, were from TheDirty.com. You either know this or really ought to know this, because your site made a follow-up post which was entirely about where you got the pictures. You're posting pictures from paparazzi sites designed to embarrass. Man up and admit this.

3. They're real people!
The fuck is this, US Weekly? Of course they're real people. NOBODY is debating this. I don't even know what this argument is supposed to mean. It's OK to publicly embarrass athletes because it would be OK to publicly embarrass anybody? What?

4. Braylon Edwards, so by extension all athletes, have no complaints, because they are not hounded by photographers like Hollywood stars.
Man, this is a preposterous argument to make. The ends are the same regardless of the means. I can't even tell what the argument is here. Is it "You only have a right to complain about being publicly embarrassed if photographers make it difficult for you to go outside"? Is that it? Because humiliating shit is humiliating shit regardless of the source.

And Leitch's disingenuous claims that he's not encouraging paparazzi or that he wouldn't go through somebody's garbage are riding a razor thin line of believability. Sure, Will's not running out to snap photographs of athletes at parties: but posting those pictures makes him just as bad.

Sure, Bissinger and Costas and pretty much everybody else makes the horrible mistake of conflating what's in posts with what's in comments. But Will pretending that he's blameless for the comments is absurd. He's an  editor. You know what they do? They edit. The reason that vitriol is present in the Deadspin comments is not because Will doesn't have any say in what goes on in there (which is the attitude he sort of takes) but that the vitriolic comments are Deadspin's biggest draw. There's money in that hate. He should be honest about this.

And his implication that the problems with Deadspin are *only* in the comments is at best a glaring example of sophistry. Are the comments over there mean? Yes. Are they funny? Yes. Was it in *posts* that we got humiliating pictures of athletes, humiliating video tape of Berman, humiliating uncorroborated stories of Berman's pickup attempts, humiliating answering machine messages left by SportsCenter anchors, and on and on and on? Oh, absolutely. Part of Deadspin's game -- a large part -- is public embarrassment.

I'm not even asking him to apologize for that aspect of his blog. I don't care for it, but whatever. My problem here is Leitch seems to think that spreading that shit makes him different from the people who capture it or report it in the first place. I, for one, wholeheartedly disagree, but I think it's a debate worth having. Unlike the one we got the other night.

So here's my hope: the next time somebody asks Leitch to defend blogs, he say something like "I don't speak for all blogs. I speak for my blog, which is often juvenile and deals with certain aspects of public humiliation because I think they're funny, newsworthy, and our business." Or something. And then we can have the debate over whether pictures of quarterbacks at birthday parties or at clubs are funny, newsworthy, and any of our goddamn business.

Bissinger is a total idiot. He's also not totally wrong.

Leave a comment

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[May 1, 2008 2:55 PM]  |  link  |  reply
roarke said

Did you see Will's appearance on Best Damn? He used a different argument about Leinert on that show: that it went along with the concern in Arizona that Leinert was not being serious about his job as an NFL QB - and therefore it was legitimate sports news that he was partying with co-eds by the dozen.

Also, and I could be wrong, but I thought that Will's argument about Braylon Edwards not being hounded by photographers went the other way. That is, Leinert has made himself more of a target because of his connections to Hollywood starlets, so he is more fair game than other athletes that aren't followed around by photographers.

I'm not supporting either of these arguments, just pointing them out. Personally I think Deadspin and blogs that post stuff like that are filling a hole in sports coverage that goes from the edge of legitimate journalism to the Entertainment Tonight type of coverage. Obviously there is a market for that kind of coverage. Those that don't like it don't have to read it.

On another note, I'm not sure what is humiliating about a single guy like Leinert being in pictures with multiple attractive girls in bikinis.

[May 1, 2008 6:48 PM]  |  link  |  reply
TJ Ballgame said

Trace this back to Congress ridding media outlets of their need to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine, particularly in politics, and now you don’t have journalism anymore, you have opinion. ESPN is the leader in this for sports; Fox, CNN, MSNBC and others follow in the political forums. But take the pre-NFL Draft shows: No one knew anything because no one knew how one athlete going early would require another team to adjust. But for weeks ahead of time, we had talking heads screaming about who was going where.

Bissinger’s point to Leitch is rather worthy: If you’re not in the milieu, you cannot comment on the milieu. Leitch’s point was, I believe, that by staying out of the press box, he was staying out of the entire sports industry. That’s legitimate, to a point. But when you post pictures of Matt Leinert in a hot tub with girls and a beer bong, the question has to be why. What’s the context? Leitch doesn’t have any; his reasoning is, ‘Just because we can (modern electronics like cell phone cameras), we do.’ To which Biss asked again, what’s the point? Leitch didn’t have an answer.

It was embarrassing to Leinert; and Leitch even went so far as to say that it’s what you would expect from a 24-year-old. Exactly Biss’s point, and he asked why did Leitch post it, then. Leitch said it wasn’t out of the ordinary, so it wasn’t news. But he posted it anyway? Why? To draw attention. Ahh. Page views. Advertising revenue. Brand awareness.

Ahh, commerce rears its ugly head again.

Media used to do journalism and make money. Now it’s about making money, and to Bissinger’s point, journalism has suffered. He’s right. We’re in the Age of Snark, and there’s nothing to be learned. It’s all flash commentary, fast opinion and on to the next subject.

Nothing’s learned. That’s BB’s point. Owners of blogs like TBL and Deadspin might in fact want to think about that for a while, because such institutions as newspapers used to take that responsibility seriously. Informing the public was a duty. Too many blogs try to entertain us with outrageous statements and high volume. That great second basemen for the Cambridge Giants, Billy Shakespeare said it best, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

[May 1, 2008 6:51 PM]  |  link  |  reply
TJ Ballgame` said

I saw the Bissinger-Leitch session, and I have to say that though I like Deadspin and TBL a lot, there’s a lot of truth to what Biss had to say. Modern media has been overcome with a desire not to report the news correctly so much as to make the biggest splash. In other words, the goal of media is to make headlines about making the news.

If you’re first or if you have an inside story no one else has, then you’re successful. That’s what corporate heads like because competitors have to refer to your site (brand) as they tell the story.

Aww, commerce rears its ugly head.

[May 9, 2008 9:58 AM]  |  link  |  reply
crack said

While I agree that the Leinart pictures were childish let's be clear, the furor was from the MSM. If Deadspin would have posted them and they were ignored by the 4 letter and others it probably would have just died out. I doubt anyone really thought that much of them one way or another on Deadspin. They were interesting because its fun to see how celebrities party, but its stupid to extrapolate anything about the people from them. The Randy Moss pictures that just came out, go Randy! Seriously, the furor is from the holier than thou Joe Bucks of the world who want all athletes to be choir boys. There was nothing in the Leinart or Moss pictures to be worried about, nothing that athletes haven't done forever. Was there all this self righteousness about the Mick or the Babe? Granted there weren't photos but there were plenty of stories. Was there some sort of puritanical crusade to get them? This attitude is not from blogs. People need to get over the fact that occasionally athletes and other celebs have more fun than them. And that its some how setting a bad example for the kids. If my kid grows up to be Randy Moss or Matt Leinart I will be ridiculously happy about it.

[December 4, 2008 5:13 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Peter Ricci said

Dear DJM,

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

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