Neyer wrote a post today about the now infamous Mark Whicker-Jaycee Dugard piece. But don’t bother going to ESPN to read it because it’s not there. As Rogers Cadenhead at Watching the Watchers reports, ESPN spiked it. Rogers has a cached version of it here. At least a partial one.
I think we’re all pretty tired of Whicker. He and his column is now played as far as I’m concerned. What isn’t played, however, are the larger questions his piece raised with respect to the role of editors and writer responsibility. Whicker’s piece showed what happens when editors are either asleep at the switch or, more likely in my view, not empowered to challenge name talent when they write garbage. People, especially junior people stuck working over a holiday weekend, can get fired for telling a guy with a column who has been around for two decades that they won’t run his piece. This happens an awful lot at newspapers, and I can’t decide if it’s (a) a sad thing to see time-tested journalistic conventions break down like that; or (b) a hilarious thing given how much crap the journalists have given the bloggers for our alleged irresponsibility. What good are the credentials and that editorial layer the Buzz Bissingers of the world go on and on about if they’re incapable of stopping an abortion of a column like Whicker’s?
But it can swing too far the other way too, as I think it has in the case of Neyer and his editors. If there is anyone — anyone — in the blogosphere who has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Rob Neyer. He has been doing his thing for well over a decade, and hasn’t even thought about throwing a bomb, let alone thrown one. To the extent he’s controversial it’s because he has dared to upset some dumb baseball conventional wisdom, not because he has gone after people or has taken ridiculous stances or has otherwise done anything that reflects poorly on ESPN. Indeed, even the most ardent ESPN bashers add the now de rigeur “except for Rob Neyer” when denouncing all that is ESPNy.
Yet for some reason, his editors felt it necessary to pull his Whicker piece. I see nothing in it that is objectionable. In quoting his friend Keith Scherer’s opinion, he even gives equal time — or at least some benefit of the doubt — to Whicker before launching into his own criticism. And what about that criticism? It’s certainly nothing crazy or even particularly sharp. Rob simply says he dislikes the Whicker piece because it reflects poorly on sportswriting at large. Which it does, and by doing so, makes it that much harder for guys like Rob Neyer to be taken seriously, which is bad. Given that ESPN is an outfit that employs a bunch of sportswriters you’d think they would tend to agree with Rob on this one.
Yet they didn’t want Rob to write it and don’t want you to read it. How does that make sense? Is Whicker slated to appear on “Around the Horn” sometime soon? Is Bill Simmons the last ESPN writer permitted to have an opinion about anything outside of his usual bailiwick? I simply don’t understand why this piece was pulled.
All I do know is that if ESPN’s editors were to donate half of their vigilance to the editors of the OC Register, both institutions would benefit from it greatly.
UPDATE: Rob explained the removal in an email to Rogers Cadenhead this morning: “At ESPN.com, we have a policy prohibiting media criticism, and I ran afoul of that policy, however unintentional,” he said. “Thus, an editor pulled the post from the site. Considering our policy, I could hardly complain.”
Fair enough. If there’s a policy there and it’s violated, I suppose I understand. Now, about the wisdom or purpose of that policy . . .