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Thursday, October 22, 2009
Deadspin’s assault on ESPNLike a lot of you, I've been watching the Steve Phillips business from afar. Between the almost complete lack of any real baseball angle whatsoever, and the fact that, unlike a lot of scandalous stories, this one has an innocent wife and children being dragged through it all, I really don't see the percentage in writing about it. I'll gawk like the rest of you, but it doesn't exactly scream out for coverage.
Of greater interest to me is one of the things that has spun out of the Phillips story, and that's Deadspin's crazy-even-for-Deadspin assault on ESPN yesterday. If you missed it, Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, apparently pissed that he missed out on the Steve Phillips scoop due to ESPN stonewalling him when he sought comment on the affair last month, decided to let loose with multiple rumors he's been sitting on regarding the sexploits of ESPN employees. He reported on a sexual harassment complaint against radio guy Eric Kuselias, as well as his divorce. He went after Katie Lacey, ESPN's Executive Vice President for marketing, accusing her of sleeping her way to the top. In his last post he went on about the overall culture of ESPN, about how everyone there allegedly has sex with everyone else and how, somehow, the town of Bristol, Connecticut is to blame. These descriptions do not do it justice. He really pulled no punches.
I read these with my mouth agape, not because of the allegations contained in them, but because of Daulerio's decision to actually write about them, and Nick Denton's presumed approval of them to begin with. Yes, the Gawker empire is well known for trafficking in scandal, but this seems above and beyond their usual brand of muck. As AOL's Clay Travis -- lawyer, and, it just so happens, former Deadspin assistant editor -- notes, this may not amount to a meritorious defamation suit by ESPN, but it's certainly closer to the line than Deadspin normally treads. I actually think ESPN would ultimately lose any lawsuit here simply because defamation is so hard to win, but I could see Disney and ESPN making the decision that, after all of the hell Deadspin has caused them, this is a decent enough place to draw the line, file the suit, and cause Nick Denton to have to pay a bunch of money in legal fees. Whether any suit is brought would likely hinge on the cooperation of either Kuselias or Lacey, whose lives would become open books in such a suit, but if one of them were pissed off enough and/or close enough to retirement to say sure, go ahead, it would be game-on.
Maybe there are long odds against that happening, but are they so long that it was worth Daulerio taking such a risk? Moreover, is this really where the original promise of Deadspin and the sports blogosphere in general was meant to lead us? I'm not Buzz Bissinger when it comes to these matters, but as I sit here today and reflect on all of this, I am far from inspired.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 3:55pm
Dan Novick said...
Gotta be honest here…. reading those posts was incredibly entertaining.
Posted 10/22 at 04:12 PM
craig—this is actually an interesting discussion given your asking for feedback about whether you should have posted/ blogged about the mo rivera spitball. in now way as egregious as deadspin’s assult on the wwl, the mo video was more gossip and less substance. and you my friend should be all about the substance (and you usually are).
Posted 10/22 at 04:27 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Rob—I guess I would say that at least the Rivera thing involved something on a baseball field and dealt with a baseball personality, with baseball being my bailiwick. The sports media in general and ESPN in particular is part of Deadspin’s bailiwick, but are the sex lives of unknown backroom people and production assistants fair game in all of that?
I guess I would liken this to me writing about the extramarital affairs of the ticket takers from Kaufmann Stadium or something. Seems rather far afield.
Posted 10/22 at 04:42 PM
Craig- I gotta say, the lawsuit angle is not attractive at all for ESPN. The discovery session would be nothing short of apocalyptic for them. Even if they were to win the defamation count, the PR nightmare that they would face would be incredible.
You think people want MLB’s steroid list? Wait until the bloggers get a whiff of Chris Berman’s “Special Hugs” list.
Posted 10/22 at 04:46 PM
The two are not analogous. While I do think Craig was perhaps a bit too quick to jump to conclusions on the Mo spitball thing (due to a, in my view understandable and amusing, proclivity towards irritating Yankees and Red Sox fans) that was entirely different because:
A) It was related to baseball, and not Mo’s personal life.
This stuff is totally beyond the pale. I haven’t read Deadspin much since Leitch left (and I find the original Gawker site insufferable), but this seals the deal with them as far as I’m concerned.
Posted 10/22 at 04:47 PM
Wooden U. Lykteneau said...
This is what’s always been so freakin’ amusing about the so-called Deadspin-Blogger relationship. Simply put, no website that has national advertising and corporate funding can possibly be called a blog. **IT’S A WEBSITE**
Buzzy Bissinger, et al have never quite comprehended that Deadspin, et al are the Internet equivalent of the Weekly World News. Or the National Enquirer. Or Fox News, Or the N.Y. Post—they all make money, but none of them practice Journalism.
ESPN—as much as I detest it because it’s about style 1st and substance 41st—is right to ignore these charges and let them die their quick little deaths.
Because, really, none of this is either new or shocking to anyone, anywhere. At least people who stop to pick up a book every now and then. Men and women in close quarters have always had dalliances, and always will. It’s human nature.
Posted 10/22 at 04:47 PM
I couldn’t disagree more with Dan or Rob.
I’ve never spent much time over at Deadspin, don’t have the time, but when I went over there to read the dreck I was blown away. Alot of the corporate culture stuff is pretty much common knowledge in CT, but the assigning of names and the extremely angry tone of the entire pieces were not something I seek out on the Internet. Definitely have no desire to head over to Deadspin in the future!
As for Craig’s take on the Rivera thing, I had no issues in the way you handled it. You’re a bit of a rabble-rouser, sure, but that is why I enjoy reading your blog. But there was nothing out of bounds and it was entirely different than calling out all of ESPN without much proof.
Posted 10/22 at 04:49 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
ChrisKoz—I agree with you that ESPN likely doesn’t want any part of that. But if one of the individually named people wanted to sue—say, Lacey, who was accused of sleeping her way to her current position—she could sue and ESPN’s larger corporate culture wouldn’t be implicated. Granted, she may very well not WANT to sue because her personal life would become an open book, but that’s merely an assumption on our part.
The larger issue here is that when I sit down to write something, I do my best not to think of whether I can get away with it as much as I think about whether I should be writing what I’m writing. Regardless of the litigation angle here, I take issue with A.J.‘s pieces in that basis.
Posted 10/22 at 04:55 PM
“Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, apparently pissed that he missed out on the Steve Phillips scoop due to ESPN stonewalling him when he sought comment on the affair last month”
Really? What was he expecting? Isn’t his job as a “reporter” to ask someone other than the ESPN PR department? Did he want ESPN to send him pictures? That’s like Cole Hamels being mad at the Dodgers for homering off him.
Posted 10/22 at 04:56 PM
Is it possible to want to see both fighters kill each other in a match? Because that’s what I want to happen between ESPN and Deadspin.
Deadspin was last seen trying to make anybody in the world care about Josh Hamilton supposedly falling off the wagon (result: FAIL). I think they hate ESPN for not picking up THAT story as much as they hate them for any Phillips stonewalling.
Deadspin is awesome when they’re simply making snarky comments and finding amusing photos. Trying to be the Gawker of baseball, they’re hideously awful at.
If ESPN was any better at being an actual sports news outlet, I’d consider taking their side (never mind the corporate edict not to talk about the Roethlisberger allegations - if I simply hear the name “Hamlet” attached to any football player again, ever, I’m going to buy a ticket to Bristol and kneecap somebody).
Posted 10/22 at 04:59 PM
Leitch was no choirboy, of course, but Deadspin has seemed a lot more mean-spirited and a lot less interesting since he left. Also, there’s really nobody left over there who actually seems to like baseball, which is annoying.
I still subscribe to their RSS feed, but I mostly skim. I like to read BDD’s stuff, because I’ve always had a soft-spot for foul-mouthed humor. And he and the rest of KSK are doing mean-spirited satire, but it’s obviously satire and not really out to be malicious. Daulerio just seems to be out to hurt people. It seemed the same way with Josh Hamilton.
Posted 10/22 at 05:01 PM
Aaron Moreno said...
With this much bile spewed forth by Deadspin so quickly, I would imagine ESPN’s best option is to ignore it and quietly bury the problem with transfers and sexual harassment seminars, while Deadspin turns off all but the crankiest readers.
Posted 10/22 at 05:51 PM
Has Deadspin ever been anything but a lower grade US Weekly for sport-interested guys?
Posted 10/22 at 05:54 PM
I will say that, like Grant, Deadspin lost much of its luster when Leitch left. Daulerio, much as I have hometown-pride reasons to want to like him, has always seemed more interested in handgrenades than writing. Leitch was occasionally able to invoke his own genuine fandom for a piece, coming off earnest and passionate, rather than shallow and wicked.
I’m not sure whether what Daulerio does there is wrong: I don’t have much interest in judging his work nor anyone else’s as “right” or “wrong”. I just don’t find it interesting. Deadspin updates, what, at least a dozen times a day. I have a job, and sports aren’t my only interest. I don’t have time for them. I read them when someone I read links to them. Like today.
This sort of behavior, to me, isn’t shocking. It’s merely an extension of what Deadspin, and Daulerio in particular have always done. Once upon a time there were pictures of Matt Leinart. Now, it’s Katie Lacey. I fail to see a significant difference.
This is a strange story for me. I used to watch ESPN constantly, and I used to read Deadspin devotedly. Now, I don’t interact with either unless I am sent there. Neither covers sports, and I don’t need gossip or supposed style. Neither have content of value to me. Let them have each other.
I’ll still be here, watching baseball.
Posted 10/22 at 06:01 PM
TC - I’m with you on ESPN. I only watch live sports on the channel now, and even then I often find myself muting the TV. Meanwhile, on the dot com side I tend to read Simmons (he’s more good than bad during football season), Neyer, Law, and fantasy football stuff if I get bored and run out of other ways to slack off at work. Four years ago ESPN and Deadspin were all I knew. Now I’ve got a Google Reader full of better stuff to do, so I don’t sweat it too much. I’ve outgrown both of them, I think. And they’ve both been making beelines for the bottom at the same time I’ve become more sophisticated.
Posted 10/22 at 06:32 PM
TC - do you truly not see a difference between writing about the personal lives of Matt Leinart and Katie Lacey? One is a heisman winning QB that is just as famous for his night life and the other is… I have no idea. I guess this could devolve into a discussion about the right to talk about anyone’s personal lives, but at least there is a part of Leinart’s life that is in the spotlight - his job.
Posted 10/22 at 06:42 PM
Jack Marshall said...
The fact that an organization’s management is manipulated by sexual misconduct could be newsworthy (Wooden to the contrary, legitimate, professional organizations don’t tolerate this crap,) but Deadspin’s attack is obviously aimed at hurting people for the hell of it, which is plain despicable.
Posted 10/22 at 07:58 PM
Kevin S. said...
I don’t think Deadspin’s attack is aimed at the individuals so much as it treats them like collateral damage in the war with ESPN, which is probably just as bad.
Posted 10/22 at 08:10 PM
My real problem with what Deadspin did yesterday is that as the site has gotten bigger and bigger, their targets have gotten smaller. I enjoyed Deadspin going after ESPN in its early years - ESPN is a huge and fair target, a monopoly in many ways, and there was a very David-Goliath quality to those posts.
Now, though, Deadspin is a big entity in its own right, and it’s going after the (non-criminal) personal lives of Bristol Marketing VPs. In other words, Deadspin has turned into Goliath in this scenario, and that makes yesterday’s posts very offputting and, to me, not remotely funny. Deadspin needs to pick on people their its size.
Posted 10/22 at 08:11 PM
Jack Marshall said...
You’re right, Kevin, it is worse. The individuals are just cannon fodder for Deadspin, and that’s as wrong as it gets.
But please,Emma et al., can we stop calling workplace sex that affects organizational dynamics, relationships, effectiveness, reputation and management “personal”? If it happens in the workplace, during the work day or affects the workplace, it’s not personal, it’s professional, and is workplace misconduct.
Posted 10/22 at 08:19 PM
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