Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mariotti sinks to a new low

There will likely be plenty of angry rants about this Jay Mariotti blog post popping up in the sports blogosphere over the next while, and deservedly so. I've complained about Mariotti before thanks to his embodiment of the absolutist shock journalism principles heavily promoted on Around the Horn, where he's a frequent cast member. However, this is a new low even for him.

This time around, Mariotti used a tragedy (the Erin Andrews incident, which I discussed with James Brown and First Derivative in The Phoenix Pubcast Monday (episode 2) and also talked about briefly on Twitter over the past few days) to restart his anti-blogging crusade. That's reprehensible in and of itself. What makes it worse is that he didn't offer any valuable points in his column, as mainstream journalists such as Erin Nicks, Chris Zelkovich, Michael Rand and Bruce Arthur did. They offered thoughtful criticisms of the blogosphere, and I agree with some of the points they made; they also generally kept their criticisms specific and focused, which is always key to these discussions.

Unfortunately, Mariotti appears to favour throwing out age-old general cliches about bloggers to try and stir up a reaction over trying to make cogent, logical and specific arguments. The article starts poorly, with the headline "Lesson of Erin Andrews: Grow Up, Boys!" It goes downhill from there. Here's the first two paragraphs:

"This is the decade when sports stopped being about sports. So shamefully, too much focus shifted toward an immature and sometimes creepy blogosphere obsession with, oh, I don't know, the women in Matt Leinart's hot tub, the woman on Scott Van Pelt's voice-mail machine, Hannah Storm's outfits, Chris Cooley's penis, an attractive female high-school pole vaulter and, of course, Erin Andrews.

Occasionally glancing at such junk through the years, I was whisked into a cross between a frat boy's porn fantasies and a sports remake of "Revenge of the Nerds.'' Who were these geeks? Why was the Internet, once again, giving semi-lives to people with no lives? Didn't it make a supermarket tabloid look responsible and dignified by comparison, or at least until the New York Post crossed every line imaginable? And wasn't there bound to be a cyberspace version of a nuclear explosion, a boiling point where one of the frequent blog subjects became a victim of some sick act?"

Mariotti suffers from the narrow-minded view of bloggers that has afflicted some of his mainstream media colleagues in the past. If he actually took the time to read a few blogs, he might realize that many of the people writing them aren't "frat boys", "geeks" or "people with no lives" (present company excluded, of course). It's tough to think of many sports blogs that make supermarket tabloids look dignified, given the quality of those publications, but there may be some out there. The vast majority of blogs I read provide quality stuff that offer a different, and sometimes a more valuable, perspective than even long-established news outlets.

Moreover, the sports blogosphere is a diverse world, not a homogenous one. It features people from a wide cross-section of races, creeds, gender identities and professions. Mariotti's reversion to the time-tested stereotypes is not only inaccurate, it's counterproductive; it doesn't encourage dialogue about the blogosphere or the Andrews incident, but merely attempts to slice the world into "us" and "them" camps.

Mariotti gets worse from here, though. Check out these lines:

"But am I blaming bloggers for helping create the daily sex-and-objectification culture that turned Andrews into an ongoing peep show on their Web sites?

Damn right I am.

And I wish they'd grow up -- now, today, yesterday -- before they continue to dumb-down what is left of sports journalism and plunge it into an inescapable sewage pit."

First, I, a dumb blogger who's ruining sports journalism, would point out to Mr. Mariotti that "dumb-down" is not a word. It is a combination of two words. According to standard newspaper style guides (such as the ones offered by The Associated Press and The Canadian Press), you would only run those words together if using them as an adjective, not as a verb. I'm not generally a grammar czar, but it is rather hilarious that he, an incredibly well-paid national writer with your long service in mainstream journalism, would make that mistake in an attempt to blast other, less well-known writers with only a fraction of his formal training or experience.

Second, it's highly ironic that he is talking about dumbing down sports journalism and plunging it into a sewage pit. Mariotti has perhaps done more towards that cause than anyone else; he's been a crucial player in Around The Horn's radicalization of the sports landscape and elimination of well-thought out arguements, and his columns have always been divisive salvos at easy targets, guaranteed to provoke as much of a reaction as possible. He has spent more time feuding with coworkers than accomplishing anything of journalistic significance, so many would argue that if sports journalism is in the sewer, he's one of the prime culprits. Most fitting, considering Roger Ebert's famous characterization of him as a rat.

Third, Mariotti has become what he's railing against. He works for FanHouse, which last time I checked, was one of the more successful sports blogging collectives on the planet. He's (gasp!) a blogger now, and his own site is proof that the blogging world is not just a homogenous collection of ill-informed fratboys. There are plenty of talented writers over there, including Matt Steinmetz, Gary Washburn and Susan Slusser. I wonder how they'll feel about one of their supposed team members pulling an all-out attack on the blogosphere?

I'm not saying that all blogs bear no responsibility for what happened to Andrews. I don't condone the actions of the sites that posted the video directly, and I wasn't overly impressed by those that linked to it either. However, judging an entire medium by a few sites and their actions in one specific case is inherently stupid, and it doesn't happen in any other medium. William Randolph Hearst was largely responsible for causing a war with his newspapers, and the New York Post recently published stills of the Andrews video (which Jeff Pearlman took them to task for quite nicely). You don't see many people saying that all newspapers are to blame for those actions. Similarly, I don't know many who blame the entire medium of radio for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, or all television channels for the actions of Fox News. In those mediums, outlets and reporters are criticized specifically; the entire medium is rarely, if ever, blamed. Criticism of the blogosphere needs to move in the same direction.

Mariotti closes with "I think I'll take a good, long look at the peephole the next time I'm in a hotel room. And wonder what the hell happened to my profession." It's true that sports journalism is facing challenging times, and both mainstream media journalists and bloggers have their work cut out for them. However, I'd argue t it's people like Mariotti who must bear much of the blame. Their acerbic, holier-than-thou absolutist takes, sound-byte arguments and primping for television have damaged sports journalism more than any blogger. Instead of reporting on the story, they became the story, and they lost their perspective in the process. Mariotti needs to remove the plank in his own eye before attending to the specks in the eyes of the blogosphere.

Update: Little Wayne's Bleeding Head has on the matter over at The Rookies.


  1. Unfortunately, the only way Mariotti knows how to maintain his notoriety is through unsubstantiated rants like the one you so nicely deconstruct here, Andrew.

  2. Andrew,

    I would just never worry about Mariotti, period. It sucks that people listen to him but that's just another lesson that God only makes so many people who have taste and reasoning. The guy's not relevant to the discussion, never has been, never will be. I've linked to him recently to point out that he contradicted himself on steroids in baseball, but that's it.