Jockbeat: Will Leitch Not Done Milking Buzz


Over at New York magazine, Will Leitch seems hard up for material. The current issue contains a feature, “Buzz, Bob, Projectile Spittle, and Me,” which recounts last year’s  legendary confrontation with veteran sportswriter Buzz Bissinger on HBO’s Costas Now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been friendly if not an actual friend of Bob Costas for more than 20 years, dating from when he used to call the Village Voice sports page and invite some of us for gab fests at Runyon’s. He wrote an introduction to my 2002 book, Clearing The Bases, and offered a cover blurb for my upcoming biography of Yogi Berra. I know Leitch, though not so well, having spoken to him a couple of times and shaken hands after a later edition of Costas Now. I wrote a highly favorable review of Leitch’s book, God Save The Fan, for the Washington Post – I do hope his publicist will include a quote from me in the paperback edition – and I admire the way Leitch ripped into ESPN for its sloppiness and arrogance when he was at Would that others in the print media displayed Leitch’s boldness.

But Leitch isn’t at Deadspin any more, he’s writing for New York, a position which, it would seem, he owes in large part to Costas giving him a chance to appear on his highly-rated show (two chances, actually, as he did a comic cameo follow-up).

It’s not as though Leitch should owe any gratitude to Costas – they were both using TV to sell product —  and in truth Leitch’s piece seems less intent on being nasty to Costas – though it is very much that – as being self-promotional.

Starting with a meeting with Costas and his wife at Starbucks (“Bob Costas was beginning to sweat”), Leitch works his way up to the moment on Costas Now when Bissinger screamed at him, in front of millions of cable viewers, “I think you’re full of shit.”  Everything that’s in between seems directed at humiliating Costas for his supposed lack of knowledge concerning the Internet. Leitch quotes Costas from a sports media panel on the subject of bloggers in January, 2008:

“It’s one thing if somebody sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they are a pathetic Get-A-Life-Loser, but now that pathetic Get-a-Life-Loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability …”  And “[The Internet] … in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or reasonability. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.  It’s just a high tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on barstools or in school-yards, if they are school-yard bullies, or on men’s-room walls in gas stations.  That doesn’t mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.”

“I knew,” write Leitch, “that his understanding of the web was rudimentary, but I had no idea just how clueless he really was. It was as if he had never looked at a computer until the ‘Get-A-Life-Losers’ curfuffle.  But rather than respond with curiosity, Costas had, apparently, decided that everything on the Internet was designed specifically to make him look like a jerk.”

Is that all Leitch finds in Costas’s call for responsibility and accountability in sports bloggers, a personal attack on him?  Or does he think such things as responsibility and accountability are to be snickered at?  It’s impossible, Leitch writes, quoting from an e-mail to his book editor the morning after his first meeting with Costas,  “to overstate how little Bob Costas understands about the Web. He only recently realized that the comments on a story are not written by the author. I had to talk with him as if I were describing the Internet to my grandmother. He had no idea what Facebook was. Costas is an intelligent guy, but he has obviously had so much smoke blown up his ass for so long that he can’t see the forest for the trees.”  (A knowledge of Facebook, one observes, doesn’t prevent some writers from falling back on cliches when analysis is required.)

I don’t buy it that Costas didn’t know that comments on an Internet story are not written by the author. Here’s what he told me about this in an article I wrote for the Wall Street Journal last summer:  “I find it appalling that many – not all, by any means, but many – Internet columnists pretend that the responses they get have nothing to do with the tone that they use.  When someone calls them on the language of their posters, some of them throw up their hands in mock dismay as if to say ‘I had no idea that what I wrote would elicit such response!’ when in fact in many cases it’s obvious that this is precisely the kind of response they were after.”

Costas’s point is one that Leitch never really addresses. When Costas asked him if a poster’s comment that Costas “couldn’t find perspective if someone dropped him into Rosie O’Donnell’s pussy” was funny, Leitch’s only response was “I had not written that, carefully disguising, I hoped, my opinion that, well, it is a funny image.”  We wonder if Leitch’s grandmother found it funny when he explained the Internet to her.

Why did Leitch write the article (which is included in the paperback edition of God Save the Fan Apparently he feels he was set up for the on-air clash with Bissinger – “I am walking into an ambush,” he feels as he heads to the taping of Costas Now – and making Costas look clueless and foolish is his payback.  No matter what Leitch thinks he knows bout the Internet that people like Bob Costas don’t know, this is pretty lame – one might say kid’s stuff, especially from a guy who has made his reputation by taking on the big boys. Is it possible that someone who has dished out such major league sass to corporations like ESPN can’t take a little tough talk from Buzz Bissinger without whining, particularly when it brings him national attention?

Shouldn’t someone at New York, to say nothing of his book editor, have advised Leitch that he got a lot more from Bob Costas than he lost?  And shouldn’t someone who knows Leitch and has some influence on him tell him that it’s about time to stop calling people “Dude”?

Myself, I’ve stopped reading responses to pieces I write on the web.  Life is short. But I did notice one  attached to Leitch’s story on New York‘s website. I’ll quote it to you in its entirety because I think for once a poster got it right. “Let me get this straight. You’re writing about old news from nine months ago. You’re rehashing Bissinger just to stay relevant? Your insecurities are showing.”


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