As time marches on from the contentious Leitch-Bissinger showdown on HBO, more and more mainstream writers are weighing in on the matter. And, for the most part, they're not getting any more insightful. The latest comes courtesy of The Washington Post's Len Shapiro, who, while conceding that Buzz Bissinger hurt his argument with his behavior on Bob Costas' show, thinks the journalist and author should not back down from his core points: that blogs are full of filth-flarn-filth and are the end of the world as we know it. Of course, Shapiro does so while trafficking in the usual hoary cliches about bloggers (they're uninformed and their commenters are anonymous cowards) and generally displaying little familiarity with the medium he derides.
Still, Bissinger's concerns should be all of our concerns. Do we want our sports-infatuated kids to grow up reading Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber (don't ask), or would we prefer them to peruse the internet or their local library to read the wonderful work of Red Smith, Shirley Povich, Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins and yes, most definitely Buzz Bissinger?
Foof! That's a doozy. So many things to address in one little graf. I'll start with the "don't ask" aside. I'm guessing this is an oblique reference to my firing from The Washington Post, but who can really be sure? Apparently they don't stress writing for clarity in newspapers anymore. So much has changed in the month I've been gone. If so, you have to find humor in any "professional" journalist who implores readers not to ask questions.
Like Bissinger and Costas, Shapiro shows an embarrassing, even irresponsible, amount of knowledge of the subject he's writing about. Here, he somehow conflates Deadspin, a blog that deals in sports news, analysis and, yes, rumors, with Kissing Suzy Kolber, a site comprised of fabricated sports satire, as if they're the same thing. That would be like decrying the quality of print journalism by linking, say, The Washington Post and The Onion.
WaPo and The Onion are an interesting pairing by the way, because, well, they're business partners. The Washington Post Co. distributes The Onion in the D.C. area and takes in ad revenue for doing so. If profane sports satire is indeed dumbing down our culture so distressingly, should not Shapiro ask his employer why they are in a business relationship with a publication that runs plenty of it?
The claim that the poor generations of tomorrow would be poorly served digesting KSK rather than Shirley Povich is one of those false choices Costas mentioned in his special. Why can't they read both? Why does reading a blog necessarily preclude reading a mainstream publication? As Shapiro states, blogs mostly lack firsthand information. If readers aren't interested in that, it's their choice. For most of its existence, Kissing Suzy Kolber was a site with no promotion and no funding. If an operation like that is taking readers away from your august, well-heeled publication, there's probably a good reason why.
Besides, haven't many already made the claim that our culture's obsession with sports alone is evidence enough of a "dumbing down"? My opinion is that sports is entertainment first, no matter how much significance you wish to attach to it. If a reader shares that opinion, they're likely to digest it in ways that are different than traditional, more pious coverage. The era of newspaper writer and TV producer as the gatekeepers of information is coming to an end, if it's not already over. If you're willing to blame bloggers for the changing sports culture, shouldn't you also level the blame at readers?
Certainly you're not too cowardly to do that, right?