UPDATED: Bob Costas, You’re On Notice!

Joining the ranks of Marcus Hayes and Bill Conlin is Robert Quinlan Costas, or as many in “the biz” know him, Bob Costas.

On Notice

He has some not-so-nice things to say about bloggers in an article written by Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.

Costas, speaking before he emceed (and donated $50,000) at Tuesday’s Make-a-Wish sports auction at the Broward County Convention Center, doesn’t understand what compels so many nonjournalist sports fans to seek a forum for their opinions.

I don’t know… maybe it’s the enjoyment one gets out of discussing something you enjoy? I’d much rather talk with a bunch of baseball fans than with some Englishmen about cricket. Wouldn’t you?

Why is one’s lack of journalism credentials prudent to seeking “a forum” for his opinion?

Before the Internet, most fans were content talking about sports with their buddies.

It’s funny that this line of reasoning is somehow passable. Try it in another context.

“Before anesthesia, most patients were content having open heart surgery while wide awake.”

”Today, I saw on ESPN a poll about which Western Conference teams would not make the playoffs,” Costas said. “Well, 46 percent said the Denver Nuggets, which has zero percent influence on anything. [...]

A) Voting in an online poll != Blogging.

B) Welcome to the world of voting, Bob! Your vote has never had any influence on anything meaningful, ever. Voting is an illusion of democracy.

[...]Who has the time or the inclination to do this, even if you’re sitting on your computer? Why would you weigh in on it?”

There are many reasons why you’d vote in an online poll:

  • It’s easy.
  • You’re bored.
  • You’re feeling mischievous and you vote 12,000 times for the most ridiculous answer to the question “Who will win the NBA championship?”
  • You actually believe that your vote will have a meaningful impact.

‘But it’s one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they’re a pathetic get-a-life loser[...]

Oh, boy. First, I’ll focus on the obvious: not all bloggers live in their mothers’ basements (talk to the elbow ’cause the hand is on vacation).

Not all bloggers are “pathetic get-a-life losers,” either. Many simply blog as an activity. Bloggers can just as easily be neurosurgeons as they can be fry cooks at Wendy’s. That’s the beauty of it, actually. The internet provides a true democracy of opinion. Dictators like Costas, however, would prefer the power rest in the hands of the elite, the haughty sports journalists. Don’t you know, sports journalists can do stuff that regular people just can’t do!

Let’s see, sports journalists…

  • Watch games, and record important events from those games.
  • Talk to integral people involved with those games.
  • Write a narrative about the event using quotes from the people spoken to.

That’s stuff that even Harvard-graduated neurosurgeons can’t fathom. “I know how to send electromagnetic signals to the thalamus*, but I just can’t put into words what occurred during the Blue Jays-Twins game! And I have no idea what Ron Gardenhire is saying: ‘The ump blew a few calls.’ What?”

* I have no idea if this is even necessary, much less possible.

[...] but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard’s column or Bernie Miklasz’ column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.”

How can a blogger “piggyback” onto someone? I’m not following this one (I realize it’s metaphorical). Is commenting on an article “piggybacking”? Is blogging about an article (as I am doing here) “piggybacking”? My understanding of the term is that you actually have to have some kind of tangible gain from someone else’s work.

Decent choice with Dan LeBatard, though. He seems to have his head on straight:

The Celtics don’t get to be the best team in the East because they have three superstars and play exceptional defense, which seems obvious enough. They’re great because of the ”chemistry” and ”determination” and ”leadership” of those three great players, but might yet lose to the ”unity” and ”experience” and ”clutchness” of Detroit, a team with, um, four great players.

Truth is, at the top of the sports food chain, the difference between the most talented teams — and the most important of the intangibles — is often dumb luck. You, too, can beat the clutchness of Tom Brady and genius of Bill Belichick and desire of Wes Welker if David Tyree happens to catch the ball off the top of his helmet after Eli Manning magically becomes Vince Young.

Back to the subject, why just flat assume that those commenting have “no particular insight”? I’m a cynic of the highest degree, but that is just too cynical even for my tastes, and it reeks of elitism.

Costas seems to think that his degree in journalism somehow gave him the power to understand everything sports-related.

Internet and talk radio commentary that “confuses simple mean-spiritedness and stupidity with edginess. Just because I can call someone a name doesn’t mean I’m insightful or tough and edgy. It means I’m an idiot.”

So, Costas has a problem with people on the Internet calling each other names. The pot calls the kettle black. Let’s recap:

  • Bloggers set up blogs from their mom’s basement in Albuquerque.
  • These bloggers are pathetic get-a-life losers.
  • People who comment on articles have no insight and are ignorant.

It’s true: people are more likely to act immaturely since they are protected by the anonymity the Internet provides. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water, however.

Lastly, I’d be offended if I was from Albuquerque. What does that have to do with loserdom?

“It’s just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were 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.”

So, blogging about how David Wright > Jimmy Rollins for ’07 NL MVP, for instance, is something I’d do while sitting in a bar? Sure. So is pontificating about U.S. foreign policy, asking for cheap one-liners, and begging for my car keys after my 9th beer.

I don’t see how being a school bully has anything to do with blogging. Is this a Freudian slip? Bob… is there something you’d like to talk about? Is it not the bloggers who are wedgie-prone, but you?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen someone write on a men’s room wall, “David Wright > Jimmy Rollins for ’07 NL MVP because he has a higher OBP/SLG, plays better defense, and has comparable base-stealing ability.”

Most bloggers do a great job in adding to the dialogue in a broad array of subjects. I get more of my sports information from bloggers (I have five blogs with RSS buttons in my browser, still more in my favorites; none on both counts for newspaper and magazine websites, including ESPN). I think it’s the same way for most Web surfers.

If we can infer one thing from Costas’ unnecessary, immature, factless rant, it’s that his displeasure over bloggers and the people who read and comment on them is based on the fact that they are competition for his job. Bloggers do for free what elitists like Costas do for six-figure incomes, and many do it at a comparable level and are more entertaining in the process.

Focusing on those who comment on articles is fallacious. It’s what a statistics-inclined person would describe as a “small sample size.” Making a judgment based on two sentences is awfully flawed. It’s absolutely true that more than just a few people who leave comments do so to start flame wars, to spam, or to simply make a (usually) unfunny joke that adds nothing to the intellectual level of the conversation.

The next step up for Costas is calling for comment Eugenics. “Want to leave a comment on a Bob Costas article? Take the 30-minute IQ test. If you score 110 or higher, your comment will be held in moderation for approval by Mr. Robert Quinlan Costas himself.”

Even worse is imagining how he’d handle blogging. “So, you wish to start a blog about the Cincinnati Reds? Answer the following question: Do you have a degree in journalism?”

If you answer no, your computer immediately shuts down and you become unable to access the Internet through a browser the next time you turn it on. If you answer yes, you are instead redirected to a Google image search for “Bob Costas.”

Just be glad that elitists like Costas aren’t in charge of policing the Internet.

UPDATED: Costas contacted Deadspin to clarify his comments.

I noted that many of the comments expressed disappointment. I wanted to clarify and amplify my points, not backtrack or apologize or anything.

He’s sticking to his guns. Okay.

No entity has a monopoly over good writing from a valid point of view. In that sense, the more the merrier. In fact, many bloggers, on numerous subjects, sports included, are talented, humorous and bring fresh perspectives.

(Scowl slowly turns into a smile) Good.

My commentary was aimed solely at a portion of Internet sports discourse, an unfortunately large portion, that consists of nothing more than potshots, ad hominem arguments, ignorance and invective. No one who is familiar with the general tone of public discourse, whether it be sports, politics, whatever, can honestly deny that much. It comes from that direction.

Okay, but these aren’t “bloggers.”

I was absolutely not saying that most or all bloggers were losers. It just seems so often that commenters use insults in the place of arguments.

Bloggers != Commenters.

And if some bloggers do use “The Yankees suck” instead of “The Red Sox have better pitching, and a comparable offense and defense,” they’re not going to stick around for a while and they’re not worth reading. Perhaps I’ve happened to avoid blogs that do this, but I haven’t noticed any legitimate blogs that ad hominem their way home.

But forgive me for not placing the exact same value on an comment on a political blog that I would to something said by Ted Koppel. Sure, they have the equal value in a voting booth. But you have to assume that if you’ve done something reasonable well for an extended period of time, you have some notion of what you’re talking about.

Is 2+2=4 any less correct if George W. Bush says it as opposed to Albert Einstein saying it?

Costas rails against people using ad hominem arguments, but this is the basic ad hominem form:

[Claim] is right because [positive quality about the claimant; not evidence for claim].

Costas is likely railing against the converse:

[Claim] is wrong because [negative quality about the claimant; not evidence against claim].

Some have inferred that I have this elitist view, and that I think only people who have been somehow “certified” have the right to comment on sports. It shouldn’t be confused with somehow being superior.

I would be among those that felt Costas is elitist.

Notice that he didn’t amend his statements, but still doesn’t want to be viewed as elitist. Bob can start by saying, “You don’t need to have a degree in journalism to opine on the Internets.”

If you opened up anything to large numbers of participants, you’d find some real gems in there. But you’d have a lot of muck to sift through.

Yes, there’s a lot of muck in the comments.

I do think newspapers’ comment boards need to have the same sort of standard they’d have for a letter to an editor.

Ah, there it is. Remember when I alluded to Costas’ next step being the need for comment Eugenics? Just about there.

I look at some baseball blogs, Baseball Prospectus and what-not.

+1 E-cred for reading BP.

[Deadspin] We think the tipoff for people being angry was the “basement” line. Everyone’s a little tired of that line. [Costas] Yes, well, that might have lapsed a bit into cliche.

Still no retraction, though.

Costas tried to manage the backlash and really just ended up saying a whole lot of nothing.

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10 comments

  1. Rob

    March 15, 2008 11:14 AM

    Great going Bill.

    The hubris of that midget has always annoyed me.

    Oops! I called him a name…

  2. Eggshmeg

    March 15, 2008 01:14 PM

    “I know how to send electromagnetic signals to the thalamus”

    Alright, that made me laugh.

  3. MoonDog

    March 15, 2008 07:51 PM

    Excellent post. You know how I feel about this. Oddly enough, I posted a very similar article at my blog along these lines, although I was unaware of Costas’ remarks.

    I’m really disappointed too because I’ve always liked Costas. Among the many talking heads in sports journalism, he was one of the few that offered a truly insightful commentary on the issues.

    Very well done.

  4. Nick

    March 16, 2008 03:17 AM

    I always looked at Costas like he was genuinely good guy, guess I was wrong. I was just wondering though, since we are playing by Bob’s rules here, does this mean I have to shut down my site until I finish earning my journalism degree from Penn State? I figured since I was an editor for the student newspaper and write for my local daily that it’d be ok for me to share my thoughts. I need a ruling on this Bob. God forbid someone cut their teeth a little while their skills are incubating while in pursuit of a meaningless degree.

    I also find something else rather ironic. What kind of reporting does Costas do? Doesn’t he technically piggyback off others stories? All he does is presents a personal or editorial angel on big stories that others have broke. Pot, Bob. Bob, Pot.

  5. CJ

    March 16, 2008 01:51 PM

    As a former “trained journalist” I can say that I enjoy sports blogs. (Even ones that make the cringe-inducing observation “Your vote has never had any influence on anything meaningful, ever. Voting is an illusion of democracy.”)

    Further, I think sports blogs can make traditional sports coverage better by doing what traditional outlets will not: identify and discourage lazy coverage and analysis that falls short of actual “journalism.”

    The good news is, guys like Costas will be replaced by professionals who came of age with sports blogs, so their attitudes will be different.

    It also seems Costas and the guy covering his remarks are using “bloggers” and “blog commenters” interchangeably, which is a standard mistake/tactic of blog critics.

    This point is on-target, however:
    *Internet and talk radio commentary that “confuses simple mean-spiritedness and stupidity with edginess. Just because I can call someone a name doesn’t mean I’m insightful or tough and edgy.

    This is true across the media spectrum. Radio (see: Cataldi, Angelo), Internet, TV, films, etc. Mean is easier than edgy. So once “edginess” became the buzz word, the market catered to the cheaper substitute.

    Most of the Costas article was about controlling access to locker rooms. Which I can understand is a sticky subject.

  6. Nick

    March 16, 2008 02:05 PM

    Not everyone should have access to locker rooms, and the thing is, 98% of bloggers don’t want access to locker rooms. They don’t want to have to go out and do the work. That’s the beauty of it, the journalists chase down the quotes, and the bloggers give their take on what that journalist has reported. Mainstream media, newspapers, will never go anywhere. I don’t see where this idea came from, but if the newspapers disappear so do the bloggers. There can’t be one without the other.

  7. ShooterB

    March 16, 2008 02:36 PM

    Nice post. I wouldn’t have known about this if not for reading it here.

    I’m not sure why people like Costas and Stephen A. Smith feel so threatened. I guess they prefer their readers/listeners/viewers to be silent and oblivious.

    Enjoyed the read. Glad you brought this to our attention.

  8. CJ

    March 16, 2008 04:54 PM

    Nick makes a good point.

    Bloggers need the newspapers. Sports bloggers. Political bloggers…all of them. They take what the newspapers report and then challenge it, expand on it, correct it, etc. It’s a good relationship.

  9. Nick

    March 19, 2008 12:45 AM

    CJ, exactly. That’s why I don’t entirely understand this idea that the newspapers are going to disappear. Even if one day they aren’t in print, which again will likely never happen, people like to take the paper with them, the same outlets will still be posting news on the internet. These companies aren’t going anywhere. National media can only do so much, until CNN or ESPN decide to put reporters in every single city on the country, the newspapers will be here.

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