By Mike Steffanos
In case you haven't seen it, Bob Costas did an interview with Deadspin regarding the controversy stirred up by his comments that were reported by the Miami Herald last week. I've already written twice on this, here and here.
Costas didn't deny the accuracy of the quotes in the story, saying that he "wanted to clarify and amplify my points, not backtrack or apologize or anything." The crux of what he had to say is as follows:
I don't have any problem at all with the mainstream media being challenged or supplemented by new media. 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.
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.
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. Is there a lot out there that's also well-written? Or course. 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.
I guess you take him at his word here, but to my mind he didn't at all back away from a certain elitism. While I get the drift that Ted Koppel knows a little something about politics, what's to say that I well-thought out comment by an intelligent, articulate and well-informed person doesn't have equal value to something Koppel might say? Are there a lot of comments out there in political blogs that are stupid, pointless, mean-spirited, bigoted, ill-informed or all of the above? Of course. If anything, comment sections on political blogs are scarier and more disappointing than what's posted to sports blogs, particularly since sports is merely entertainment while politics affects our day to day lives.
Now turn this back to sports which, after all, was what Costas was talking about in his original statements that started all of this. I would not even attempt to argue that there isn't a lot of garbage out there left in comments. Nor would I tell you that there weren't times I read things in blogs that made me temporarily regret the protection afforded by the first amendment. I've seen stuff that horrified me, and there have been times when I wasn't having a good day that I posted stuff here that wasn't even worth the paper it wasn't written on. The mere fact that anyone can start a blog or leave anonymous comments on thousands of web sites ensures that there is "a lot of muck to sift through", as Costas says.
But let's examine the statement about the professionals that "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." Frankly, I don't at all assign credibility to someone anymore just because they've been doing it for a living for a while. I differentiate here between beat reporters and columnists.
Beat reporters almost without exception have a deep knowledge of the team they cover. I'll be honest with you, too, that I don't think I could do their jobs -- particularly writing game recaps on a deadline. I also have to tip my hat to them because without their reporting bloggers like myself would have little to talk about.
As for the columnists, they're basically doing the same thing bloggers are -- sharing their opinions on the sport or sports they cover. They have more access and most do at least some reporting, but when it comes to expressing opinions I'm not sure that I assign them any more credibility than I would to a blogger who has earned my respect. And certainly there are columnists (I'm looking at you, Wallace Matthews) for whose opinions I have very little respect. It's in this regard I strongly part company with Costas.
Case in point, I remember last spring I was dumbfounded when a famous national baseball columnist from Chicago made some comments about the Mets pitching that spring that weren't born out by the facts -- facts that could have been easily checked just by accessing the spring training stats on the official web site. The simple truth of the matter is that much is written by those who Bob Costas feels have earned automatic credibility is based on their own prejudices and incomplete knowledge of their subject.
I think just about every Mets fan has come to hate most of the general and national baseball columnists in this town. There is never any benefit of the doubt given to the Mets and they are the ones responsible for pushing the pointless comparisons to the Yankees. It doesn't help that a lot of the national-baseball columnists used to be Yankees beat writers and that's their point of reference for "the way things work" or should work.
The problem with trying to read a columnist today in this age of blogs is it's obvious the columnist does not think about the Mets nearly as much as we do and goes on to show what an astounding lack of understanding he has for the subject...
While I wouldn't go as far as saying I "hate" those guys, I thought Greg was right on about everything else. Then again, I suspect that columnists write primarily for the vast audience of fans that don't follow the team day to day and don't have the knowledge and strong opinions of the folks that make up the audience for Greg, I and other Mets bloggers.
The point for me -- and the reason I felt the need to spend so many words on this over the last few days -- is that Costas' willingness to concede that a whole online community of sports fans aren't all pathetic get-a-life losers isn't really what matters. I happen to think it's a good thing when people feel the need to challenge what they read, even when they read it here. I'm not ready to join with Bob and unquestioningly accept the authority of anyone who happens to have a byline in a major newspaper. I know quite a few knowledgeable Mets fans, bloggers and commenters, who I feel have credibility on the subject of the Mets that is the equal of anyone. And on that note, I think we'll let both this topic and Mr. Costas rest.