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Bob Costas Clarifies and Amplifies

Mike SteffanosTuesday, March 18, 2008
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.

In a fantastic interview Faith and Fear in Flushing's Greg Prince recently did for the Mets by the Numbers web site, Greg made the following point about the media:

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.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (4)

Mike - I have to say I was surprised by the reports of Costas' original comments. I had the occasion to meet him, on the same day and location I met Tom Seaver, during a Sunday night broadcast of his radio show at a steakhouse in Manhattan.

While Seaver was a grump, who reluctantly granted me an autograph, Costas went out of his way to make sure I was happy, comfortable, and well-fed, and even remembered my name at the end of the night. This impressed me a great deal.

That said, Costas certainly feels the "circle-the-wagons" pressure that all those in positions of privilege must feel when a threat to their power becomes evident. Like the political party hacks who see someone outside their sphere of influence speaking plain truth and making sense, Costas must feel compelled to attempt to marginalize those who could usurp that power.

It's true, opinions are like asses - everyone has one. Mine is no more or less valuable than that of any "Mike's Mets" reader. I just happen to blather on about it occasionally, while others are content to read and privately digest these thoughts without weighing in on them. Some opinions are eloquent and spell-checked; others are visceral and raw; still others are as Neanderthal as "___________ suck!" (go ahead - you KNOW what you want to fill in there). All have some measure of merit.

Opinions are like asses, indeed.

What Mr. Costas doesn't acknowledge is that most people will not continue to read really bad writing or analysis, on the topic of baseball or on anything else.

Baseball writing can be deeply biased, reactive, or proceeding from a negative assumption -- in which case it will resemble Dead Tree sports reportage in the tabloids of New York, Boston and beyond. Such writing will attract a certain number of fans.

But the guys that get the real readers in bulk are the ones who love the game, want their team or the game in general to succeed, and put real effort into their topics. I personally don't love every writer at Hardball Times, for instance; but is there a writer at that site who could be described as unreadable?

Elitism is a self-killer when confronted by an open market. And it is possible to look really, really stupid in trying to hold the line against The New.

Most of you folk know of Aaron Gleeman, I'm betting. Aaron has his own website, which he doesn't attend as much as he used to, and for good reason: his efforts at his website and as a founder of Hardball Times led him to paying gigs with Rotoworld.com, NBC online and Sports Illustrated. He has shown up in Sports Illustrated magazine recently as well.

But back in the days when his website was fairly new, running a "Free Johann Santana" banner as he tried to coax his Twins into doing the smart thing, he entered college and tried to get a nonpaying job at the University of Minnesota student paper -- and was shot down, twice. They wouldn't let him file coverage of the women's soccer games, or anything at all; he wasn't a journalism major, you see. His work on his website, a consistently terrific read which I visited nearly every day, translated to zero experience to whomever was in charge of interviewing the prospective newsies at the U of Minnesota.

I bet you there isn't a better writer on that student newspaper than Aaron Gleeman. And I hope they reflect occasionally on that non-hire, and feel like the jerks they are.

Good piece Mike. Even before the pompous statements, I've never liked Costas because every thing he does comes off to me as pompous, arrogant and elitist.

Anytime I read a "real journalist" complaining about bloggers, I usually chalk it up to someone threatened by competition and trying to justify their job.

Keep up the good work, I can't wait until we have real games to think about rather some over-rated blowhard's rants.

Nostra - I'm not surprised to hear that Costas was a good guy. Being an elitist in one area wouldn't preclude that. As for Seaver, his curmudgeonry is legendary, but it sure was great to watch him pitch.

dd - Does David Gassko still write for the Hardball Times? Point taken, though. I think we'd do well if everyone was judged on what they produced rather than where they produce it.

Dan - There really was a time when Costas was a breath of fresh air on tv, challenging the notion of what a sports guy was. Sadly, now he does come off as pompous, arrogant and elitist, as you say. I'm with you on the real games.

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