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Feeding the troll: An analysis of the angry ramblings of a fussy blogger, and why he probably doesn't really care.
We take a break from Georgia week to evaluate a recent piece by a fussy blogger. Some mild NSFW language ahead.
The alternative press is a beautiful thing. In an age when print media is on life support, these local rags find a way to remain engaging, relevant and (most importantly) in print. All this despite no subscription or paper sale revenue. Hey, who'd have thought that publishing thoughtful content instead of Gil Thorpe cartoons might be a winning formula for ad sales?
Alt-press is characterized by locally-pertinent material that's edgier in comparison to mainstream outlets. In fact, SB Nation is a fine example alternative media. It covers straight news, offers compelling feature items, and also I'm allowed to say "balls". See? Balls.
Most cities with any cultural significance (and Myrtle Beach) publish alternative weekly newspapers. The two I'm most familiar with—Columbia's Free Times and the Charleston City Paper—have been lunchtime reading material for this writer since I was in high school. I look forward to my weekly lunch sojourn to Andolini's Pizza on Wentworth St. and chowing on a mushroom slice and small salad while tearing through the week's CCP.
They also have a website, and yesterday, they published something on that website that's caused a bit of a stir. It's a post from a dude named Chris Haire. Chris Haire has a blog on the charlestoncitypaper.com. It is called HAIRE OF THE DOG. Yay for puns.
Truthfully, I've read his blog before and it's usually interesting. He posts on topics various and sundry, his past articles range from political commentary to local art reviews. Nothing out of the ordinary for a local scene writer.
Yesterday, however, Chris took to his blog and sounded off on the whole Spurrier/Morris debacle. Nothing riles media-types quite like public figures trying to cup the lips of their Fourth Estate brethren. As virtually everyone knows, there are two recognized components to this story: Ron Morris is a card-carrying troll, and Steve Spurrier probably should have dealt with this in a less visible manner. Yet, Steve saw it fit to be outspoken and involve the administration, drawing the wrath of his myriad critics.
It's worth noting that none of us know exactly what Spurrier's motives were, and most of the criticism that's been hurled at OBC is rooted in speculation. Regardless, Spurrier could have addressed the issue with more tact and avoided all the scrutiny. (Of course, Spurrier probably couldn't give two shits about the public's reaction to all of it, which serves to infuriated detractors all the more.) So that's where we stand, and now everyone with a keyboard and a router feels entitled to his say.
This brings us back to Chris Haire, who dropped a rather, shall we say, partisan blog post on the matter. Feel free to read it all here, but I found it so puzzling, backwards, and ill-informed that I thought a blow-by-blow review was in order. We'll start at the title:
"Steve Spurrier Must Be Fired"
Eh, garden-variety shock value. Good for pageviews. On to the lede:
"Steve Spurrier is many things.
A Heisman Trophy winner.
A National Championship winning coach.
A sun visor aficionado.
The de facto head of the University of South Carolina.
And a chicken shit."
"See, maybe you know this and maybe you don't, but Steve Spurrier has been trying his damnedest to get State newspaper sports columnist Ron Morris fired.
Why? Morris had the gall to criticize Spurrier's decision to play an injured Connor Shaw during the University of Alabama Birmingham game.
Now, just in case anyone is confused, this was UAB not the Crimson Frikkin' Tide. UAB posed little to no threat to the Gamecocks' hopes of an undefeated season and a national championship."
Herein lies a major issue. Chris is moving forward on the premise that the decision to start Shaw against UAB was objectively incorrect. Look, considering Chris' lofty status as Head Writer of Haire of the Dog, I'm sure he was privy to daily medical briefings of Connor Shaw's condition and was intimately aware of the coaching staff's longterm plans, that lucky so-and-so! But he attempts to establish that Spurrier's decision to start Shaw was the function of overvaluing the importance of the game, and he simply doesn't know that to be true. It'd be equally faulty for me to suggest that Spurrier made the absolute correct decision in starting Shaw that week. Neither one of us has any clue, but only one of us felt the need to use it as a supporting factor in a blog post. Let's move on.
"Meanwhile, Morris, in typical sportswriter hyperbole, procclaimed [sic] that the decision was perhaps one of Spurrier's 'most ill-advised decisions of his illustrious coaching career.' While that may or may not be true — it's hard to argue that it is — there's no arguing that the decision was just plain dumb."
Again, speaking in such absolute terms ("there's no arguing") is preposterous. See, watch! I'll argue that the decision wasn't dumb: we won the game, Connor could have played second half were he needed, the injury wasn't exacerbated by starting against UAB, people with doctorates said he could play, etc. But I digress; let's move on to the final sentence of that paragraph:
"But that's the kind of shit you expect out of the University of South Carolina."
Theeeere it is. Up to this point, it was the same song and dance we've read from any writer who took umbrage at Spurrier's behavior. Now, Chris has effectively devalued everything written before and after this sentence. I mean, props for the transparency, and I really do mean that, but this marks the point where the facade of "edgy blogger" begins to crumble to reveal tear-streaked orange-and-stripes facepaint.
"Surprisingly, Spurrier responded to Morris' column by refusing to talk to the press for two days. And not just Morris — all of the press. We can only imagine that the Old Ball Coach had to undergo intensive psychiatric counseling over that two-day period to get over the emotional and psychological damage Morris' words had caused."
Hey, yeah, remember how Spurrier refused to talk to the press!? What a baby! He didn't even hold his usual teleconference and press conference on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively! [checks ear piece] What's that? I'm being told he did, in fact, hold both of those press sessions.
Of course, what Chris meant to say was Spurrier didn't take questions, which is still brow-raising but far less damning than "refusing to talk to the press."
"And things only soured after that, with Morris comparing the reactions of Spurrier and USC to those taken by Joe Paterno and Penn State after they found out Jerry Sandusky had been caught raping a young boy in the shower. In response to that comment, the Head Ball Coach threatened to quit if The State didn't fire Morris and insinuated that the powers that be at USC were working hand in hand with the daily to do just that."
Chris, who a few paragraphs ago chalked Morris' bravado up to ' "typical sportswriter hyperbole", decides not to grant Spurrier's the same rhetorical leeway for the statement, "If that's part of my job, I'll head to the beach." Which, by the way, is pretty sorry evidence to back the claim that he "threatened to quit" even if hyperbole is dismissed.
"Somewhere in all of this a Columbia TV station dismissed Morris from his weekly gig with them, and the columnist responded to the whole brouhaha with an unnecessary apology."
Agreed that the ABC-WOLO thing smells fishy, even if they did claim the decision was made of their own volition. But even if you choose not to believe them, why go on to speak for Ron Morris by qualifying his apology with the word "unnecessary"? Do you not suspect he could have felt genuine remorse for likening Spurrier's program to one that sponsored a kiddie brothel? (I know, typical sportswriter hyperbole!.)
"Yes, this whole thing is silly. In fact, you might even say it's as silly as the way the average Gamecock fan puffs out their chests these days and talks as if their team is a perennial powerhouse and not the 81st best team of all time."
Okay, I'll bite: who among us considers our team a perennial powerhouse? I'm not trying to be a dick here, but isn't that one of the main digs at Clemson fans?
"So what should be done here? What's the frikkin solution? As a reporter — and more importantly, as a Clemson fan — the answer is crystal clear. It's not Ron Morris who should be given his walking papers. It's Steve Spurrier."
Whoa, whoa, whoa: "More importantly, as a Clemson fan." Doesn't Chris recognize that for the purposes of salvaging whatever shred of credibility this piece once carried, he should be prioritizing his role as a reporter ahead of his team loyalty? In fact, this whole episode has nothing to do with Clemson, thus rendering your role as a fan completely unimportant and further reduces this piece to an asshurt fan rant. Cripes!
"But that's my take on it."
Not to stoop here, but my journalism school professors would knock off a letter grade for these kind of fluff lines.
"My Columbia colleague Dan Cook of the Free Times has a far more sensible take on the whole matter. Here's a little of what Dan had to say about the Old Ball Coach:
'The real story here is not in the blow-by-blow disagreements between a sports columnist and a football coach, but rather in the unhealthy impulse among some fans and local officials to kill the messenger rather than listen to the message — or for that matter, to simply ignore it.
We live in a state where our governor routinely plays petty games with reporters, calling one — Renee Dudley, a Journalist of the Year who just left the Charleston Post & Courier to take a job with Bloomberg — a “little girl,” and refusing to take questions from another, Gina Smith of The State.
We live in a state with weak ethics laws and weak adherence to those that we do have.
We live in a state where officials and institutions routinely ignore, deny or drag their feet on Freedom of Information requests.
In short, we live in a state that needs more vigorous questioning from reporters and columnists, not less.'
Well said, Dan. Well said."
You know what? Agreed! That was well said, Dan. Back to the lighter side with Chris and his grand finale:
"On and for the record, Gamecock fans, the Steve Spurrier era is a kidney stone. It will pass and it will be painful and you will end up watching all of your hopes and dreams be flushed away. Go Tigers."
And with that, Chris exposes his true motive for writing this piece in the first place: to post a glorified message board ramble about how much the GAMECOCKS SUCK! It just so happens he has a platform.
Admittedly, I'm being a bit saucy for effect. I'm sure Chris is a good dude. I don't know him, but Charleston's a small enough town that I've probably seen him around. For all I know, we've had a conversation. And I don't disparage him for being frustrated, what with all the pan-sport dominance and the blowouts and the threepeats and the beatings and the national titles.
But, really, was your City Paper blog the right place for this? If your intent was to write about the ethics of media control by persons of influence, sure—and again, a few tactful jabs would have been fair game. But this was a hastily-assembled rant that may as well have been copied and pasted from TigerNet. It just lowers the bar, man! But it's not my call. If the powers-that-be at CCP are comfortable with it, I guess you've earned the right. But at least make it a full-on flamefest right out of the gates as opposed to trying to sneak it in under the guise of a "media ethics" high-horse!
In the meantime, Chris, head on over to Shakin' the Southland, SB Nation's most excellent Clemson Blog (and it really is outsanding.) They'll listen to you. They'll educate you. And maybe they'll give you something for that kidney stone.