Buzz Bissinger is the author of the Texas high-school football book Friday Night Lights and Prayer for the City, which is about Philadelphia under former Mayor Ed Rendell. Mr. Bissinger also wrote the Vanity Fair article on which the movie Shattered Glass was based. He is 53 years old, with a wide, almost froglike face and glasses, and on the night of Tuesday, April 29, he participated in a panel discussion on HBO’s Costas Now, hosted by NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, on the subject of sports and the Internet. The other panelists were Will Leitch, editor of the sports blog Deadspin.com, and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Here are some of the things Mr. Bissinger said—or yelled, rather, and with what appeared to be more than a bit of spittle—to Mr. Leitch:
“I really think you’re full of shit.”
“I think that blogs are dedicated to cruelty, they’re dedicated to journalistic dishonesty, they’re dedicated to speed.”
“I think the quality of writing on blogs is generally despicable. And yes, I say this as a writer who spent 40 years of his life trying to perfect the craft.”
“I think you are perpetuating the future, and I think the future in the hands of guys like you is going to dumb us down in a way we can’t recover from.”
Even Mr. Costas, who has taken his share of lumps on Deadspin and is generally regarded as upholding the mantle of the traditional sports journalist (in the panel discussion he also seemed confused as to the difference between a blog post and blog comments), appeared taken aback at Mr. Bissinger’s outbursts. In both style and substance, Mr. Bissinger seemed like a relic.
The next day, the blogs exploded. Mr. Bissinger was called an idiot, and worse. And then he did something one sees more and more of these days: In several interviews, on radio and online, he apologized. It was like the air went out of the balloon—pfft …
What happened to the days when an enemy was an enemy, till death do they part? When was the last time anyone said anything coming close to the eruption of Norman Mailer at the 1986 World PEN Congress, when in response to a letter signed by several prominent writers protesting his inviting Secretary of State George Schultz to deliver opening remarks, he snarled, “I didn’t bring the secretary of state here to be pussy-whipped by you.” Or the time when William F. Buckley said to Gore Vidal on national television, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” True, writer Jonathan Franzen did recently call New York Times’ lead book critic, Michiko Kakatuni, “the stupidest person in New York,” but somehow it didn’t have the same pizzaz.
Of course it’s not just in the realm of literature and sports that people have long known that cultivating enemies is a way, albeit a risky one, of making one’s name and becoming known—the idea being that any association, even negative, with someone more powerful and famous is ultimately beneficial. And there is that old saw, no publicity is bad publicity. But now more people seem to be thinking, “Wait—there is such a thing as bad publicity.” For example, it’s hard to see which of the antoganists benefited from recent high profile feuds between Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric.
In an interview, Mr. Leitch seemed sanguine about being, however briefly, Mr. Bissinger’s enemy. (Mr. Leitch has also incurred the wrath of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban over an interview Mr. Leitch did with him in GQ and then discussed on Deadspin—another example, in Mr. Leitch’s and many others’ eyes, of the cluelessness of the stubbornly non-wired generation.) “I’m perfectly happy to be the smiling happy enemy for people who don’t quite get it yet,” Mr. Leitch said. “I don’t think any of these people hate me or dislike me because I’m doing mean things to them. So in a way that helps me, because I know I’m not doing anything wrong. I suppose if I were a real combative personality I would only hurt myself in the situation.” Mr. Leitch said that Mr. Bissinger had sent him an e-mail last week, the details of which he asked Mr. Leitch to keep private. But all signs point to its being a reconciliatory note.