Sports Media Musings: Manti Te’o & The Rise of Deadspin; Felger & Mazz Dance With Themselves

Girl: Do not try to bend the spoon, that’s impossible; only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Girl: There is no spoon.

-         The Matrix

We generally try to stay relevant to the topic in this space. And college athletics is anything but relevant in the realm of Boston sports media. That said, the Manti Te’o saga, probably the strangest story to break since the ascent of Twitter, has destroyed the Internet, induced a litany of conspiracy theories, and, ultimately, illuminated a myriad of failings on the part of major publications across the country; leaving one, rather unlikely, entity, Deadspin, standing atop the mountain.

To tersely recap, Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia hours after his grandmother passed away. Only she didn’t, because Kekua never actually existed. Under the guise of Te’o’s emotional leadership, Notre Dame would go undefeated before losing in the National Championship Game.  Elements of this inspirational story were told across multiple outlets, including ESPN, Sports Illustrated, LA Times, New York Times, the AP and more; recounted on CBS This Morning; and, perhaps, the cathartic nature helped spearhead Te’o’s prominence as a Heisman candidate. (The last of which, we hold reservations towards – he did have to, you know, make plays on the field.)

Notre Dame held a gripping press conference last night where it stood behind its embattled linebacker, claiming he had been a victim of an elaborate hoax. That’s where we are.

Make no mistake about it, on a much, much smaller scale, this story echoes the New York Times’ shoddy reporting during the weapons of mass destruction stories early last decade, which, no matter where your political allegiances lay, helped justify a war.It will be taught in journalism classes. Probably forever.

Speculating whether or not Te’o was complicit, knew at some point, or was completely oblivious is not a practice we have any interest in participating in; nor is wondering What This All Means. (that’s something I’ll tackle in next week’s Obstructed View column. Here is yesterday’s column, in case you missed it.)

Let the record show, however, Deadspin insinuated Te’o willingly participated in the hoax. And, more than any other news outlet, the one whom boasts, “Sports News Without Favor, Access or Discretion,” is to be trusted most here. Remarkably, they’ve earned that right. How, exactly, did we get to this point?

***

Last summer, I had a lengthy conversation with Deadspin’s co-founder and editor emeritus, Will Leitch. The New York Magazine editor, GQ contributor, and Sports On Earth columnist, told me he left Deadspin because “it was time.” His assertions are better described in his ode to his successor, A.J. Daulerio, entitled, “A.J. Ruined Deadspin, Thank God.” Editorially speaking, how you feel about paying for Brett Favre penis photos is certainly polarizing, but as Leitch wrote, Daulerio did, in fact, take Deadspin to the next level. Favre’s penis paid for the “art projects” and real reporting, like the Te’o story. When Daulerio left to become editor-in-chief of Gawker (Deadspin’s parent company), his replacement, Tommy Craggs, who turned down an opportunity to join forces with Bill Simmons at Grantland, used the leverage spawned from Daulerio’s reign to further push Deadspin away from smut and towards what it is today, which as we found out Wednesday night, is an amalgam of hilarious sports commentary (do yourself a favor and read Drew Magary if you haven’t already) and fantastic investigative pieces.

It’s still a Gawker site – the stench of the big screen identifying what content is generating page views will always exist, but it seems to have worked out. In my lengthy interview with Richard Deitsch, the renowned Sports Illustrated media columnist, we talked about Deadspin at length. “ … I’ve always said this,” Deitsch told me. “They do not pretend to be The New York Times, they do not play by the same rules as everyone else, so you have to judge them on that.”

He’s right. Deadspin is not the New York Times … they could be better.

This Week In Felger & Mazz Constituents

Senator McCarthy appears confused, and is on the verge of combusting. “It’s a quarterback’s league,” the Governor bemoaned all season long. Yet, The Last Great Contrarian is picking the Ravens, and Joe Flacco, to beat the Patriots, despite having Tom Brady under center.

This, among other things, is why The Squeaky One Who Agrees found himself in a precarious position, and with tremendous trepidation, announced “You’re going against your core values.”

The Likely Bitter One Who Deserves His Own Platform announced that the Kanye West Of Sports Radio ranked Flacco 20th amongst his peers starting in the NFL. Ye’ responded, claiming if you switched the surrounding situations of Flacco and Mark Sanchez, the difference in outcomes would be immaterial.

“You’re wrong,” a stunned (and undoubtedly freighted) Squeaky One Who Agrees retorted.

“I have a gut feeling. Too many things went the Patriots way last time, and won’t this time around,” Senator McCarthy fired back.

A slow gaze was shared between He & His Cohorts. The three looked at one another, realizing the Sports Radio Zenith – a true nirvana – had been reached: Arguing against oneself.  A special moment that should be captured in a time capsule.

It was a productive day.

  • http://www.bostonsportsmediawatch.com/ bsmfan

    Kinda hard to miss anything with Teo. Every single sports talk station in the country is on this. The BBC led with it this morning. (BBC caring about college football? Really? They cover the NCG each year and that’s it). Every “mainstream” outlet had something on this (the authors were on CNN last night)

    I’m sure Oprah wishes she could interview Teo tonight instead of Armstrong, which seems to be 5year-old news now.
    ———————–
    Boston Biz Journal talks about the rise of 98.5 Sports Hub as one of the reasons other stations (WTKK) have been hammered by ratings:

    “Smyth says WTKK vaulted into the top five stations in the Boston
    market for the key 25-54 demographic not long after the talk format was introduced in 1999. But those strong ratings didn’t last. Smyth says WTKK dropped out of the top 10 in the past two years, and showed no signs of recovering. He cites a number of factors, including the emergence of CBS Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub, which drew a number of male listeners away,”

    http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/bottom_line/2013/01/greater-media-ceo-talks-about-wtkk.html

    • Winning_Again

      Interesting article, thanks for posting that. I often find myself in a helpless position each afternoon from 2-6. On one hand, we have the Big Show, which I absolutely cannot stand. I have largely boycotted WEEI, due to bad content and their past arrogance, along with the removal of D&H and insertion of M&M. Thus I am “forced” to listen to 98.5 from 2-6. Obviously I have options (music, espn, other) but I choose to listen to “Yes, Dear” instead. Maybe someday things will change.

      • JonFrum

        i recommend Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo on ESPN streaming radio. They actually talk sports, instead of year round ‘who will be the Red Sox utility infielder backup next year’ talk. Both Boston stations are pure local – they’re not sports radio, they’ll local sports team radio.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630854119 Justin McIsaac

    Just one nitpick- it was Tommy Craggs that turned down Grantland and replaced Daulerio, not Scocca. Just want Craggs to get the credit he’s due, his stuff is fantastic.

    • http://twitter.com/Hadfield__ Ryan Hadfield

      Updated. I was reading a Scocca article when I wrote this thing. My apologies.

  • flightjkt

    Pretty sure it was Tommy Craggs who was unsucessfully recruited for Grantland from Deadspin. Tom Scocca moved over from Slate.

  • HighWireNickEsasky

    Interesting, there’s not one single reference to the Te’o story anywhere on Grantland. I get not highlighting the work of your competition, but they can’t just pretend the biggest story in sports right now doesn’t exist, right?

    • Rick Mc

      I don’t follow the site that closely, but I think the lack of coverage might be because of Grantland format. It doesn’t really have sports news or immediate comment like ESPN.com or a blog. It does more longform, magazine type stuff for it sports coverage.

      • HighWireNickEsasky

        Yes it is a longform format mostly, but they do have two blogs (sports and pop culture) that provide rapid responses to news events. That said, it has some Te’o content up now. I think they wanted to wait until they had original content/take on it. So, nevermind.

  • dan

    Let’s remember this week as the week that the Felger show officially jumped the shark.
    Felger picked the Pats all year to at least get to the SB.
    He trashed Flacco all year,called their defense old.
    Now comes the watershed moment.
    That was on Sunday when Tom E. Curran handed Felgers ass to him on live TV for all to see and revel in.
    Felger was visibly upset about the pounding he took from Tom.
    Tom took him and Shank to the woodshed on live TV.
    So what does Felger do the next day?
    He picks the Ravens without his stupid “facts not opinion” idiocy but that he has a “feeling”.
    When anyone else has said this to him he laughs at them but in this case that is what he’s doing.
    Poor little Mikey Felger is mad at Tom and all the Pats fans who laughed at him and called him out on the pounding he took on TV.
    So now he’s hoping and praying that the Ravens win simply out of spite and against what he’s been saying all year.
    Pathetic.

  • derelict_jones

    WWE radio.

    It’s all fake hype and they make up the storylines as they go
    UNLISTENABLE

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    I must be jaded, because this ” Teo” story did nothing but elicit a “shrug” from me…sure, it’s bizarre but I don’t want to hear hours of talk about it…guess, I’m at the point where nothing shocks me anymore.

    Felger told Curran last week he thought it was media’s job to, “stir the pot” so how seriously can you take his, “Ravens over Pats” prediction?…once again my reaction is of the “shrug/whatEVA” variety…it’s a sporting event, he’s got a 50/50 shot of being correct….how “courageous” of him!!…..the dumbing down of America continues…

  • dan

    Why doeswn’t Felger mention this stat?
    Oh wait let me guess this stat doesn’t fit into his prediction.
    Since Talib’s first game with the Patriots, only the Tennessee Titans allowed fewer 30-yard pass plays than New England, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

  • http://www.bostonsportsmediawatch.com/ bsmfan

    Everyone remember Dan Sileo? He guest hosted D+C a few times over the holiday break. He’s no stranger to bombastic comments but this time there is some local ties:

    http://www.awfulannouncing.com/2013/january/dan-sileo-tries-to-bone-crush-erin-andrews.html

    Can’t say that rant was the best thing to be involved in..

  • Winning_Again

    I know we covered this topic too much this week, but has anyone else noticed that listening to Mazz this week, it’s almost like he regrets saying he picks the Pats to win.

    To my ears, he will state the Pats are gonna win but then proceeds to give all the reasons why Balt is not to be taken lightly. I feel like he’s trying to shield HIS PRECIOUS from all the hobbits trying to attack. His rant about how he is angered by people saying it could be a Pats blowout win, “It’s DISRESPECTFUL” is laughable. He’s been doing anything and everything to week to defend Felger, without changing his pick to the Ravens.

    I have decided the Mazz is Felger’s “Personality Condom.” He wraps him up tight and protects him from vicious diseases, errr comments!

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