Will Leitch used this opening for his column on Darren Rovell on the Sports on Earth site Monday:
I honestly can’t find a single person who likes Darren Rovell. He is polarizing in the same way sleet is polarizing, or a foul smell on the subway is polarizing, or pop-up spam is polarizing.
That sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it personally.
Actually, that’s the scary thing, since Leitch said he liked Rovell the few times he met him in person. But that didn’t stop Leitch from going all Deadspin on the ESPN sports business reporter with one of the most vicious takedowns in recent memory.
Hey, where’s Buzz Bissinger to rant on Leitch when we need him?
Leitch, the Deadspin founder (and Illinois grad; how ’bout them Illini, Will?) declared Rovell is “universally loathed.” Then citing the ever popular anonymous sources, he wrote 11 reasons “Why people hate Darren Rovell.”
It gets worse from there.
I am not going to argue the merits of Rovell, although there are a couple of things worth noting. A 2011 Twitter-rant post from Leitch on Deadspin included this passage:
And all told, (Rovell) has always done good work (in addition to the Nike press releases and Fathead sales updates, of course); he’s a legit reporter.
And now Rovell sucks, right?
Also, Rovell has 312,000 followers on Twitter. And that’s because he is
“universally loathed?” With that number, you figure somebody must like him. If people “loathe” Rovell, can’t they just unfollow him?
Also, also, doesn’t Rovell deserve a chance to respond to the allegations from Leitch’s anonymous sources? Rovell declined to comment on the piece Tuesday, but he did say he never was contacted by Leitch. If you’re going to do a piece based on anonymous sources, then Journ 101 says you should get both sides of the story.
It would have saved SOE from placing this editor’s note at the bottom of the column: “Ed. Note — this article has been updated to reflect the fact that Rovell’s tweets to Tom Ziller are still visible on Rovell’s page.”
For the record, I did send Leitch an email telling him about my intentions for this post and if he had any reaction to charges that he went too far?
Leitch replied: “I think the column speaks for itself, actually. I won’t be writing any more on Darren: The people who had been bugging me to write about him for months have had their say. I wish him well, not that he needs my well wishes.”
As for the reaction, Leitch has plenty of supporters. That shouldn’t be a surprise since Rovell is a big target.
Said Brad in the comments section: “Great article. He really is a class-A doucher.”
However, there were a number of people who felt the way I did: The column was excessively mean-spirited.
John Walters, writing on MediumHappy.com, turned the tables on Leitch:
Leitch –and this is his longtime M.O., along with relying on unnamed sources to bolster his argument – does this “I’m a nice guy and I’m not about to say something mean or hurtful about anyone” schtick shortly before writing mean and hurtful things. He’s the Venomous Equivocator (“I can’t find a single person that likes Darren Rovell… that sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it personally”) I’d respect Leitch more if he just went 100% after Rovell without doing the whole, “but you seem like a decent enough guy in person.”
Like you, I enjoy much of Will Leitch’s writing. But I don’t respect him. I do respect Buzz Bissinger. I respect Buzz because he looked Will Leitch dead in the eye and said, “I gotta be honest: I think you’re full of shit.” Buzz said what he meant and meant what he said, directly to his subject. Is Will Leitch capable of that? Or is he guilty of the same thing of which he accused Rovell: “intellectual dishonesty?”
Meanwhile, the folks at SportsJournalists.com did a forum asking whether Leitch’s column was fair?
In essence “He’s a nice-enough fella and I’d have a beer with him but I work for a nothing Internet sportswriting website and feel like ripping a successful reporter for ESPN.”
Complete waste of time and energy. What’s the point, Will?
Will Leitch has been generally unimpressive since he left Deadspin. Everyone in the blogosphere loves him because he was such a big deal in giving them respectability, and most people in the mainstream media love him because he has done more to bridge the gap than pretty much anyone. But his writing isn’t anything special. It’s just not.
He seems to be a really nice and really smart guy, though.
And finally from LongTimeListener:
Leitch has become what he set out railing against — the clubby group of sportswriters who seem to write only for themselves and each other instead of the audience. Only instead of other sportswriters, Leitch just aims to appease bloggers and other assorted new-age media people. This Rovell piece is just another take on something that is a constant source of discussion throughout the Internet.
None of his thoughts are original anymore, and his columns carry little reporting and even less insight. I think he’s out of ideas, he’s burned out, he probably even knows it, but the money’s too good.
Again, just like the people whose awfulness motivated him to start his site.
If Leitch has a strong opinion about Rovell, fine. If he wants to point out his faults, fine. Rovell is fair game.
However, Leitch went too far in this instance. As a result, his message was undermined by a lack of fairness and a tone that was more of a chop-block than a clean hit.
At the very least, Leitch should have made a phone call to Rovell. It wouldn’t have been unpleasant. Leitch likes the guy, right?