Why Buzz Bissinger Is A Disgrace to Journalism and Humanity
In my long career as a TV sportscaster, radio talk show host, television commentator, and documentary filmmaker, I have probably participated in well over 1,000 talk shows (including almost all of the highest-rated national TV shows). I can say that, without a doubt, I have never taken part in one which was a greater indictment of the host, the industry, and the sad state of journalism than yesterday’s Buzz Bissinger radio show on WPHT in Philadelphia.
Before I get in to the details of how both I and the truth were badly mistreated and how a guy considered highly credible by the mainstream media exposed himself as a complete fraud, I first want to provide some of the remarkable background which led up to the interview.
I actually have some “history” with Buzz Bissinger. In 1993, at the age of 25, I had lunch with him in my hometown of Philadelphia to discuss a book I was writing about a year in the life of an Ohio high school football team. He had written the highly-acclaimed book “Friday Night Lights,” about a team in Texas and I thought that he had done an injustice to the institution of high school football (the people of Odessa, Texas agreed with me and Buzz was afraid to return to the town for his book tour).
I remember vividly that our lunch went surprisingly well and he actually offered to help during the process. I thought at the time that he was, while misguided on the issue of football, a smart, talented, credible and even decent guy.
But then when I called him later in the process and left a message asking for some advice I quickly saw the dark side to Buzz Bissinger. He eventually returned the call and immediately blasted me in a profanity-laced tirade for having the gall to call him while he was enduring some sort of family crisis (as if I had a clue that such a thing was happening). After he rudely hung up on me (a foreshadowing of yesterday) I remembering being stunned as well as very demoralized and depressed.
Since that rather traumatic moment I have watched Bissinger’s career from afar and marveled at how he has continually been able to fool people into not fully realizing what he is really all about. While he is clearly an excellent writer, he has a massive chip on his shoulder about both sports as well as people who are perceived as being morally better than others.
The venom he has shown for people like Joe Paterno and Dick Vermeil, the two most revered football coaches in the Philadelphia area, is very telling to me. I personally believe that his physical limitations have poisoned him against sports in general (especially football, since it is rather obvious the Buzz never dated the cheerleader in high school) and his hatred of morally superior people is due to his complete lack of personal character.
All of this was in the back of my mind when I recently got an incredible email from Buzz’s boss, Andy Bloom, who runs both WPHT as well at WIP radio (two stations I worked for part-time about eleven years ago, a fact Bloom did not know), which is the legendary sports station in Philadelphia. Bloom emailed me to express his incredulity that I would create www.FramingPaterno.com and our ensuing exchange quickly revealed that he had no idea what the basic facts of the Jerry Sandusky case even were.
Among other things, Bloom indicated that he thought that Sandusky’s retirement had been proven to have been a direct result of the 1998 criminal investigation of him. In reality, the Freeh Report itself specifically exonerates Paterno/Penn State on this key issue.
As our email exchange continued, I was struck by how utterly bizarre it was that the guy who runs the top two talk radio stations in Philadelphia, stations which have a huge number of Penn State fans in their listener base, would allow both stations to be so incredibly over the top in their negativity towards Paterno/Penn State without even having the basic facts right (I know, I am slow to accept that truth no longer means anything at all in the modern media). I even tried to explain to Bloom that it was in his long term business interest to at least cover himself against the inevitable backlash when the facts eventually prove that his station’s narrative was based on falsehoods and that they caused enormous damage to many of their own listeners.
Eventually, I called him and tried to explain that I was not some nut with a conspiracy theory. He barely gave me three or four minutes before basically saying, “thanks for calling, good bye.”
Then, after I briefly mentioned my exchange with Bloom on the Kevin Slaten radio show, he emailed me again to complain that people were emailing him to voice their dissatisfaction. After I explained to him that I had not asked anyone to write to him but that I would be glad to try and organize a boycott of his radio stations by Penn State supporters if he wanted me to, he called me a “crack pot” and claimed that he had banned me from both stations. I responded by saying that I didn’t believe him that he had “banned” me and that the only way one of his gutless hosts would actually book me was if he really had tried to ban me.
So then, hilariously, a few days later I got an email (which can be seen half way down the page at this link) from Buzz Bissinger’s producer asking if I would be a guest on his show. I asked to speak to her about the details. When we talked on the phone I asked for her to promise in writing that the interview would be for an hour and that the audio would be posted after the show on their website. Even though she verbally agreed, when sent me a confirmation email it did not specifically include the duration of the interview, but it did clearly promise that they would post the audio here.
Mostly because of my exchange with Bloom, I half expected that the interview would get canceled for some bogus reason, but I also knew that there was a very good chance that he would never be in the loop on such a thing until after the interview already aired. As it turned out, that was apparently never an issue.
Instead, as I waited on hold to go on the air I got called an “idiot” by Bissinger, but I didn’t care about that. When I was “welcomed” on the show I quickly mentioned that it had been a long time since I had seen either Buzz or his co-host (with whom I had worked at two different radio stations). Interestingly, neither host seemed to have any memory of me. I found this rather humorous/ironic since so much of the case against Paterno/Penn State revolves around the ability of the human mind to recall distant events which may not have seemed that important at the time.
It was immediately obvious from the pace of the interview (how quickly I was being interrupted and how soon they tried to divert completely from the actual issue by attempting to make the absurd claim that I am trying to profit from this effort, which is news my wife would find particularly amusing) that there was no way that they were going to keep me on for the agreed to full hour, which I had reconfirmed with their producer just before the show began.
This reality (which became even more obvious when they started actually threatening to end the interview, apparently because they didn’t like hearing actual facts) further stunted the “interview” as it forced me to make sure that I at least got some sort of argument across before being cut off for good. I had intended to take my time and let them reveal themselves for what they really are, but I immediately knew that was not a viable option.
Sure enough, Buzz completely lost his composure when I simply informed him that there was absolutely no evidence that what he wrote the day after the Freeh Report was released (that there was lots of “butt-fing” going in the Penn State showers, in an article that was so factually incorrect that it should have simply ended Bissinger’s journalistic career) was actually true and that there was plenty of reason to believe that no such thing ever happened. At some point I even offered to bet him $10,000 for his favorite children’s abuse charity (which, oddly, he dodged completely) if I was wrong. He also let loose with the actual words he used in his grossly inaccurate column, which has already resulted in a flood of FCC complaints against him.
Bissinger then announced on air that he was ending the interview (for no apparent reason) and went to the first commercial break of the hour. I guess because they hadn’t actually “hung up” on me, I decided to stay on hold. Eventually, Buzz himself picked up the phone and told me that he had changed his mind and that I would be given “ten minutes” to say whatever I wanted without interruption. I agreed to stay on the line.
When we got back on the air, I was given, at most, ninety seconds to make my case before Buzz, who refused to answer even one question I asked him, started screaming at me to answer his two questions. I would have been happy to answer both of them, but I was given no opportunity to do so. I was told yet again that the interview was being terminated and they went to the second break of the hour.
This time the producer of the show picked up the line. Like a corner man for a boxer who was getting his ass kicked, she told me that she was throwing in the towel and ending the interview. When I asked her why, she specifically told me that it had nothing to do with me but the fact that her host “couldn’t handle” the interview any longer and that she was afraid he wouldn’t be able to complete the show because of his mental state.
I then asked her when she would fulfill her promise to post the audio of the interview and she said probably sometime after the show on Friday. I am not going to hold my breath. Not only did Bissinger possibly commit a serious FCC violation, he also exposed himself a journalistic fraud with serious mental health issues (something which others have already documented). Since I saw absolutely no sign of even the slightest bit of integrity on that show, I don’t think that their word, even when clearly written, means anything at all to them. If I am wrong, I will gladly admit it, but I doubt that I will have to.
To me, nothing could more dramatically reveal just how utterly broken our national media conversation is general (as well as specifically in the Penn State situation) then this entire episode. A guy who is considered highly credible by the mainstream news media and is used as a commentator by numerous national sources, can’t even remotely hold up in a debate (which he asked for against someone he thinks is an “idiot”) without having a complete meltdown which may have resulted in him having committed a violation of the law.
Meanwhile, I am guy who has literally spoken to more people directly involved in this story than Louis Freeh did (many of them on camera), and who actually knows more about the case than any other national commentator, and I get treated worse than the 9/11 conspiracy nut jobs did.
If all of this wasn’t such a sad indictment of the nature of our media culture, it really would be funny. Unfortunately, it dramatically illustrates the incredibly steep mountain that will need to be climbed in order for the truth to finally be widely known in this case.
Personally, I plan to use the prospect (not matter how unlikely) of Buzz Bissinger, and others like him, being forced to finally admit that they were tragically wrong as fuel for my effort to see that the journey gets fulfilled. I will not be able to complete that expedition without a lot of support, but, if that help comes, I promise I will never give up trying.
Evil needs to be defeated and yesterday we saw a stark glimpse of the true nature of the enemy we face here.
UPDATE: Since this article was written, the audio was never posted, Bissinger "left" the radio show, entered rehab for an addiction to buying/wearing women's clothes, and is now, incredibly, scheduled to speak at Penn State's Berks campus in November.