Thursday, March 1, 2012

7 comments Are You Being Serious? What Did You Expect From a Bill Simmons-Barack Obama Podcast?

Many of you have may have heard Bill Simmons got Barack Obama as a podcast guest. The questions and answers that followed were what you would expect from a non-journalist asking the President questions. It was about The Wire, Jeremy Lin, and various other easy to discuss topics. If you expected any differently from Bill Simmons then you aren't very bright for three reasons:

1. It is Bill Simmons. He isn't a natural interviewer. He has strengths. Interviewing the President of the United States wouldn't speak to his strengths.

2. He is interviewing the President of the United States. One would expect the questions to be vetted to where nothing controversial is asked or answered. The coup for Bill Simmons is getting the President to do a podcast. You shouldn't expect controversy to follow.

3. Seriously, it is Bill Simmons doing an interview. This is a guy who talked shit about Isiah Thomas for years and then immediately made up to him when he met him face-to-face. He makes Piers Morgan look light a hard-hitting interviewer. Again, Bill has strengths, but I wouldn't count interviewing as among them.

Well, this wasn't enough for Dan Levy. He wanted hard-hitting questions and answers. I can't believe he is being serious. I can't believe I am defending Bill Simmons.

Here are some choice quotes detailing what Levy wanted from this podcast/interview between Barack Obama and Bill Simmons:

Yes, I assume the questions had to be vetted, both by ESPN and by the White House, but that doesn't mean there weren't a host of questions Simmons could have asked the President of the United States of America other than "[s]ettle an office debate. Best Wire character of all time?"

I'm sure Simmons had other questions he wanted to ask, but couldn't because he wouldn't be allowed to do the interview if he was going to grill Obama on his foreign policy or his stance on immigration. This was going to be a vanilla "Obama picks his bracket" type interview. To expect otherwise is silly.

It wouldn't be as disheartening to read this interview if it wasn't so obvious that Simmons comes off inexplicably unprepared. He asked President Obama about taking the time to watch his daughter play basketball and when the President explained that he did some coaching last season, Simmons replied, "Really?"

Really? That's your response? How did you not know Obama coached last year? Heck, we talked about it a few weeks ago, and you know how we found out about it? ABC News emailed me the story. ABC News, part of the same media company Simmons works for, emailed sports writers their story about President Obama and Reggie Love coaching Sasha's basketball team less than a month ago and Simmons didn't even know about it?

I can see how Bill may have known this and is why he asked the question. But this is an interview and he is supposed to pretend to be shocked or pleasantly surprised at the answers. It isn't like Obama will say something and Bill will dismiss him by saying, "I knew that already." This is a staged podcast. There is nothing off-the-cuff about it considering the President of the United States is the person being interviewed.

But Simmons completely sidestepped any juicy questions in the entire conversation.

I am sure he sidestepped tough questions and in no way did the President's "people" tell Bill what he could and could not talk about.

How does a writer from Boston interview the President, ask six questions about different championship teams coming to the White House and not address the issue of Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins goaltender, skipping his team's trip due to his very-public disdain for the current political climate?

Because this is a somewhat political question Obama would not want to answer. He isn't going to answer anything 1% political...especially about a hockey player who didn't visit the White House because he didn't agree with Obama's policies.

I could give Simmons the benefit of the doubt and assume the White House nixed questions about Thomas, but President Obama will answer 50 tougher questions than one about Thomas before lunch.

From actual journalists! Not from Bill Simmons, a guy who references pornstars and 70's and 80's television shows/movies in his writing. It's not Bill's place to ask tough questions.

There was also nothing from Simmons about the potential candidates the President might face, albeit in a sports context.

I am betting $100 anything related to other candidates was off limits. Dan Levy has to realize this, right?

He totally should have asked who would win a game of one-on-one between Romney and Rick Santorum.

This isn't exactly a hard-hitting question.

Those softballs would be a hit.

So basically Bill Simmons should have asked the softball questions that Dan Levy wanted him to ask.

Were questions about race in sports vetted out of the interview too?

I'm guessing they absolutely were vetted out. I don't know if Dan Levy has hard, but race is sort of touchy issue sometimes.

That said, Simmons had nearly four years since ESPN nixed his last chance to come up with questions. If that's the best he could do, it's a huge disappointment for those of us who fight every day to have podcasts treated with the same respect as more traditional forms of audio-visual media. The opportunity speaks volumes for online media. The execution fell on deaf ears.

Anything more hard-hitting from a guy who edits a sports website and the interview would never have happened. That's the bottom line. I hate defending Simmons, but if he wanted the interview he couldn't ask hard-hitting questions. The questions were stupid and softball. What did you expect?

At least he didn't get the President to ask if Reggie Love can hook Grantland up with Duke press credentials. Though perhaps that came after they stopped taping.

Ok, that was kind of funny.

Overall though, criticizing Bill Simmons for not asking tough questions. Dan Levy you are being serious? What else did you seriously expect from a guy who isn't an actual journalist and has no experience in asking hard-hitting questions that don't deal with making lists of the 76 (or whatever it is) greatest NBA players of all-time?


Anonymous said...

you're an idiot, for your information.

Anonymous said...

After listening to the podcast - which is about half the length Bill's usual ones, I thought it was OK. Bill has his limitations, but did a good job of getting answers from President Obama. I took it as an interesting piece that was looking at how the Obama fits sports into his busy schedule.

If Levy had his way, the interview would have been a lot of non-answers, like 'Thomas is within his rights to express himself as he wants and decide what he will and won't do. That is the right of every American, and it is what makes this country great.' That way, the interview would have been much less interesting.

Are there things that Bill could have asked? Sure. He could have asked why the government would be interested in the BCS or concussions. He could of asked about the difficulty of separating what a politician would like to see happen as a fan, and what they could do with their power/clout. But that would have taken the podcast down a much more serious path, and that is not the purpose of the BS Report.

At least he did not ask about being appointed the Sports Czar...

Bengoodfella said...

Anon#1, thanks for the productive feedback. I'll keep that in mind. You've made your point in a clear and concise manner. I'll assume you are a huge Simmons fan, since those seem to be the ones who enjoy anonymously making comments like that. For the record, I wasn't insulting Simmons, but more defending him in a way.

Anon#2, I think that was the intent of the podcast. I believe the idea of criticizing Simmons for having this forum and not doing anything with it is off-base. Even if the questions weren't vetted before hand we would have gotten non-answers. At least we know who Obama's favorite Wire character is. I usually rip Simmons, but I thought it served its purpose for the reasons you stated. Bill is a lot of things, but a hard-hitting journalist he isn't, which is why he wasn't trying to be something he isn't.

There are a lot of things Bill could have asked, with your examples being good ones. That's not the tone of the BS Report and the coup was getting Obama. Why mess it up asking questions that won't be answered? It's a double-edged sword. You get Obama on the podcast, but know you can't ask him anything serious about sports. So Bill went down a different path and lobbed softball questions. I didn't expect anything different.

God, I am just glad he didn't ask to be the Sports Czar. Thanks for reminding me of that, but I'm glad he didn't request that as a Cabinet position.

Anonymous said...

Anytime you want to bring up the Bill Simmons/Isiah Thomas thing I will back you 100%.

Simmons, who clearly loathes Isiah, talking all that shit about him for years(much of it justified BTW)and then completely backtracking and basically saying "Hey bro, didn't really mean it, no malice here, just trying to entertain the peeps." When he was confronted face to face was THE most cowardly thing I've ever seen in sports journalism. Which is really saying something when you think about it.

I wouldn't expect Bill to say "Yeah I do hate your fucking guts you worthless piece of shit" to Isiah's face, but to basically completely retract everything you ever said and play the "Just kidding" card.....That's a level of pussiness you have to really work at achieving. I hate Jim Rome but at least the man had the guts to stand by his "Chris" Everett comments, even if it did almost get his ass kicked on national television.

I give Bill credit though that he wrote about it in his book. Most men would be deeply embarrassed to admit that they traded in their balls for a nice set of bra and panties when the chips were down, yet he seemed to take some kind of pleasure of letting the world know about it.

At any rate the fact we've gone from having to be a journalist of Walter Cronkite like caliber to get an interview with the President, to this mouth breathing, jock sniffing being able to sit down for an interview in the White House speaks volumes as to how far we've fallen as a society.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I was pretty disappointed in Bill in that instance as well. While I do give him credit for admitting he wimped out, I can't let him off the hook. What makes it worse is that he was right a/b Thomas. 100% correct, but then he backed down.

I obviously don't believe Bill should have started a fistfight, but when meeting Thomas he should have explained why he said what he did and not backed down like he did. There is a difference in understanding what the other person is saying and sort of playing it off as a joke with the audience.

I've had a couple writers email or comment on what I've said and if I was wrong I have apologized and otherwise I explain why I wrote what I did.

The interview was done simply as a way of saying, "President Obama is the sports president and here is a lightweight interview about this."

I over-criticize (I know it isn't a word), but complaining a/b Bill Simmons not asking hard-hitting questions shows high expectations where there should not have been any.

When Jim Rome said that about Jim Everett to his face, it was ballsy, but I also think he was trying to get a confrontation going rather than actually explain why he called Jim Everett "Chris."

Anonymous said...

The other thing I will never understand about the Isiah thing is Isiah's response. I mean here is a guy that had made a career of shitting on people left and right. Even when he was a Piston it was widely known in Michigan that he was a complete asshole, but it was often dusted under the rug because of his play on the court.

Yet when he has an opportunity to get back at Simmons who has ripped him from head to asshole..... Instead he just takes the high road and gives him an out with the "Hey man I understand we're entertainers" comment. The Isiah we all know and love would have pissed in Bill's face and then thrown him in the pool and then pissed in his face again when he got out of the pool.

I guess maybe showing sportswriters their place isn't Isiah's thing. He's more of a run your franchise into the ground, sexual harass employees, piss of superstars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird and getting fucked in the ass in the future as a result of it, kind of guy.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I would like to think Isiah knew Bill was right a/b how he had run a team into the ground. It's very unlikely Isiah is that self-aware though. Still, maybe Isiah thought getting into it with Simmons would only serve to have Simmons rip him more.

My theory is that it was a situation where neither side had the incentive to piss each other off. Simmons didn't want to piss Isiah in person b/c he didn't seem comfortable doing that and Isiah didn't want to piss of a writer with such a large audience anymore. Therefore they became friends and Bill sort of quit ripping Isiah. It's a mutually beneficial true.

Plus, Isiah had more important fish to fry, like running NBA teams into the ground and seeing how many opportunities he would get.

I also theorize that Isiah became used to people ripping him so Bill may have been just another person who didn't like Isiah's job performance. Maybe at this point Isiah has mellowed to where he doesn't punch anyone who insults him.