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The Yang Slinger: Vol. LV
The number one job of an editor is to protect their writers. When that doesn't happen, we've got serious problems.
In the lord’s year of 1995, I was hung out to dry by a newspaper.
It was The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily of record. At the time I was 22 and somehow employed as one of the outlet’s two music writers. I was unqualified and inexperienced, but with a blooming metropolis that was starting to expand outside of country and western, the Living Department editor thought I was the guy to handle a topic … he knew absolutely nothing about.
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So I did my best.
I wrote about rock and jazz and R&B and hip-hop. I did those 15-minute coming-to-town-in-a-few-days phone interviews with people like Brandy and Melissa Etheridge and Dave Mustaine and the drummer from Hootie and the Blowfish. I broke a story (guitarist Gilby Clarke told me he was leaving Guns N’ Roses) and once had the band Cake use something I wrote in a press release.
And then, on the afternoon of Feb. 27, 1995, I was dispatched to the downtown Hard Rock Cafe to cover a press conference announcing the Starwood Ampitheatre’s upcoming summer lineup. It was a nothingburger of an assignment—stand with a gaggle of others as a douchey CEO and a douchier publicist hype up a bunch of acts. I actually remember being underwhelmed by the whole thing—a majority of the performers had played Starwood the year before. It was, with the exception of R.E.M.’s addition to the lineup, a bowl of vanilla pudding.
Here’s what I wrote …
I don’t actually think the piece was overly critical. As a music writer, I presumed part of my job wasn’t to merely regurgitate, but to evaluate and assess. The paper’s other music writer, the excellent Tom Roland, mastered the analytical breakdown, and I sought to emulate that.
Anyhow, on the day the story ran, Kathy Armistead—the Starwood marketing supervisor—did two things. First, she called the newspaper’s editor and reminded him (in very certain terms) that Starwood was a major Tennessean advertiser. Second, she wrote a blistering letter to the paper, again mentioning that Starwood put a shitload of dough into the paper’s coffers and that she didn’t expect her venue to be attacked by—and I quote directly—“a junior journalist.”
Luckly, I had bosses who stood up for me. They told Kathy Armstead to fuck off, rejected Starwood’s money and promoted me to king of all that is of ink and paper.
Orrrr … maybe not.
One morning later, the paper ran this on the front page for all of Nashville to see.
Later that day, I was demoted to the police beat—meaning I went from covering concerts and interviewing stars to sitting at a desk alongside a police scanner. The local alt-weekly, the Nashville Scene, took notice …
And what I learned on that day—and have never, ever, ever, ever, ever forgotten—is what it feels like when you grasp your employer doesn’t have your back.
When you find out that, truly, you’re on your own.
If you’re wondering why I’m sharing that story now, within this 55th substack, it’s because these past few days I’ve been reminded of what it is to work for—in the words of Tupac Shakur—a bunch of motherfucking punk-ass pussies (#thuglife).
In case you haven’t followed this breathtakingly depressing journalism saga, on July 3 GQ.com published a blog post headlined, HOW WARNER BROS. DISCOVERY CEO DAVID ZASLAV BECAME PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE IN HOLLYWOOD. The story was written by Jason Bailey, a freelance film critic whose resume and body of work oozes professionalism and dependabolity.
Here’s the original article, in full …
I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a solid offering of writing and reporting. Only, well, the story you just read came and went from the website in a matter of minutes. Shortly after it was pulled, a softer version appeared in its place. But then, in another blink, the follow-up version vanished—poof. Gone. No piece on Zaslav, television’s walking vomit puddle. No piece on the demise of HBO. No piece on the ridiculousness of “Max.” Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Gone.
And while an article by Variety’s Tatiana Siegel speculated that the decision may well have had something to do with Will Welch, GQ’s editor-in-chief, having a movie production deal with Warner Bros, and the Washington Post reported that a Zaslav spokesperson phoned GQ’s offices to gripe about the story, I am primarily fascinated by the way GQ did Bailey—a top-shelf journalist—dirtier than dirty.
First, after the work was yanked Variety asked GQ for an explanation. This is what they received …
“A piece published by GQ on Monday was not properly edited before going live. After a revision was published, the writer of the piece asked to have their byline removed, at which point GQ decided to unpublish the piece in question. GQ regrets the editorial error that led to a story being published before it was ready.”
This, obviously, is ridiculous. Bailey asked to have his byline removed because GQ neutered a legitimate and fair piece of writing. Blaming him for the deletion of the story is like blaming a guy for swerving out of traffic after a drunk driver’s Humvee was headed straight toward his windshield.
Then, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Disney said this …
“The freelance reporter made no attempt to reach out to Warner Bros Discovery to fact-check the substance of the piece before publishing — a standard practice for any reputable news outlet,” the spokesperson said. “As is also standard practice, we contacted the outlet and asked that numerous inaccuracies be corrected. In the process of doing so, the editors ultimately decided to pull the piece.”
And … and … and … FUUUUUUUUUUUUCKING FUCK FUCK.
I mean that: FUUUUUUUUUUUUCKING FUCK FUCK.
Jason Bailey wrote an excellent piece. I guarantee you the folks at GQ know so, because they ran it after—according to the New York Times—assigning him to literally write about, “the most hated man in Hollywood.” I also guarantee you Will Welch knows so, because (cough) he’s the fucking editor of the magazine.
[Or maybe I’m wrong—because when I head over to Will Welch’s Instagram feed, I see a man who really seems to embrace being seen. To looking cool. To holding a beer while staring coolly into the camera. In short, I see the pathetic, modern, attempting-to-hang-on-for-dear-life media member who has made it far by being just adequate and timid enough to never rock the boat or, say, stand up for his writer.]
Back in the old days of Sports Illustrated, my editor was a crusty mofo named Mike Bevans. He was a terrifying man who gave me (legitimate) nightmares. Yet I have pictured Mike receiving the call from some Warner Bros. asshole that a story made them unhappy. Here is the accurate recreation …
Warner Bros. Publicist: “Yeah, so Mr. Zaslav is quite upset.”
Bevans: “About what?”
Warner Bros. Publicist: “The article. We don’t think he was portrayed fairly.”
Bevans: “I edited that story.”
Warner Bros. Publicist: “And what did you think?”
Bevans: “I think you can suck my dick.”
A real journalism outfit doesn’t cower to an upset subject. A real publication that cares about its editorial independence doesn’t peddle said editorial independence to the highest bidder. And a real editor defends their writer to the very end. A real editor doesn’t fuck the writer over after he (cough) does a good job. A real editor doesn’t put the blame on the blameless writer. A real editor doesn’t assign a story, then pull it back because there’s heat. A real editor certainly doesn’t kneel before a worthless cretin like Zaslav—who is taken apart here by SFGate’s Drew Magary.
A real editor acts like a real editor.
He doesn’t hang his writer out to dry.
The Quaz Five with … Miguel A. Melendez
Miguel A. Melendez is a senior writer for Entertainment Tonight, as well as a former staffer at TMZ and a longtime sports scribe. You can follow him on Twitter here.
1. Miguel, you've spent your career writing about entertainment and sports. Which is super cool. But as the world is melting, as everything feels to be spiraling out of control, do you ever have moments of, "Does any of this shit matter?" As I do: There have been a few times when that thought has crossed my mind. I follow the news pretty closely. I get a knot in my stomach when I read how swiftly oppressive laws are being enacted across state legislatures, or how immigrants are unfairly targeted, all for the sake of political gain and scoring points with a nonsensical base. Democracy’s teetering on the edge of irrelevance. And you’re right. The world’s literally melting, as July 4 was the hottest day on Earth since records began. It seems (keyword, seems) like the world’s careering over a cliff, but amid the tension and anxiety I still (somehow) find hope in humanity.
2. When you write a piece like, "Kathie Lee Gifford Shares Photo Holding Her Newborn Grandson: 'I'm the Most Blessed'" ... do you have to care/invest yourself? Does it make the story better if you do care? Does it matter?: It does matter. Not to me, personally. But it matters to me professionally. It matters to our readers. Kathie Lee Gifford news (any news) always resonates with our audience, and the metrics prove it. This particular story was actually written on Saturday, July 1, and repurposed on Monday, July 3 with the aforementioned headline. It was one of nine stories I published to ET Online that Saturday. I’m the only staffer who writes/publishes on Saturdays, and my goal is to bring a variety of stories to the site. My forte’s writing the darker/serious stories (lawsuits, arrests, etc), but nine of those stories on a Saturday would be morbid. The Kathie Lee Gifford story’s an uplifting/lighthearted one, and an easy one to crank out.
3. You spent six years at TMZ. What's the number one thing people misunderstand about TMZ?: That they don’t work hard and play loosey-goosey with facts. When Prince died in April 2016, I had been at TMZ for a little less than two months. I watched in awe as the entire newsroom mobilized the moment the news desk learned something tragically had gone wrong. If my recollection serves me right, a TMZ writer (not me) was preparing the obit while Harvey Levin worked the phone nonstop desperately trying to get a confirmation. Then he wanted double confirmation. With the obit written and ready to be published at a moment’s notice, the entire newsroom was on pins and needles waiting for Harvey to get off the phone and give the green light. You could hear a pin drop in the newsroom as everyone waited for him to get off the phone (my desk was maybe five feet away from his). He hung up and shouted something to the effect of “slam it on the site!” Within minutes the site crashed. By sheer coincidence, Harvey had a meeting with I.T. the day before to concoct a plan in the event the website were to crash due to a story driving crazy traffic to the site. Within minutes of the site crashing the day Prince died, I.T. implemented the plan. And it worked. A sad, crazy day that day, for sure.
4. You were a sports writer, and I wonder: Did there come a point when you said, "This isn't for me?" or "This business model isn't sustainable?" Or ... what?: I eventually did reach the point that I wanted a steady schedule, as in a Monday through Friday, 9-5 gig. I was getting tired of working weekends and working late. I was a year in at USA TODAY when I applied to TMZ and CNN. I got an offer at both outlets but ultimately chose TMZ because picking CNN would have meant breaking my lease and relocating to Atlanta. By the time I left USA TODAY, I had spent 15 years as a sports journalist, a career I started when I was 17 years old in 2001 at a small daily in the San Gabriel Valley. I went through furloughs and survived layoffs at The Orange County Register, and I wasn’t fazed by the economic turbulence because I was still young (early 20s) and had no real responsibilities besides paying my rent, etc. So, even through those harsh times I never reached the point where I thought about jumping ship. Figured I’ve survived this long (and without a college degree) so why not keep plugging away. And I did. What drove me out of sports journalism wasn’t being disillusioned with the business model or continually seeing cutbacks in the newsroom, which absolutely sucked. It was more of a personal decision of, one, wanting a steady schedule and, two, wanting to see sports through the lens of a fan and not a sportswriter.
5. Why are we so obsessed with celebrities? I ask seriously. Like, they're just people. Like us. Richer. More famous. But people. So ... why?: This is going to be a rotten answer because I’m not obsessed with celebrities. But I think people are obsessed because they sense an aura. They see celebrities on TV, the big screen and splashed across magazine covers and websites and think it’s their world and we’re just living in it. It’s probably why people are shocked or “fan out” when they run into a celeb at the grocery store or see them on a fast food run and inevitably ask themselves, “They shop at Target, too? They eat McDonald’s?!” Yes, they’re like us — they put their pants on one leg at a time. I recently interviewed Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney. All my friends geeked out. I found her to be super chill and — wait for it — just like me or you. Except richer. And better looking. OK, I get the obsession now.
Bonus [rank in order—favorite to least]: Lindsey Lohan's pregnancy, Colt McCoy, Heavy D & the Boyz, oat milk, Superman II, the smell of your dirty socks, armpit hair, Gloria Estefan, Sugar Ray Leonard: Sugar Ray Leonard, Superman II, Heavy D & the Boyz, Gloria Estefan, oat milk, Colt McCoy, the smell of my dirty socks, armpit hair, Lindsey Lohan’s pregnancy.
Ask Jeff Pearlman a fucking question(s)
Here’s a wacky idea—ask me any journalism question you like, and I’ll try and answer honestly and with the heart-of-a-champion power one can expect from a mediocre substack.
Hit me up in my Twitter DMs, or via e-mail at email@example.com or just use the comments section here …
Via Andy: Something I’ve always wondered about was after Lance Armstrong won the SI sportsman of the year in 2002 and was later stripped of his Tour de France titles and admitted to doping and lying and destroying the reputation of Greg LeMond and others, was there ever a discussion at SI to also strip him of the SoY award and give it to the runner up? Or maybe it happened and I missed it but to do nothing always seemed like a bad move that discredited the other winners of the award. Just curious.: So I was an SI employee when Armstrong won the award, and it was a legit no-brainer. Go back 21 years in time and you’ll experience a cyclist being lifted to culturally iconic status.
Then, of course, he cheated and got busted and now works at the Bethesda 7-Eleven selling Slurpees. Which, eh, I love.
To answer your question, Andy—no, that was never discussed. But in the magazine’s defense, that world tends to be very forward thinking. You do something, you lock it down, you present it, you move on. It’s just how magazines worked in the golden era of print. I’m sure, once Armstrong faded, no one gave him a second thought.
Via SMack3: Do you ever hate writing? I feel like I hate it a lot.: I hate writing every … single … day. I sit in front of my laptop and wonder why any functioning human would do this for a living. I am as tortured as the next person. But I also love it. The freedom. The creativity. The opportunity to create. And that love is much stronger than the hate.
A random old article worth revisiting …
I know it’s July and there’s no rhyme or reason for running this now, but the Dec. 25, 1962 Capital Journal in Salem, Oregon reported on the arrest of … Santa Claus. Who can we believe in, dammit?
This week’s college writer you should follow on Instagram …
Nina Dilworth, The Daily Pennsylvanian
I really enjoyed the professionalism of Dilworth’s latest piece, RUE LANDAU COULD BECOME PHILADELPHIA’S FIRST LGBTQ CITY COUNCILMEMBER. It ain’t snazzy, it ain’t sexy, you’re not gonna walk off and think, “Holy shit! I’m blown away!” But it’s a really high-level news story written by someone on the rise.
Writes Dilworth …
Nina can be followed on Instagram here. Great work, kid.
Journalism musings for the week …
Musing 1: So Jordan Teicher wrote a piece for Esquire headlined, WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE SPORTS BOOKS? And—to be 100-percent clear—Jordan is an excellent writer, and I don’t want this to read as if I’m attacking the guy. But, as one who makes his living in the business, I had some real issues with the methodology/reasoning. For a piece like this you have to (I believe) cast a far wider net than the three primary authors (Lewis, Herring, Strauss). I’m not saying they’re not all great scribes—they are. But David Maraniss pumps out best-seller after best-seller, as does Howard Bryant, as does Jonathan Eig, as does Jane Leavy. Factually, books aren’t as big as they once were. But that seems like a significantly different issue than sports-specific entries.
Anyhow, no biggie.
Musing 2: Last year I wrote a piece for Golf Digest on the tragic bus accident involving the University of the Southwest golf teams. One of the victims was Laci Stone, a lovely, peppy, upbeat young woman with a bright future. I’ve become friends with Laci’s family—genuinely lovely people whose existences have been forever bulldozed. Anyhow, J.T. Bowen of Dave Campbell’s Football Texas honored the Stones with this terrific article, FOR LACI: HOW A STAR FOOTBALL PLAYER CONTINUES TO HONOR HIS SISTER.
Musing 3: I’m increasingly tired with all of Elon Musk’s Twitter bullshit, so I reluctantly joined Threads because … what I REALLY need in my life is yet another social media outlet. But, well, hey—I’m @jeff_pearlman.
Musing 4: I mean, you’ve almost certainly read it by now, but Sally Jenkins’ BITTER RIVALS. BELOVED FRIENDS. SURVIVORS. is just … I mean. C’mon. There’s good, there’s great. there’s exceptional. And there’s this piece on the life journeys of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Musing 5: Brooke Hauser of the Boston Globe with a must-read story, IN AMHERST, TEEN JOURNALISTS’ INVESTIGATION OF TRANSPHOBIA AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL FORCED A DISTRICT SHAKE-UP. It’s about student scribes at Amherst Regional High stepping up when others would not and writing this 5,000 word essay that will, truly, change lives.
Musing 6: From Jeff Van Gundy and Jalen Rose to Steve Young and Suzy Kolber, ESPN’s recent high-profile layoffs probably didn’t generate the normal outrage because, well, those folks are famous and presumably wealthy. But getting fired blows. Like, it really blows. Kolber is an all-time giant in the profession. Rose lights up a screen. Van Gundy is one of the NBA’s sharpest minds. I’ve gotten to know Steve a bit, and he’s a classy, professional guy who—I believe—deserved better. They all did.
Musing 7: I’m late to this, but somewhat recently my old stomping grounds, Mahopac High School in Putnam County, N.Y., changed its name from “Indians” to “Wolf Pac.” It’s actually an upgrade, and no one needs to be embarrassed by the stupidity of having a 2023 mascot called the “Indians.” But, of course, I come from the land of dolts—and there was this (“Jackie Healy Mastropietro asked, ‘Who else will we erase from our history?’). You’ll be OK, Jackie. I promise.
Musing 8: The new Two Writers Slinging Yang stars Bill Plaschke, the awesome Los Angeles Times sports columnist.
Quote of the week …
Jeff Pearlman's Journalism Yang Yang is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.