The web site for ESPN spiked a blog post today by acclaimed baseball writer Rob Neyer in which he appeared to call for Orange County Register sports columnist Mark Whicker to be fired for his widely criticized column making light of Jaycee Dugard's 17 years of captivity at the hands of a sexual predator.
The blog post was submitted at 08:57:40 PST and had been deleted from ESPN's web site by the afternoon, but it was cached by several search engines and could be recreated, aside from some text at the end.
Neyer explained the removal in an email Saturday morning. "At ESPN.com, we have a policy prohibiting media criticism, and I ran afoul of that policy, however unintentional," he said. "Thus, an editor pulled the post from the site. Considering our policy, I could hardly complain."
Here's the text of Neyer's spiked post:
You've probably already read or heard something about maybe the worst sports column, ever. If not, Shysterball's take is a good start (among many, many possibilities).
About all this, my friend Keith Scherer writes:
"Rob, You know I work in criminal law. I deal with murder and molestation and all kinds of human depravity every day, so I have a strong stomach. It takes a lot to repulse me at this point, but the lynch mob that went after Mark Whicker this week made me sick. Worst post ever? Really? Can we not communicate without hyperbole anymore?
"The guy misfired. He used a silly hook to bracket a dull article that his editor should have canned. Maybe it was stupid and maybe it was offensive, but the guy didn't mean any harm, and it's disingenuous for his attackers to imply that he's indifferent to child abduction and rape.
"He and his editor deserved a scolding, perhaps, but to go after him they way the mob's doing it – writing letters, trying to get him fired, publicly humiliating him – is loathsome. It's America at our self-aggrandizing, self-righteous, politically correct worst.
"I don't know anything about this guy, but I'll assume -- because this isn't only about Whicker -- he's like most middle-aged white guys. I'll assume he has a family that loves him and can't understand the hatred being directed at him. He's in a dying profession and I'll assume he's very well aware of it, is scared to death he's going to be out of work soon, with no way to pay his mortgage, pay for groceries, or pay for health insurance for his wife and kids. I'll assume he (like many of us) has few, if any, transferable skills, so that every day is a catastrophe just waiting to happen. His life, like many lives, is hard enough already without a posse of strangers trying to kick him to the curb for a lapse of taste.
"Again, this guy didn't mean any harm. He was careless, thoughtless (it's not the first time he has used this kind of hook), and the article really didn't need to be written in the first place, but he's not a moral monster.
"You know me, and you know I spent years putting child sex offenders in jail. I'm not insensitive to the trauma this child and her family went through, and I'd be among the last to trivialize it. But people need to get a grip. What trivializes trauma is when people put on airs and imagine that they themselves are the victims of things that happen to people they never met.
"To call for his head over this -- that's morally wicked. It seems to me, at this point, he's more sinned against than sinning. I hope his family members have forgiveness in their hearts.
I'm not nearly as charitable as Keith (which is just one of my many failings). But while I agree that it's morally wicked to call for Whicker's head because he has failed, morally, what about calling for his head because he's incompetent?
It's especially easy for me, because I'm infatuated with good writing and I abhor bad writing, and columns like Whicker's give my profession a bad name.
We might reasonable assume that it's the worst Whicker can offer ... but are his best efforts better enough, and frequent enough? Again, I don't know. Nor am I going to know. Only his readers can know. And his editors, who should know him better than anyone. Speaking of whom, Keith Olbermann has reserved his enmity for those editors (here's video; relevant clip begins one minute in, if Olbermann's politics ...
Keith Scherer is a criminal trial attorney and baseball writer who contributed to Neyer's book Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders.
After Mark Whicker's column drew furious criticism from hundreds of readers, bloggers and Twitter users around the globe, he publicly apologized and the newspaper's deputy editor for sports, John Fabris, wrote an apology on behalf of the editors who were responsible for its publication.
In a phone interview with Mallary Jean Tenore of the journalism site Poynter Online that followed the publication of his apology, Whicker continued to maintain that he did not make light of Dugard's tragic story.
"I vehemently believe I wasn't insensitive about the fact that she was kidnapped," he told Tenore. "I never made light about the fact that this woman was abducted. I don't think anyone can cite anything in the column that says I did."
On Thursday, former sports journalist Keith Olbermann called out Orange County Register sports editors David Bean, Todd Harmonson and Keith Sharon during the "Worst Person in the World" segment for green-lighting Whicker's column.
Olbermann said, "At least once a career, no matter how good, every columnist, every commentator, will write something so bad, so inappropriate the editors just have to kill it. Mr. Bean, Mr. Harmonson and Mr. Sharon failed to do this. The usually thoughtful Mark Whicker, 22 years at that paper, went tone deaf. ... Mark Whicker will take his lumps for this, deservedly so ... But you're the guys reading this deciding whether or not it gets published, and you say 'great'? You are in over your head, gentlemen."
Update: An earlier version of this story made it appear that Whicker said the "fast-moving, quick-to-judge culture of the web" was to blame for the reaction to his column. Those words were Tenore paraphrasing her interview with Whicker, not a phrase he used. I apologize for the error.