Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The rules of engagement

I know this may be of interest to only the most devoted bloggers but it's been distracting me for days.
I find it a fascinating instance of the difference between the internet medium and the rest of conventional media.
A Gawker editor, Emily Gould, was grilled and creamed by Jimmy Kimmel, substituting for Larry King on CNN and it was painful to watch. Emily seemed woefully unprepared for the onslaught of hostility that greeted her. She reminded me of Nixon sweating buckets in the Kennedy debate.
Why did this happen?
It is one thing, as I'm sure the good people at Gawker can now tell, to hide behind the security and relative anonymity of your computer screen, as we bloggers do, and quite another to appear on TV, where there is nowhere to hide. You are indeed a deer in the headlights. That is the intention. So if you are going to appear on TV to be interviewed by an Olympic-sized asshole like Jimmy Kimmel, you have to be prepared.
It seems to me that Emily's only strategy was to deploy charm. It doesn't seem that the people at Gawker thought they should have specific soundbites to communicate, a brand to represent even, but that is the nature of television, as many politicians have painfully learned. Well, when it immediately becomes apparent that you are met by three hostile bullies, charm alone may not be the best strategy. As you can see from the tape, this interview was a personal Kimmel vendetta against the Gawker Stalker feature of the blog. Somebody said he was drunk one night and all of a sudden he lost his sense of humor. This should have been the message: You are a comedian; Gawker Stalker is meant to be entertaining, ironic and funny, so lighten up, pal. And yes, we do have a right to make fun of the rich and famous, that's the price they pay. They can cry all the way to the bank.
That would have disarmed Kimmel. What comedian, or anybody else for that matter, is going to attack humor? With humor you are supposed to get away with almost anything. That is the concept. Instead, poor Emily used the unfortunate words "citizen journalism" (I can't even start wrapping my mind around that one) and she was unfairly, viciously attacked by three grown goons. She had ample opportunity for turning the tables on their shrill humorlessness and didn't. I don't blame her, since the deck was completely stacked against her. Still, when your site is best known for manufacturing snark, or smart, ironic commentary, if you will, you'd better be at your snarkiest and/or smartest, which was not the case. In the end, these guys were such lousy self-important windbags, and Kimmel was so obviously vindictive that he lost the battle when he cut her off, like a bully. But as a lessons learned for Gawker, next time they decide to venture out into the merciless world of broadcast media, they should do their homework and not send an unprepared, unscripted envoy to the wolves.

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