Costas railed about bad language on blogs and blog comments (“You shouldn’t say things online you wouldn’t want your children to say”), cowardly anonymity (“You wouldn’t dare say any of this stuff to my face”), lack of access (“You’ve never covered an Olympics; I’ve covered five”), and, amusingly, whether he was funny (“You know, I go on Jon Stewart’s show, it’s clear he finds me a riot”). I was struck by how willful Costas was in ignoring evidence against his central point: that everything written on the internet was meant to personally denigrate him, and that I had written it. I explained to him that I wrote the post, and afterwards, readers were allowed to comment. (You know, like in that Bernie Miklasz column.) He was unable to grasp this; at one point, he actually said, “Why do you think me being dipped in Rosie O’Donnell’s pussy is funny?” I explained to him that I had not written that, carefully disguising (I hoped) my opinion that, well, it is a funny image.
Costas was not screaming and sputtering; he was calm, collected, smooth … he was Bob Costas. Listening to him insult me while acting as if I was somehow the Grand Poobah of the Internet and Its Mandated Conspiracy to Destroy Bob Costas and All He Has Worked For was made all the more unsettling by the whole thing being done in the Bob Costas voice. He was like this all the time. I tried to imagine how his children dealt with being grounded in the Bob Costas voice. Did he order pizza this way? Did he sound like this while having sex?
Through it all, Costas always came back to jokes about his height. These are de rigueur anytime Costas is mentioned on the web (“Fuck him and the lifts in his tiny little shoes,” for example), and surely, working in the world of sports around former athletes all the time, Costas should be used to that. But … no.
“Do you realize how stupid someone has to be just to keep making short jokes?” Costas barked (as much as Bob Costas can “bark”), pounding his empty coffee cup on the table. “Do you ever hear anybody say, ‘Paul Simon can’t make music because he’s short,’ or ‘Woody Allen can’t make movies because he’s short’? Is that really the best you can come up with? So you think I’m short? I’ve heard it before. It doesn’t bother me. It just tells me something about you.”
This went on for another ten minutes. I explained to him that I enjoy the music of Paul Simon and the movies of Woody Allen and, that, all told, I don’t consider him that short. (And I don’t.) That seemed to help.
Finally, after checking my watch for the fourth time, I directed him to the topic at hand: the program. At the time, we didn’t know who the third member of our panel would be, but he had signed on Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, and I suspected he’d have a different take on blogs than mine — one probably closer to Costas’s, with whom he once collaborated on his unpublished memoir — but I was looking forward to meeting him anyway. Clearly a writer of his caliber would have a better understanding of the internet. Costas giggled. “Oh, Buzz is frothing at the mouth about this,” he said. “He feels stronger about this than I do.” I found this difficult to believe.
As we left, I dropped my empty water bottle and it skittered across the floor. A few patrons noticed the clatter, and us. Thus recognized, Costas sprung into action. “FUMBLE!!!!!!” he yelled, loud enough for everyone in the Starbucks to hear. He then smiled and waved to the crowd, shook my hand, said he’d see me in a couple of weeks, and left.
I found the conversation unnerving. The HBO thing was beginning to sound like a bunch of old men screaming about those goddamn kids on their lawns. I did some research on Bissinger and found an interview in which he claimed, “[Blogs] disgrace the written word. With the internet, there’s too much information out there, and we’ve become a very mindless country. I don’t know how else to say it: We really revel in ignorance and disinformation.” I mentioned my concerns to my agent, Kate, and my book editor, David.
Digging through my in-box, I find this e-mail to David, sent the morning after I met Costas:
It was a reasonable conversation, but it is impossible to overstate how little Bob Costas understands about the Web. He only recently realized that the comments on a story are not written by the author. I had to talk to him as if I were describing the Internet to my grandmother. He had no idea what Facebook was. Costas is an intelligent guy, but he has obviously had so much smoke blown up his ass for so long that he can’t see the forest for the trees. He legitimately does not understand how people can be so mean on the internet. He actually said, “People will say things on the Internet that they wouldn’t say in person.” Well, duh, Costas, welcome to fucking earth.