Sunday, July 29, 2012

Buzz Bissinger and Me

Here is today's column about the Penn State Sandusky case and the similarities between it and the relatively recent case of Professor Scott Ward, a known pedophile at the University of Pennsylvania who managed to keep on teaching at the Wharton School for 13 years after the first criminal charges were filed against him.

At the end of the column I mention that one of Philadelphia's most celebrated authors, the Pulitizer-prize-winning Buzz Bissinger seemed to have nothing to say about the Ward case back when it was going on but has been one of loudest critics of the Penn State situation and Joe Paterno.

Here is what I wrote regarding Mr. Bissinger:
Finally, I’d very much like to know where one of Penn’s most esteemed graduates, Pulitzer-prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger, stands on all this. After all, no single person in America has publicly expressed more outrage and disgust over the failures at Penn State University.
In his columns and TV appearances, Bissinger has not only applauded the sanctions against Penn State and the crippling of its football program, he has led the campaign to vilify the late Joe Paterno as a “dictator” and dangerous egomaniac. He has made clear that he finds the culture of big time college football sickening and directly blames it for the failure of nerve that allowed a sexual predator like Sandusky to run amok.

So what explains the culture at his own alma mater that allowed Professor Ward to continue his own decades-long crime spree?

If Buzz Bissinger weighed in on the Ward case, I couldn’t find it. But I would love to hear him explain why PSU should pony up $60 million for its allegedly protecting a pedophile and the Wharton school should not. Why PSU’s football program should be eviscerated and the academic institution that protected Ward by means of tenure and due process should not. And why not.

I don’t expect Bissinger to admit that his contempt for the culture of college football and all things Paterno has poisoned his view of this case. But more fair-minded journalists ought to have resisted throwing in with this torch and pitchfork crowd.

As this story continues to unfold, a few more decent souls may come to regret running with this rampaging herd of independent minds.

Friday, I called Bissinger to ask him if he knew about the Ward case when it was going on. Given his  vociferous interest in bringing child molesters and their supposed enablers to account, I thought he would be interesting to talk to.

I also sent him two e-mails. The first, telling him I was writing a column about the similarities of the two cases and asking him to call or write me. (The second to correct Ward's first name - I said it was Steven. It's Scott).

I didn't hear anything from Bissinger Friday or Saturday. The column ran without comment from him.

I did, however, hear from him Sunday morning. My wife and I were out of town, visiting friends and we were with them when he called.

To say that he was angry is a ridiculous understatement. He was spitting, fuming mad and in a expletive-laced, name-calling diatribe accused me of being unprofessional and "sandbagging" him. He said he was a "very busy" man and blamed me for his not getting back to me because I had neglected to include my deadline in the phone message or email.

(Just so you laymen know, it is by no means required or even common practice to hold an opinion piece until everyone mentioned finds the time to weigh in. Having worked for a daily newspaper himself, Bissinger's outrage on this is downright laughable.)

He said he "always respected" me and thought I was a "stand-up guy" but now his opinion had changed. He called me a "f------ a--hole" more than once.

During his spew, he said he didn't know anything about the Ward case, that he was busy writing a book at the time, and that even if he had known about it, he no longer worked for the Inquirer and had no forum on which to write about it. Then he went back to his swearing and name-calling.

I interrupted his diatribe to tell him that I was out of town and that I would be happy to talk to him when I returned. He said he had no interest in that. And that I could "f---" myself.

He hung up. But he called back a few minutes later and renewed his profanity-laden freak out. Near the end of it, he called me a "f---ing gutless coward."

At that point, I got pretty angry myself. I told him if he was going to call me a coward, I would prefer he do it "to my face" and that I would meet him wherever and whenever he wanted so he could do that. And we could see how that worked out.

By that time, however, I believe he'd hung up. 

Fortunately, he called back one more time almost a half hour later, while I was on my way to the airport. He said that he was going to get me "f---ing fired." He called me a  "whore" and other names. I again told him if he wanted to call me names he should have the guts to "do it to my face."

He said he was too busy. He said he was getting all sorts of emails from people based on my column. I told him he should answer them. I also pointed out that I understood that he has his own radio show, a megaphone, with which he could respond to such queries. 

I thought it was strange when he angrily replied that he only had "10 listeners." 

It was after my third demand that if he was going to call me a gutless coward, to do it to my face, he said, suddenly and more quietly, "When?" I said "Tomorrow night." He said, "Where?" I named a bar in Philadelphia. We settled on a time. He said he'd be there.

Later, I received this e-mail:
In advance of our meeting tomorrow, I want the column taken down off the Internet immediately. There are now dozens of tweets and Facebook posts and comments questioning my fairness and reputation. They are being disseminated everywhere. 
This is damaging to my career and I have no recourse since I have no idea of how many people are receiving them.
It is also the top trafficked story on the Delco Times website.
There is no basis that I knew about the Scott Ward storybecause I did know about it.You would have learned that had you interviewed me.
But despite the seriousness of what you wrote about me, you did not. You also would have learned that I had no forum to write about Ward even if I did know about it. I was writing books at the time.
Buzz Bissinger
To which I sent this reply:
The column will not be taken down in advance of our meeting tomorrow or at any other time. 
I have since heard that Bissinger posted a long diatribe against me on his Facebook page. Calling me, among other things, "unethical." That post, I have been led to understand, has since been taken down.

Let me reiterate, my column won't be.

I will post updates as they occur.

UPDATE: Here is the first email Bissinger sent Sunday morning right before he called me.
Of course Penn's conduct is outrageous and irresponsible. I didn't know when your column was running. I wasn't avoiding you. I am busy. You never told me you were going to make me the foil.
I had respect for you. Completely unfounded. Total ambush.
And the inference that I should have covered it. I wasn't at the Inquirer during any of this.
And you were too much of a coward to send me the column.
He has since written an email claiming that I didn't call him. I did. At his home. At least what I thought was/is his home. The woman on the message machine said it was the "Bissinger" residence. And I did send him another email at 4:57 p.m. Friday afternoon mentioning the name change.


Blogger CharlieSix said...

Sure wish you could advise Spencerblogers the site of the meeting tomorrow night... I'm pretty sure that Jake and Danny would show up with me to see the events unfold. Not that there is any doubt about the outcome. Bissinger is a self-serving slime bag who seems to have a very selective understanding of the truth.

July 29, 2012 at 10:03 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...


July 29, 2012 at 10:21 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gill, remember "right makes might".
The reduction of the disagreement you have with Bissinger to implied physicality is silly.
Argue the merits of your case like grown men, not like morons.

July 29, 2012 at 11:19 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like Emmert these slimeball think they are so rightous and morally superior to everyone. When they puff out there chest it is our duty to call them on the carpet for the hypocracy they espose. Emmerts ridiculous graduation rate at LSU and his administrations coverup of a rape of a UW student by a football player that the admin. tried to coverup by just having the rape victim talk it over with the rapist. What kind of horseshit is that. I want Bissingers reputation completely destroyed just like he has attempted to do to Paterno. Paterno has more integrity in his fingernail than Bissinger would ever have in his whole being.
If we have to destroy each person who thought they were morally superior to Paterno and demanded that Penn State have the death penalty because they covered up Sandusky's behavoir to protect the program then so be it. We will march forward and pick them off one by one

July 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Outstanding! Now Mr. Bissinger understands what he has been doing to the Penn State community. You nailed him on his hypocrisy and he knows it.

July 30, 2012 at 12:04 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you know what else? Friday Night Lights is a really overrated book. Great subject choosing and a great story played out, but the writing/telling of that story was at a homeless man's John Feinstein level (another writer who should answer for his irresponsible judgments, but would probably be more difficult to expose via relayed phone conversation).

July 30, 2012 at 12:10 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how he is upset about not being interviewed before the article was published when that is exactly what he has done to the people at Penn State.

July 30, 2012 at 8:27 AM 
Blogger jake said...

The real Jake (tingle alert for Bob's leg) and his PSU fraternity brothers sure would like to meet Buzz Bissinger, famous author and social critic.
Maybe they could even exchange knuckle autographs.

July 30, 2012 at 10:23 AM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake, thanks for the mention. So now we're going to get our kids to beat people up. Learn that in church Jake?

July 30, 2012 at 10:42 AM 
Blogger jake said...

Sorry the humor in "knuckle autographs" was too subtle for you, Bob.
I'm fairly certain the vast majority of Spencerblog readers understood the context, even if you didn't.

July 30, 2012 at 12:20 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good stuff Spence. Although I agree with some of Buzz's description's of you it's for reason's other than your integrity as a writer. I look forward to the updates although my guess is that you will be stood up on your date tonight. Nothing better than poking a self righteous bear with a stick especially when you have exposed the bear as having no teeth or claws. If he takes a swing at you kick him in the balls and send him off. Fingers

July 30, 2012 at 1:34 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

No Jake. I got it. And it was dumb.

July 30, 2012 at 2:44 PM 
Blogger jake said...

Compared to the stupidity driving the JoePa lynch mob, it was brilliant.

July 30, 2012 at 2:50 PM 
Blogger jake said...

Couldn't help but notice that the 2007 article on Wharton professor Scott Ward is the second most read today on the Philly Mag website.
Kudos to Gil for connecting the dots and calling out the JoePa lynch mob, particularly that crapweasel Buzz Bissinger.

July 30, 2012 at 5:07 PM 
Blogger David Ernay said...

Gil, I've enjoyed nothing more over the years than getting into a heated debate with you, but on the Bissinger issue, I am completely on your side. This guy is angry that he couldn;t "spin" anything before it hit the web? I say, "Suck it up, brother. You spent enough years in print media to know where there's news there's someone to write about it.

I hope he gives you your face-to-face, and apologizes for his ranting behavior.

July 30, 2012 at 5:22 PM 
Blogger steve mcdonald said...

Isn't Bissinger to busy sniffing Ed Rendell's shameful emissions to talk to you?

July 30, 2012 at 5:24 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

So Bissingers hypocrisy exonerates Paterno? I don't think so. How that statue thing going Jake?

July 30, 2012 at 6:30 PM 
Blogger jake said...

The statue might have come down, Bob, but the understanding of bureaucratic injustice most certainly has risen.
Just a few short weeks ago, you were crowing about Bissinger's criticism of Penn State. Not looking so good now, is it?
Public opinion will eventually turn away from this destructive witch hunt and restore JoePa to the place of honor he earned and deserves.

July 30, 2012 at 10:40 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 31, 2012 at 9:52 AM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - Bissingers criticism of Penn State still looks good, because it's on target. Read Gils column from July 20th. If Gils source is legit, and I doubt very much that Gil would have run the story if it wasn't, Sandusky's preferences were common knowledge.
And if they were common knowledge, you can be sure Paterno knew. But then it's only a flesh wound. Right Jake?

July 31, 2012 at 10:13 AM 
Blogger jake said...

In Bob world, speculation = incarceration

July 31, 2012 at 4:59 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - But that was OK with you when Zimmereman applied that logic. With Paterno, probability outweighs possibility.

August 1, 2012 at 6:18 PM 
Blogger jake said...

Wrong again, Bobby boy.

I believe everyone deserves a fair trial, subject to unbiased evidence and due process.
Probability is not, and never has been, equivalent to beyond a reasonable doubt, and you are dangerously wrong to think so.

On Zimmerman, Obama was incredibly out of line to use inflammatory language to deny this citizen his due process, specifically an unbiased jury of his peers.
Worse, it's reasonable to suspect his motives weren't justice , but political pandering, which is a sorry excuse for interference in the court process by the nation's Chief Executive.

August 1, 2012 at 8:54 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Not so, Jakey fake. The only place Paterno will ever be on trial is in the court of public opinion. And the people have spoken. As for Zimmerman, you've obviously missed my point. Zimmerman acted as judge, jury and executioner. And you're ok with that. Maybe you can erect a statue of Zimmerman next to your Paterno statue. Danny would be more than happy to chip in.

August 1, 2012 at 11:01 PM 
Blogger Rockfish Files said...

Bissingers appearance on CNN,where he whined and cried about being villified by the "liberal media",can be put in perspective.He was complaining about being cursed at and called names,but reading this it is clear Bissinger is a hypocrite,and a publicity whore,and nothing else.He also looks like he can eat an apple through a picket fence.

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