Friday, May 18, 2012

LESSONS IN RADIO INTERVIEWS: DON'T BE AN A-HOLE TO A GUY WHOSE DAD HAS CANCER


On one hand, it's been less than twenty-four hours and I'm already sick of talking about this. On the other hand, I've only had the chance to articulate my thoughts in 140-character bursts, so I'm not sure I made my point all that clear. Let's sort through this mess, shall we?

There's probably a good number of you who weren't listening to (or have never listened to) sports talk radio yesterday. More specifically, The Dan Le Batard Show on 790 The Ticket. Assuming you didn't catch it, Le Batard and co-host Stugotz had Heath Bell on to talk about his recent struggles. They pointed out his shortcomings and he responded in a way that would make you think he's a seven-year-old.  You can find a clip of the whole interview here, but this is the point where things went sour:


Dan Le Batard: What do you make of this statistic, that this season, you've thrown fifty-five fast balls in the strike zone and gotten two swings and misses?
Heath Bell: That's pretty cool.
Dan Le Batard: Pretty cool?

Heath Bell: Well, I don't know. Could you do it?

Dan Le Batard: Uh, no I couldn't do it, but—

Heath Bell: Well, then I think I'm two pitches better than you.


The interview turned ugly after that, with Bell clinging to a dumb "Well, can you do it?" argument, while Dan and Stugotz took shots at his salary. It was an uncomfortable interview to say the least.

It should be noted that Dan and Stugotz had done this to him once before the season and Bell handled it rather well, battling their very informed opinion with his own very informed opinion, citing statistics that supported his argument. This time, his response amounted to nothing more than childish retorts.

So, what was the major difference between this interview and the last? Well...



  
That was just two days ago.

Do I know for a fact that one is directly related to the other? Of course not. But, I'd hardly call it a stretch to assume that Bell's agitation and not-so-carefully thought out responses might have had a little to do with the personal issues going on in his life. (Ed note: If one of my parents were diagnosed with cancer, there'd be a good two to three month period where if you were to say anything annoying to me, I'd probably just fight you, no questions asked.)

Le Batard Show producer, Mike Ryan, didn't think it mattered; that if Heath Bell accepted the offer to come on the radio show, then he's fair game. And to a certain extent, I agree with him. If Bell agreed to the interview, he had to expect questions about his performance. I actually didn't think the questions were out of line, at all. Bell stinks right now, so that's what they asked him about it. There's nothing wrong with that.

What was out of line was the incessant badgering Bell had to endure, given the circumstances. Finding out a family member has cancer is horrible enough without two radio jerks picking you apart for the sake of ratings. The minute someone in the studio heard Heath Bell getting defensive and hurling childish barbs, they should've at least had the passing thought that maybe this wasn't the best time to be the pushy radio guys. I'm sure Heath Bell cares so much about his ERA at this point in time. It's probably at the forefront of his mind. Maybe it's, like, the second concern floating around up there. You know, right behind that whole thing about HIS DAD HAVING CANCER.

Maybe, under normal circumstances, poking the subject with a stick is what makes for a good interview. But, again, that would be under normal circumstances. Finding out your father has cancer doesn't qualify as "normal" circumstances, though. It actually leans more toward "don't be an a-hole and maybe cut a guy some slack, just this once" circumstances. What The Le Batard Show did was place a greater value on entertainment than on human decency. Sure, from a radio broadcast standpoint, they had every right to ask those questions and take him to task for his silly responses, but given the circumstances, it's hard to argue that it doesn't also make them look a little callous. If you know you want to do that type of interview, maybe realize that now might not be the best time.

The part I found most obnoxious about the whole thing, though, was everyone on the show steadfastly refusing to believe that they did anything wrong, as if media street cred is somehow more important than just saying, "You know what? Maybe we could've been a little more respectful in that instance." And hey, that media cred is important—to someone like Skip Bayless, who makes a living off of being "that guy." But for someone like Dan Le Batard, a guy who prides himself on being a genuinely kind person; a guy who's made his relationship with his father a very public, very beautiful spectacle? Not a good look.

It's also something you wouldn't expect from someone like Le Batard, who seems to be one of the few Batmans in a sports media filled with Jokers. (Which is probably what upset me most about this whole situation.)

This story does have a happy ending, though. I exchanged emails with Dan and he says that he did not, in fact, know about Heath Bell's father before the interview. He also seems genuinely contrite.

This interview was a gross, cringe-worthy moment in show history, sure, but that's all it was and that's all anyone should look at it as: one bad moment. Dan Le Batard has a long history of being the good guy. I'm not about to believe otherwise.


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