Rome vs. Stern’s “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” is what happens when journalists aim to antagonize

Most people in America don’t read blogs or websites at all, glancing at the daily paper or watching TV after work is where they get their news and commentary. These people have lives, jobs, etc. What they probably don’t spend much time thinking about is how media sources get their audience. New media (blogs, podcasts, Twitter, etc.) certainly has its problems but one of the hypocritical arguments proponents of the older methods use is the way blogs and other sources get their web traffic.

Enter Jim Rome. Rome is a stalwart of pre (and post)-Internet sports talk, first signing on with ESPN in the early 1990s. Then-ESPN head of programming Mark Shapiro ignored other voices at the company by bringing on Rome because Rome brought…ratings. The same shock attention schemes podcasters and other digital media people use to attract an audience has worked many times before. It’s a method that goes back to tabloid-journalism of pre-WWI New York and made the careers of Howard Stern, Jerry Springer, and hundreds of others. Part of the reason Rush Limbaugh has an audience is because people can’t wait to hear what kind of hate he’s going to spew next. It’s entertainment under the guise of journalism.

Now, what I’m complaining about here is that new media personalities have been criticized for using the same methods old media personalities have. Even though it attracts attention, being an inarticulate shock jock doesn’t benefit a radio audience intellectually. It just gets them fired up, bringing more people in to listen to the car accident as it happens.

Lest we forget, Rome’s career began with this incident:

This afternoon on his nationally syndicated radio show, Jim Rome asked NBA commissioner David Stern if the NBA draft was rigged. “I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, was the fix in for the lottery?” asked Rome, who hosts a daily show on CBS Sports Network.

“I have two answers for that,” Stern said. “The simple easy one, no, the second, a statement, shame on you for asking.”

Stern also responded with “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

Via ESPN, here’s a transcript of what followed:

Rome responded: “I don’t think that’s fair.”

After a little more back and forth, Rome said he hoped Stern wouldn’t hold the question against him.

“I wouldn’t hold it against you,” Stern said. “You and I have been in more contentious talks than that. But it’s good copy. You do these things for cheap thrills.”

Rome took offense to that statement, and Stern changed his characterization.

“Cheap trick,” he said. “You’ve been successful in making a career of it, and I keep coming on.”

That prompted a flurry of exchanges:

Rome: “Making a career of it? Making a career of what? What? Cheap thrills?”

Stern: “Now you’re getting mad. You’re taking on the world and now Jim Rome is pouting.”

Rome: “I’m not pouting, I’m taking offense.”

Stern: “You want to hang up on me?”

Rome: “No, I’m seriously running out of time.”

Stern: “Listen, I gotta go call somebody important like Stephen A. Smith back. He’s next.”

Stern is a bit of a slippery guy and hardly popular among basketball fans but the fact that Rome expected any other response than the one he got is absurd. After being in talk radio for over 20 years he knows what is going to push buttons and, more importantly, what’s going to get attention. Considering the fact that stunts like this are nationally syndicated in the first place, though, maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise journalism could be in trouble.

Deadspin has the audio here.

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