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On the Media: Buzz Bissinger's double-barreled tweets

The author of 'Friday Night Lights' takes on politicians, journalists and even friends in 140-character blasts.

November 17, 2010|James Rainey

It was just after 7:30 last Saturday morning when anyone following Buzz Bissinger's Twitter feed might have sensed the first pop and hiss of another gathering eruption.

The initial message from Bissinger promised, "No ranting today." But the acclaimed author of the book "Friday Night Lights" followed with a potshot at "that judge in England [who] should be shot (gently and without permanent damage) for convicting guy of bad Tweet."

Seconds later, another message derided all "dangerous judges." Then came another post about Bissinger's loathing for U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (whom he said "would be working at Wal-Mart" if she weren't so attractive), for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, for cable TV crank Dick Morris, for "manipulative, devious" cats and for President Obama ("to save presidency, should move to Montana and never speak.")

Bissinger had only begun to tweet. Over a little more than an hour he would send 63 Twitter messages to his 18,190 followers and to anyone else who picked up copies of his messages, known on the micro-blogging site as "retweets."

Those living in Bissinger's corner of the Twitterverse have grown accustomed to his jags, though this seemed like a particularly frenetic one. Still, his online fulminations seem incongruous — given his very public loathing a couple of years back about just such blogging and the considerable gap between the missives and the thoughtful, long-form journalism that is his calling.

Bissinger seems to have no real business here. Can he do any real good, sticking and moving with mostly noxious jabs? And yet he's laugh-out loud funny and potentially venting enough of his abundant anxiety to clear the path for another "Friday Night Lights." And so we watch like we watch an acquaintance perform at a karaoke bar on open-mike night. We are thrilled that the performer is taking a risk, wincing at the inevitable sour notes and praying we don't become a target.

It's been 2 1/2 years since Bissinger, 56, went on Bob Costas' HBO talk show to express his utter contempt for this sort of quick, dirty and unmannerly blogging. The writer lambasted Will Leitch of the racy sports website He said sites like Leitch's "are dedicated to cruelty, they're dedicated to dishonesty, they're dedicated to speed."

Bissinger could be counted guilty on counts one and three of that same indictment. Savage and fast as he may be, though, he exhibits a certain admirable (dark) consistency. "For me, Twitter is an outlet," he told me this week. "I wake up every morning literally mad about something and then one thing leads to another, leads to another."

Admitting the obvious shift in his views, he doesn't offer any grand explanation. "The world changes," he said. "You can't fight it."

The former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter — who won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team writing about corruption and chaos in the courts — said he feels compelled to speak out in a world where too many others stand silent.

The other day @buzzbissinger (his Twitter handle) called Bill O'Reilly the unholy love child of Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher. He compared those devious cats to Republican leaders. He described Monday night's NFL football game as a battle between the "Vomiter" (Donovan McNabb of the Washington Redskins) and the "dog executioner" (Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick, previously convicted of animal cruelty.)

He can be achingly funny and crude, often simultaneously. He realizes that his role as the sheriff of popular culture — Sam Kinison with a keyboard — promises a certain number of broken relationships.

Bissinger is the co-author of "Shooting Stars," the story of LeBron James and his friends rising from nothing to high school basketball champions. But after collaborating with the basketball star, he felt James' true arrogance revealed itself as he peddled his skills in free agency. A months-long Twitter-strafing ensued, much of it too profane to reprise here. James and Bissinger no longer speak to each other.

During his research and writing of his baseball book, "Three Nights in August," Bissinger became enamored with the driven, instinctive St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa. But LaRussa infuriated Bissinger when he and his star slugger, Albert Pujols, appeared last summer at the rally sponsored by conservative television host Glenn Beck.

"WHY AREN'T LARUSSA AND PUJOLS WORRYING ABOUT THEIR TEAM PLAYING LIKE … ," Bissinger wrote. The baseball men had ignored their real work, he argued, to prop up a demagogue. LaRussa no longer speaks to Bissinger.

"Someone with some credibility has to stand up and say 'This is not right,'" Bissinger said. He hastens to call LaRussa "a terrific guy," but adds, "I just couldn't live with myself if I just let it go. Do I regret losing him as a friend? Yes. Do I regret doing it? No."

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