Friday, February 02, 2007

BLUFF Magazine and Poker-Journalism Integrity, Part 1

This will be a touchy post, carefully phrased. There have been a whole lot of weird things going on behind the scenes of the poker world in recent weeks, and Bluff Magazine has been at the eye of the storm. At least three (maybe four, possibly five) weird-'n'-interesting events have occurred in recent weeks, and not only has Bluff Magazine has been involved in each, they've been saintly in none of the ones where journalistic integrity is a topic of discussion. I'm not a saint myself, but I try to hold myself to reasonably high writing and reporting standards. And with that caveat stated, let's dig into the weirdness...:

The Card Player / Bluff "Plagiarism" Video:
Card Player recent posted on their site a video that I guess is supposed to pass for investigate journalism, a "Gotcha" film where they snuck up behind a Bluff writer sitting at one of the media tables at the Borgata. Said Bluff writer was in the process of highlighting, cutting and pasting live chip counts from Card Player's own site into a similar Bluff page.

The incident is shoddy in so many ways, it's hard to count. A lot of the most prominent blogger/writers have constructed a curious defense for the Bluff writer, stating that they swap information all the time. This is very true, and I've done it myself. In terms of integrity this is only the lightest shade of grey, and it's often as much a process of networking and building good relationships with the folks you're bumping elbows with on a day-by-day basis. However, this sharing of information requires one thing, and it's something that many of the blogger/writers haven't touched on much, as yet: Both the parties involved must be willing to do the sharing, for whatever reasons.

This is not the case in the Card Player / Bluff squabble. Clearly, Card Player has erected a fence around its chip-count process, which is kind of funny for a reason unrelated to the heart of the matter. In large venues, when Card Player relies on interns and inexperienced, off-the-street types for chip-counting assistance, the accuracy of what they report just ain't that good. Hell, I figured out after two days at the WSOP last year that their chip counts were unreliable; you'd see things like the same player listed in two different spots on a leaderboard, and see that situation go uncorrected as update after update occurred. Nonetheless, Card Player quite stridently insists that no one else use their data, worthy or not, and there's little doubt that the Bluff writer knew this. If he didn't, then that's something that needs to go right up the Bluff chain-of-command, to determine if this practice was winked at or tacitly authorized by the magazine. Probably not, but it's one of those open questions.

The reason I bring this up is that while a lot of people are castigating Card Player for running the video --- and it's pretty sleazy, sophmorish stuff --- no one seems to be asking if something happened between the shooting of the video and its eventual appearance on the CP site --- something like Barry Shulman or another CP person confronting Bluff's Eric Morris or Michael Caselli over the incident, and basically being told to go whistle, with the video then being aired in retaliatory spite. Did something like that occur behind the scenes? We'll likely never know. But the video doesn't fit into the otherwise dinosaur-like structure that often marks CP's non-confrontational (and largely uninteresting) output. CP dipped to Bluff's level when they could have stayed on the high ground. It doesn't quite add up as displayed.

The "Spaceman" and "Kid Poker" Dust-Up:

Bluff again, this time with an incident at the recent WPT Tunica event where Daniel Negreanu made a deep run, finishing second. Anyhow, Negreanu has long been known to get a bit lippy, sounding off on this or that or the next. I've been known to do the same thing myself, on occasion. (*wink*) Anyhow, Negreanu busted chops on the Tunica stop in particular and America's South in general, in large part because tofurkey and veggiekabobs weren't standard menu fare. Unfortunately, Negreanu's comments went way beyond the normal stuff, including the thought, not the only like comment he made, that Southern parents should be locked in jail for what they feed their kids.

No, Negreanu didn't mean it literally, it was an absurdist point, but he made a significant error in continually grouping attack-laden comments at the "South" in his frustration at whatever was on the Tunica menu. Frankly, too bad, for Danny Boy: Given what he makes, he could well have afforded to shut the fuck up about it and have his food preferences not only privately catered, but served to him by dancing virgins or his ever-present, hand-picked WSOP masseuse, whichever he preferred. Negreanu's in another mini-controversy as well, and maybe we'll get to that next week.

Anyhow, enter one of Bluff's tournament operations people, Jason "Spaceman" Kirk, who came up through the poker-blogging ranks and now does the extended tourney circuit working for Bluff, near future now excepted. Kirk was offended at what Negreanu spouted about the South, being a Tennessee boy himself, and sniped back at Negreanu amid his own tournament reports, which appeared for several days on the Bluff site but have now been wiped into the electronic ether. [One note: Jason Kirk was not the Bluff employee exposed int the CP/Bluff video mentioned above.] Nonetheless, those comments live on in several spots, including the comments section of Dr. Pauly's blog post on the topic. Among other nasties, Kirk called Negreanu a "dancing pixie" and a "professional hater," although this could have also been done tongue-in-cheek. Kirk has gone off on at least one other pro, too, but he had the common sense to do it on that occasion on his own site, rather than that of his employers.

Well, Negreanu has lots of contacts within Bluff, even more than you might expect, and he bitched about Kirk high up the Bluff ladder, with the result that Kirk was awarded an involuntary, two-tournament hiatus.

Now, I met Jason via a couple of e-mails before I met virtually any other poker blogger or writer, folks like Lou Krieger and Bill Rini included. That said, I lumbered around the WSOP for twelve days last year without actually meeting Spaceman, because he was usually off doing the Bluff Radio thing and I was pounding the floor. No biggee. What I am surprised at here is that one expected anything other than this to have occurred, as for instance, Pauly's recent post on the matter. Kirk's offense (if there was any) was understandable, but repeated personal attacks, even instigated ones, don't pass muster in a venue not normally used for such things.

Here at the Kick Ass Poker we intentionally pick fun at a lot of things, and we occassionally do more than just pick fun, but this outlet was designed to be controversial and edgy, and if gets to be too much of a hassle, I may pack it in and whistle a sayonara to the poker world at large. Bluff is neither truly controversial nor edgy, instead being just a shallow attempt to sell attitude instead of substance. Bluff is a play-like style mag with, its glitter stripped away, all the gripping relevance of Teen Beat. Bluff is the last magazine one should ever expect to stand up to Negreanu waving his dick at another guy, references to "dancing pixies" notwithstanding. (Joke, joke, joke, joke, joke....)

By the way, the dude [Negreanu] is married, and those rumors are likely not true. One has to wonder if the heat of the moment stirred up a homophobic response as well. I'm not accusing, I'm just saying, that the possibility existed, the way things unfolded. I'd be surprised, though, if that were the case.

Anyway. Pauly's calling Bluff to task on this one is colored and flawed by the fact that Spaceman is Pauly's friend. Nonetheless, Pauly's still a stand-up person and deserves credit for tackling this very touchy topic. Still, it doesn't matter that Bluff has little real backbone, nor meat; in this instance, it just wasn't going to fly. Yes, an important poker player like Negreanu can get away with a lot of crap and make life uncomfortable for others, but that's part of the game as well.

Quid pro quo and all that stuff. I once submitted a proposal to Bluff myself, back in the days before I really started to understand and learn about the poker media, upon which time I decided that I really didn't want to appear there, though I admit to being just enough of a hack-writing whore to send off a letter to them about my own series, which was ignored there as well as everywhere else. Nor was my work ever accepted, in all fairness, so you can judge what I say in that light, in the off chance I harbor some personal animosity. I don't think I do, but whatever. A lot of writers I know and respect write for Bluff, and I have no problem with that, because that's their decision to make, not mine. Anyhow, for all of Bluff's warts and superficiality, calling them to task for giving Spaceman an involuntary furlough is like shooting a cancer patient for having eczema. It doesn't make much sense. And all of this stuff is relatively small potatoes, a chunk of internecine squabbling that shows that writers and players alike are humans.

Back with the second part of this, including something rather more serious than the poker-media equivalent of eczema, whatever that might be....

No comments: