I’m moved to post about the reaction that Mike Arrington of Techcrunch has been receiving, via the supposedly egalitarian social media, as a result of Leo Laporte’s outburst on the June 6 edition of the Gillmor Gang. I’m so moved because this reaction is so similar to the reaction I received as Twixt within City of Heroes. (There’s a brief synopsis of the Twixt case here.)
The Laporte-Arrington situation is this: Michael Arrington was a guest inside a familiar talk show format wherein several people are supposedly having a round-table-like discussion. The topic of discussion in this instance was the (newly released) Palm Pre mobile phone. Leo Laporte, another of the “guests” (though his role in this particular show is much greater and more fundamental than Arrington’s), introduces the Palm Pre topic, Arrington questions whether Laporte received his Palm Pre for free, and this is then what happens:
Okay, talk show hosts lose it. Seen it before. Bill O’Reilly is probably the prototypical example. Not pretty, but it happens. That’s not really the interesting part.
The interesting part is, after the fact, the outcry. I would say that 90+% (easy) of all comments I read – and there were a LOT of comments, on a variety of sites — were pro-Laporte and anti-Arrington. These comments ran the gamut of name-calling (“douchebag” and/or “asshole” seemed the most common selections) to death threats.
The gist of the comments: Leo was justified; Michael got what he deserved. The reasoning behind the comments: Michael impugned Leo’s integrity; Leo is unimpugnable.
I beg to differ.
First of all, Arrington didn’t impugn anyone’s integrity. He didn’t really get the chance. There may have been some implicit impugning going on and/or going to happen, but, seriously, not yet and not that bad. Ostensibly, Laporte reacted not to the impugning but rather to Arrington’s “trolling,” or asking questions like the one he asked solely to elicit an emotional response (which Laporte then gives him — in spades).
But is the question that Arrington asked really a “troll” question, like Laporte wants us to believe? No, not at all. It’s a very reasonable question, actually. In fact, it’s a damn good question.
Tech companies – including computer game companies, btw – CAN control the reviews of their products by selectively choosing who receives early/preview copies of those products. It doesn’t matter if those products are given or “loaned” or simply made available. If some get those products and some don’t, then that stinks.
Now, did Palm really attempt to affect Laporte’s review? Did Palm really succeed in affecting Laporte’s review? Who knows and who cares, because it doesn’t matter. The point is that this practice of selectively allowing reviewers access to your product might, can, and does stink. And, the related and more pertinent point is this: Laporte is participating in – and benefiting from – this process.
Look at it like this: Journalists don’t have to play by company rules. Laporte could share his phone with other journalists, right? Oh, but there’s an NDA? Well then, Laporte could wait and review the phone when everybody else has access to it, right? After all, you can’t really do an in-depth review based on a seven-day trial. You can do some sort of review, I suppose, but it’s probably not going to be as in-depth or as accurate or as meaningful as a review based on more than a seven-day trial.
But, ah, Laporte wants to be timely; he wants to be first. And, so, if he wants to be first, then he plays ball with the tech companies; he plays by their rules. Even if he is a stand-up, non-impugnable guy. Even if he gains an unfair marketplace advantage by doing so. Even if the company rules he is playing by stink. Even if those rules he is playing by are not really rules at all, just a set of winks and nods distinguishing between those who are popular and likable (and want to stay that way), and those who aren’t.
Arrington doesn’t choose to play by those rules. Or maybe he just doesn’t get the chance.
What I’d like to think is that Arrington is playing by another set of rules entirely, a set of rules beyond the winks and nods: rules about what’s fair, what’s honest, and what’s not. If Laporte wants to ignore this second set of rules and/or shrug them off as some sort of rude troll’s douchebaggery, he can do it. He can do it because he’s popular and likable, no problem. And, if he does it, then he will get his Pre the next time, and the time after that. No problem.
And, best of all, Laporte can ignore this second set of rules, and he doesn’t even have to be the bad guy while he’s doing it. He’s not the bad guy, after all; he’s the popular and likable guy. It’s the social media dog pack, the mindless fanboys, that do all the ripping and tearing of those who question the popular and the likable. All those good guy journalists and all those outstanding tech companies can just sit back and watch the ripping take place.
Yeah. Arrington got what he deserved. That douchebag. That asshole.