Yellow journalism

Pissing match in Peoria
By ADAM REILLY  |  July 16, 2007


One of the weirder journalistic feuds in recent memory erupted this past week, only to dissolve in a pool of urine as quickly as it blossomed. It started on July 1, when the Washington Post published a Gene Weingarten humor column based on the writer’s impending syndication in the Peoria Journal Star. The premise: Weingarten wasn’t sure his humor would play in Peoria — say it twice, slowly — so he called up the Illinois town’s mayor, Jim Ardis, for a trial run.

The results were inconclusive. Weingarten’s description of his own writing, offered for Ardis’s benefit, was quite entertaining: “It’s mostly snide, smart-aleck stuff, gratuitous character assassination, quasi-vulgar observations about human excretory functions, general cultural chauvinism with particular elitist condescension toward people who don’t live in big cities and, above all, overwhelming contempt for small-town politicians.” But his follow-up joke about Peoria was just plain lame.

Here it is: “I’m thinking that ‘Peoria’ sounds like a combination of ‘pee’ and ‘euphoria,’ which is something many people can relate to, especially after a long car ride, which Peorians might want to take to get out of Peoria!”

The memory of this failed humor might have faded quickly, were it not for Billy Dennis, author of the Peoria Pundits blog, who laid into Weingarten in a post titled “Mayor Defends Peoria’s Honor Against Beltway Smartass.” Dennis praised Ardis (obviously); he also panned Weingarten for “embrac[ing] hoary old clichés,” particularly the one about “playing in Peoria.”

Then, on July 4, things took a bizarre turn. Weingarten himself weighed in at Peoria Pundits, accusing Dennis of missing his column’s point in strangely juvenile terms. “It was a joke, dork,” Weingarten wrote (emphasis added). “It was a joke about me and my cultural condescension. . . . ”

Over to Dennis: “Woo hoo! I’ve been called a ‘dork’ before, but never by someone from the Washington Post. . . . ” Back to Weingarten: “Gonna explain this only once. See if you can understand, so you don’t make the same bonehead mistake again. A cliché is not badly used if it is used ironically. . . . ” Dennis said Weingarten is thin-skinned. Weingarten reiterated that Dennis is a “dork.” Dennis said Weingarten is the real dork.

Thrust! Parry! Thrust again! But then — just when it seemed these mutual accusations of dorkiness might go on forever — a reader jumped in and took Weingarten to task for his “pee joke.” Weingarten responded by saying, essentially, that to condemn pee jokes on July 4 was unpatriotic.

Et voila! Just like that, the Dennis-Weingarten enmity was forgotten as the two men traded scatological puns. Dennis: “Urine the minority if you think pee jokes are patriotic.” Weingarten: “I think we’ve had enough of your mindless bladder for one day.” Weingarten: “Ureters have long grown tired of this pissing match.” Dennis: “Urinal lot of trouble if you keep this up, Mister.” Dennis: “I kidney you not, puns are not funny.” Weingarten: “Depends.”

And so it ended — except for the uncomfortable fact that this entire exchange, which countless readers witnessed thanks to a link from über-media-aggregator Jim Romenesko, is now preserved in cyberspace for all eternity. (Incidentally, the Journal Star didn’t run the column.)

In an e-mail to the Phoenix, Weingarten struck a rueful tone. “I made the rookie error of actually getting angry at what he wrote, which made me sound pompous — a mistake, for which I tried to atone.” Mission only partly accomplished. The example is new, but the cautionary lesson isn’t. Journalists, everywhere: think before you blog.

Related: Good Shaq, bad Shaq, Notes on a scandal, Culture war, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Jim Romenesko
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BULLY FOR BU!  |  March 12, 2010
    After six years at the Phoenix , I recently got my first pre-emptive libel threat. It came, most unexpectedly, from an investigative reporter. And beyond the fact that this struck me as a blatant attempt at intimidation, it demonstrated how tricky journalism's new, collaboration-driven future could be.
  •   STOP THE QUINN-SANITY!  |  March 03, 2010
    The year is still young, but when the time comes to look back at 2010's media lowlights, the embarrassing demise of Sally Quinn's Washington Post column, "The Party," will almost certainly rank near the top of the list.
  •   RIGHT CLICK  |  February 19, 2010
    Back in February 2007, a few months after a political neophyte named Deval Patrick cruised to victory in the Massachusetts governor's race with help from a political blog named Blue Mass Group (BMG) — which whipped up pro-Patrick sentiment while aggressively rebutting the governor-to-be's critics — I sized up a recent conservative entry in the local blogosphere.
  •   RANSOM NOTES  |  February 12, 2010
    While reporting from Afghanistan two years ago, David Rohde became, for the second time in his career, an unwilling participant rather than an observer. On October 29, 1995, Rohde had been arrested by Bosnian Serbs. And then in November 2008, Rohde and two Afghan colleagues were en route to an interview with a Taliban commander when they were kidnapped.
  •   POOR RECEPTION  |  February 08, 2010
    The right loves to rant against the "liberal-media elite," but there's one key media sector where the conservative id reigns supreme: talk radio.

 See all articles by: ADAM REILLY