(Ed. Note: I understand that this topic is likely between somewhat and ridiculously uninteresting to many of you, so if you aren't interested in inter-blog squabbling, please avert your gaze. For the rest of you, thanks for indulging this very long little slice of heaven.)
For those of you not keeping tabs, a few days ago, a fellow SBN blogger SMQ took a shot at Neuheisel, and I responded. SMQ then responded by attacking our expectations for the Bruins' 2008-09 football season. In a lengthy post, which I've already addressed, SMQ attacks our motives in setting expectations in previous years, thusly:
What this is, really, is an admission that the "expectations" for Dorrell were ridiculous –– intentionally constructed to be beyond not only any independent projections but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position.
In response, I said before, and say again:
It's all very polite, but he's calling us liars. He's attacking our motives and credibility. He's saying we don't write what we believe. Instead, we have some dark hidden agenda. Before, it was to get rid of KD. Now, it's to support Nueheisel out of some "all-out investment in coach-worship." In short, it is, at best, a lame conspiracy theory and, at worst, an ugly personal attack.
Well, that didn't sit well in some corners. T Kyle King, our esteemed SBN colleague at Dawg Sports, has chimed in, as he did previously in effusively praising SMQ's post, arguing that:
SMQ’s disagreements with other bloggers, no matter how vehement or heartfelt, never descend to the level of personal attacks. ...
Nowhere in there were there the sorts of cheap shots, sweeping overgeneralizations, or ancillary sideswipes which all too often typify disputes in the blogosphere. ...
While the members of the Bruins Nation community may not like what SMQ has written here, though, SMQ steered clear of attacking the singer rather than the song.
I responded in the comment thread over here as follows:
[...] I don’t think it’s quite right that SMQ "steered clear of attacking the singer rather than the song" (with due respect to Kyle, whose opinion I value).
SMQ certainly wasn’t bombastic, and he writes very well, so I can see how folks might get that impression. But, it wasn’t like he was disagreeing with us about who will win the Lakers game tonight. I wasn’t saying, it’ll be the Lakers, because Kobe will be on fire, with SMQ saying that it’s Celtics all the way at home. He’s saying, very directly, if politely, that we were being disingenuous, and writing things we don’t mean for some imagined ulterior motive. He’s saying both that the message is (or, rather, was) wrong, and that it was wrong because the author was intentionally writing things with no basis in fact ("intentionally constructed to be beyond not only any independent projections but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position"). That’s a personal attack, in my opinion.
Yet, rather than address (or even acknowledge) my points there, Kyle chose to write a lengthy rebuke at his own place. Kyle's finger wagging concluded thusly:
Disagree with SMQ if you will, but give the man his considerable due. He did not offer a personal attack; indeed, one of the many ways in which his posting was noteworthy was for its lack of invective and its evenness of tone. Perhaps this merely is a clash of personalities---Bruins Nation and Sunday Morning Quarterback are, respectively, the most and least partisan college sports weblogs at SB Nation---but, if SMQ is to be taken to task, let it be for what he actually wrote, not for some caricature of it.
Sunday Morning Quarterback did not outline a conspiracy theory and I would take issue with anyone who accused Nestor, Menelaus, and the rest of the Bruin faithful of such a thing. However, Menelaus’s recent diatribe against SMQ was over the top and unfair to an extent that did nothing to help me make the case that Bruins Nation is a forum for impassioned yet reasonable fans. If Menelaus’s response is representative of his approach to constructive criticism---and, to be clear, I do not believe it is---he should steer clear of tin foil hat analogies, which do him no favors after a posting like that one.
There are so many points to make. I will try to be brief, but there is a lot of material to deal with.
First off, let's deal with the main issue squarely. Was SMQ's critique of BN's expectations for the Bruins' 2008-09 football season a personal attack?
Before I go on, let's be clear, calling out someone's motives politely is the same as calling them out any other way. No amount of graceful verbiage, however "nuanced or exacting," changes that. So, saying that BN "intentionally constructed [expectations] to be beyond not only any independent projections but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position," I'm sorry to say, is an attack on our integrity. It's an attack on the singer, not the song.
Let me try to illustrate. Maybe if I make it more tangible, no one will get lost in SMQ's nice prose. Let's suppose your investing some money. Your investment guy tells you to expect a 6% return on your investment, with no risk of loss. A year later, the investment fails and you loss everything. There are several possible explanations here. Your broker might have justifiably relied on flawed market reports. Or, he might have made an honest mistake and misinterpreted accurate data. Or, he could have intentionally constructed expectations that went beyond not only any independent market reports but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position in order to earn a higher commission.
If it's either of the first two, his message was just wrong. If its the later, he was lying. And to call him out on the later is to attack his integrity. Of course, there is a difference between attacking the message, and attacking the messenger.
Tellingly, it doesn't appear that SMQ's audience was at all confused. They interpreted SMQ exactly as intended: that SMQ was calling BN a liar. Just two examples, from the thread at Kyle's place. First, we have Skin Patrol, from SBN colleague Hogs Heaven (who also commented at SMQ):
At least BN is honest with themselves about what they’re trying to accomplish. ;)
I think SMQ’s point was that… they aren’t.
Or, how about Beatuofa, from the same thread:
.... And to crow that BN is honest about their goals—I think that’s the whole point of what Matt (SMQ) is saying, that they are being more than a little disingenuous at least, and hypocritical at worst, in their wholly negative spin on Karl Dorrell and the newly wholly positive spin in Rick Neuheisel....
So, I guess, I got it wrong, but no one else has.
In the end, repeat it all you want. It wasn't a personal attack. It wasn't a personal attack. Just know, that it was.
Second, was SMQ's critique advancing a conspiracy theory? By definition, a conspiracy theory is:
A conspiracy theory posits that a coordinated group is, was, and/or will be secretly working together to commit illegal or wrongful actions including hiding the existence of the group and its activities.
Again, the answer is squarely yes.
SMQ basically compared three data points, namely, our expectations for the football team in 2006, 2007 and 2008, without "going into the returning  roster in extreme detail." Based upon his opinion that BN's expectations in 2006 and 2007 were inflated as compared to 2008, SMQ concludes that the difference is attributable an intentional plot to set expectations for Dorrell beyond any realistic level as a means to see him "canned."
Of course, SMQ doesn't analyze or even disagree with BN's expectations for each individual season and, in fact, he mostly agrees now ("It’s not that these projections are destined to be wrong"), just as he did then. And he doesn't touch on any of the many reasons why our expectations might reasonably differ from one year to the next, (aside from snarky references to HFCAGIOACRN), such as schedule, roster or the distinction between newly hired and long-established coaches.
In other words, SMQ is ignoring, or at least glossing over, the merits of the various data points, and instead promoting a third explanation for his views: a secret cabal of Bruins fans set upon "canning" one coach and "worshiping" the next. That, my friends, is a conspiracy.
Third, when did SMQ become completely unassailable? When did he become immune to criticism? Because this debate isn't really about the "right way to argue over expectations." My post was hardly a "diatribe," and SMQ's was hardly the poster child for evenness and respect.
On the one hand, Kyle cherry picks my post for only the quotes he believes might support his theme: SMQ is saint; Menelaus is unfair nasty guy. Specifically, he attacks me for these selective quotations:
[H]e's calling us liars. He's attacking our motives and credibility. He's saying we don't write what we believe. Instead, we have some dark hidden agenda. Before, it was to get rid of KD. Now, it's to support Nueheisel out of some "all-out investment in coach-worship." In short, it is, at best, a lame conspiracy theory and, at worst, an ugly personal attack.
What comes in between the above quoted introduction and conclusion is an amusing mish-mash of snark, obfuscation and flawed analysis. . . .
[T]hroughout his commentary, SMQ also misses perhaps the most critical point. Specifically, he wrongly compares our collective expectations for a first year coach (Neuheisel) to one who'd been on the job 4 and 5 years (Dorrell)...
[D]on't buy into any of the sham details in SMQ's team-by-team analysis. It's so replete with inconsistencies as to be laughable.
By the way, I stand behind all of that. If I had to do it over again, I might re-title the post (which I thought was funny), and delete the word "sham." But, the rest, is still dead on.
On the other hand, let's consider these quotes from SMQ:
Now that the message is "Head Coach Richard Neuheisel Is the Best CEO in America," the tone of the rhetoric has changed completely –– it’s all positive, all the time –– but the commitment to the message is as staunch as ever....
[R]ingleader Nestor laid out the expectations for that season...
Obviously. And obviously, now that UCLA has a real Head Coach rather than an unqualified Doofus, for which BN lobbied so tirelessly, the excuses employed by the Dorrell apologists for the team’s mediocrity over the last five years will not do.... [T]o make the excuse of losing players for a bad record is just ridiculous.... No, Head Football Coach/Amateur Guitarist/Innocent of All Charges Richard Neuheisel is the Head Football Coach who will finally push the Bruins over the top...
O rly? That’s, uh, quite a change of opinion of the Bruins’ potential in a single year....
My first thought when Neuheisel was hired was, "How long will it take for Bruins Nation to turn on him?" Obviously, with an all-out investment in coach-worship of this order, it’s going to be a long, long time. Most fans have high hopes for immediate improvement under a new coach, but they don’t understand how to protect that investment. Nestor does. People don’t give a motorcycle gang of angry sumo wrestlers this wide a berth....
It’s not that these projections are destined to be wrong... but in context, they are staggeringly hypocritical....
[Dorrell's] was 10-10 when the current clan at BN first took the drumbeat virtual at Fire Karl Dorrell midway through the 2004 season.... Three years later, the same folks appear very willing to accept losses to the high end of the Mountain West and to Pac Ten bottom-dwellers... as a natural step in the rebuilding process. Six-win seasons were completely unacceptable for Dorrell, but HFCAGIOFACCRN can take all the time he needs.
What this is, really, is an admission that the "expectations" for Dorrell were ridiculous –– intentionally constructed to be beyond not only any independent projections but beyond the realistic grasp of anyone in his position....
Is SMQ's dripping sarcasm, condescension and snark really any better than what I wrote? Why should he get a pass for politely, but not at all subtlety, ridiculing BN? What about when he mocked our "single minded obsession" and impending struggles with a "future without their nemesis empty and devoid of meaning" (his words)? Is any other notion not just wrong, but completely inconceivable, particularly when it comes from someone who holds himself as a impartial observer?
Fourth, isn't it at least a little bit telling how this all played out?
Nestor himself just wrote he’d be ecstatic if the team went 6-6 this year, and admitted the very real possibility of going 3-9/4-8. He writes off BYU as a loss - not a toss-up, but an expected loss - even though LA beat BYU last year in the regular season and should have beat them again in the bowl game. And the reaction was, "Hmmm, sobering."
Say what? I mean, really, WTF? It’s a rational prediction, but it’s been a rational prediction for the last two years, and BN consistently wailed about how underachieving the team was - it’s the exact result that made that site explode with contempt on a daily basis. I thought they expected progress. Dorrell never had a regular season worse than 6-6 and they berated him and ran him off like a leper. But when Head Coach Richard Neuheisel The Best CEO In America™ fails to take a single step forward (that’s Nestor’s expectation, not mine), it’s cool - just give him time.
You understand that my criticism had little, or nothing, to do with your overall perspective re UCLA performance this year. Much of your post, including the detailed history of Dorrell’s underperformance, is quite accurate. That said, your treatment of Neuheisel, as I explained, is one sided. It’s just that simple. So, take whatever issue you’d like in your overall distaste for BN, but please, try to stay on topic.
Now, far be it from me to suggest that SMQ is human, and possibly got a little miffed that I'd have the audacity to disagree with anything in Mandate for Change. Of course, it's impossible to believe that SMQ chose to get his digs in against BN after refusing to engage in a discussion about his barbs about Neuheisel over at his place. Yep, the guy is unassailable. He had the "expectations" post in the queue from the beginning. And Mr. Evenhanded wouldn't even dream of taking a shot if he somehow was suffering from a bruised ego. And no one out there might even think so.
Fifth, why do folks go so far out of their way to soft pedal this and defend SMQ? Kyle, for example, gives SMQ a wider berth than a motorcycle gang of angry sumo wrestlers, in saying that "SMQ [merely] had some questions about Nestor’s game-by-game analysis, wondering a bit about" BN's expectations.
Huh? SMQ was just "wondering" aloud, like some absent minded professor wandering across campus? The tone wasn't sarcastic and snarky? No, no, it was a hallmark of "evenness of tone" (evenly snarky?). Really?
Listen, I fully understand that I'm not one of the "gang." I get that some people worship SMQ and look down on UCLA and BN. But, to see outsiders circle the wagons around SMQ like this baffles me.
As I've said, he's a pretty thoughtful guy, known for in-depth analysis and doing his homework. But, I won't apologize for calling him out on this one.
Sixth, and finally, let me address, in closing, some of the side issues raised by Kyle's post.
- Are you really trying to support your argument by comparing the comments to my post, to the comments to SMQ's? I'm sorry, but you could just as easily say that SMQ's post didn't hit the high water mark (or, more correctly, conveyed exactly the intended message), when it inspired comments attacking BN's "nonsensical drivel," "biggest bunch of hypocrites," and delighting in a "takedown" of a blog that couldn't be "more deserving."
- Your main substantive point, that Neuheisel should perform better in his first year at UCLA than BN expects, rests on a misapplication of the premise that "maintaining prior level of play with the former coach's players appears to be Coach Neuheisel's modus operandi" (emphasis added). Among other things, and most fundamentally, this ignores that talent and experience wise, the cupboard at UCLA is considerably more bare than it was at Colorado and Washington.
- It's not right to chide me more attributing the "single-issue blog" comment to SMQ when, despite not authoring the specific line from EDSBS, he's said basically the same thing himself before.
Thanks to anyone who had it in them to get this far. But, some things just can't go unanswered.