Liner Notes for Jeff Tweedy’s “WARM”
On November 30th, the musician Jeff Tweedy will release a solo album of new material titled “ WARM .” George Saunders wrote the liner notes, which we present here.
A person gets to a certain stage in life—I’m there myself—when, no longer in the throes of child-raising (that magnificent distraction), he starts to think of death not as some abstraction that happens to other people but as a big, indifferent train that, even at this moment, is rolling out of a station located an unknown but not infinite distance away. “Isn’t it time, now, to finally be happy?” the universe starts asking, along with a second, complicating, question: “But how can I be happy, in a world like this?” Put another way: we seem born to love, and yet everything here is conditional (i.e., comes to an end). How should we live, when the huge piano labelled “Death” is eventually going to fall, not only on us but on everyone we love?
This album is, it seems to me, an answer. Or, more than an answer, it’s a nod to the validity of the question.
Should I be wary of life or enjoy it? the listener asks.
Yes, Jeff Tweedy says.
After many years of asking myself what art is for, I’ve arrived at this: the role of the artist is to reach across space and time and console —to offer not a cure or a prescription but, rather, non-trivial consolation.
Jeff is our great, wry, American consolation poet. I don’t mean this abstractly: to see him play is to find yourself in a crowd of people being actively consoled—being moved, reassured, validated, made to feel like part of a dynamic aural friendship. Jeff told me once that what he’s trying to communicate to his listener is, “You’re O.K. You’re not alone. I’m singing to you, but I also hear you.” A testimony to the value Jeff places on this connection: after playing a number of solo acoustic shows in 2016 and 2017, he decided to make an album of those songs that seemed to speak most directly to those audiences.
“ WARM ” is that album.
Great art is really just great personhood in compressed form—a distillation of a human being that thrums with that being’s exact flavor. I’ve had this feeling meeting writers like David Foster Wallace, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison: a sense that years of hard work had refined what was personal in them into work that, though infused with particularity, has blossomed into universality. I have this feeling about Jeff and his music. The true mark of style in any art form is that, within a few seconds, you know who the artist is. Listen to five seconds of “ WARM ” and you’ll know it’s Jeff—by the sound of the guitars (the musical heart of the album is the circa-nineteen-thirties Martin 0-18 that has been heard, at least a little, on every Wilco album, and is used on every track on this record) and by that magnificent voice: friendly (but formidable); tender (yet skeptical); edgy (but warm); but also by some other quality that seems, once things get going, to be present even in the pauses, some essential Jeffness that has come to be a vital component of my inner life over my many years of listening to him.
For a long time now, it seems to me, our culture has assumed that the function of art is to warn, to blame, to critique, to scoff, to dismiss. And those are some of its functions, for sure. But an art that only does those things is destructive. Destruction already being the dominant mode of our culture, we don’t need any more of it. Anyone who advocates “burning down the house” has likely never been inside a building on fire. By what do we really live? Our lives—our real lives—are made almost wholly of attempts at tenderness. We work hard on behalf of those we love, daydream about their future happiness, go out of our way to save them even the slightest pain, comfort them when the pain arrives just the same.
Jeff is, to my mind, a warrior for kindness, who has made tenderness an acceptable rock-and-roll virtue. By “tenderness” I don’t mean that New Age thing, where someone drives a spike through your head and you place hands palm to palm and do a cheesy deep bow while thanking them for the new coat rack. No: Tweedy-tenderness is sophisticated and badass and funny. It proceeds from strength and good humor and does not preclude being angry or tough or peeved. It is based on the premise that you are as real as he is and as deserving of attention, and that the world is worthy of our full and fearless interest, just as it is.
A poet is someone who lets language respond to language, trusting that meaning and sound are good friends who, given a little room, will work things out. Jeff writes by getting a musical track together and then humming/mumbling along until he finds a melody, which will start forming itself into words and phrases, while he waits patiently to see what he has been wanting to say. This is a remarkably sensitive method that lets meaning come out on its own terms, as subtly or overtly as it likes, and I am somehow put in mind of fireflies ( lightning bugs , as we used to call them in Chicago), swelling into brightness and then being gone, as you ask yourself: Did I just see that?
Certain lyrical flowers sprout up with regularity across the ten song-yards that are this record. A son who has lost a father sings to his wife, his sons, that father. There are apologies, and mirror-twins; threats to enemies (“I’d love to take you down/and leave you there”) and entreaties (“Let’s go rain again!”) and dreamy challenges (“I wonder how much freedom we can dream”) and ornery morphings of language that serve a simple function: they make the listener love language again.
“I leave behind/a trail of songs,” Jeff sings, in “Bombs above,” “From the darkest gloom/to the brightest sun.”
What can a song do in this world? Well, you know. It can open a person right up. It can jolt you out of some bullshit state of mind, of sloth, of hubris. It can make that dead world out there suddenly come alive. It can make you (father, husband, son/mother, wife, daughter) newly aware that time is short and whatever love you have had better get spent, pronto. It can make you fond of things, and of the writer, for causing all of that newness to appear in your tired old habituated mind, which, under the influence of the song, is a kid again, on a summer day.
“W ARM ” is one of the most joyful, celebratory, infectious collections of songs I’ve heard in a long time. It’s intimate and yet vast and feels lovingly made, by actual people, in some particular place, and not inside a computer. As I was listening, I kept picturing a tight little cabin in the woods somewhere (the woods of Chicago?), under a big yellow moon, and four or five Jeffs in there, all playing different instruments, and Spencer on drums, and Susie and Sammy are there, too, and there’s a fire going, and a feeling of love and discovery and fondness in the smoky air.
Also in there, I think, is the spirit of Jeff’s father, Bob Tweedy, who passed away in 2017. His death was, as Jeff puts it, “the death that most people would sign up for.” That is: he had what is called a “good death.” There was some concern that the family might not make it to his side in time, but they did, and he passed surrounded by love, everyone rising to that profound occasion, and apparently there may have been some singing involved. This is not the death everyone gets, but Jeff’s father got it, that strange and much-to-be-desired blessing. How must it affect one’s view of the world, to see someone you love, at the end if his life, get the merciful gift of a dignified release? And so, one of the things I find coursing through this record is gratitude, even joy, that such a thing can happen, along with a sense of wonder at the realization that death, for as much as we fear it, does not actually negate anything, or anything essential.
“Oh, I don’t believe in heaven,” Jeff sings, in the title track, “I keep some heat inside. Like a red brick in the summer: warm when the sun has died.” What’s the red brick? That would be us, you and me. And Jeff, too. Where does that warmth come from? What is that mysterious thing that is sustaining us, moment to moment (even in this moment), by infusing us with love and curiosity and a desire to go on?
Exactly, says Jeff.
Inside Barstool Sports’ Culture of Online Hate: ‘They Treat Sexual Harassment and Cyberbullying as a Game’
FOR THE LULZ Inside Barstool Sports’ Culture of Online Hate: ‘They Treat Sexual Harassment and Cyberbullying as a Game’ Several female sportswriters recount the harassment they received from Barstool’s Stoolies—and place much of the blame on Dave ‘El Presidente’ Portnoy, its misogynistic troll-king. 09.24.18 4:43 AM ET Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
The other week, Dave Portnoy, the founder and chief of content of the sports blog Barstool Sports, did what he and fans of his site always do: ratcheted up an online spat to a fever pitch, transforming their collective rage at a perceived enemy into content. Even if it meant leaning into the type of social-media harassment and misogyny that Barstool is infamous for.
This particular roiling conflict dates back to October 2017, when ESPN announced it would be bringing in two Barstool personalities, Eric “PFT Commenter” Sollenberger and Dan “Big Cat” Katz, as hosts of a televised version of their wildly popular Barstool podcast, Pardon My Take. Sam Ponder, the host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown , was less than thrilled.
She tweeted out screenshots of a 2014 Barstool blog post in which Portnoy called her a “BIBLE THUMPING FREAK” whose primary job requirement was to “make men hard.” In a podcast that same week, Portnoy went on a rant while Katz egged him on, calling Ponder a “fucking slut” who should “sex it up and be slutty” instead of talking about being a working mother. ESPN canceled the TV show, Barstool Van Talk , after one episode, thanks in part to an internal pushback by more than a few ESPN employees, according to Sports Illustrated .
On Sept. 11, Ponder added a new allegation: Portnoy had said in a video that her daughter should have been aborted. Further, she claimed to have never wanted the network to pull the plug and was willing to make an appearance on their now-canceled show. Portnoy vehemently denies ever having made the abortion comment—though he and Katz admit they made disparaging remarks about Ponder’s daughter—and both Katz and Sollenberger insist Ponder had no interest in speaking with them and very much wanted their show gone.
(Prior to the deal’s announcement, Ponder’s agent, Nick Khan, encouraged ESPN executives to speak with his client and emailed them screenshots of the 2014 blog post, according to a report by Sports Business Daily . Khan did not respond to multiple requests offering his client the opportunity to comment.)
Still, other sports media companies would, at most, have countered Ponder’s claims and let the whole thing peter out, especially since a pound of flesh had already been extracted.
Not Barstool and certainly not Portnoy.
As Deadspin reported , Portnoy launched a scorched-earth campaign. He wrote a blog post calling Ponder a “liar,” “insane,” and a “scumbag,” banged out a stream of tweets, some of which read like he’s waving a red flag at his 700,000-plus followers , went after her again on Barstool’s nightly show, “The Rundown,” and printed up shirts bearing Ponder’s likeness, slapping on a clown’s red nose for effect. The sole text Portnoy added to his blog post about the sale was “#SamPonderLies.” It’s a hashtag Portnoy has repeatedly sworn that he can get to trend , by hook or by crook.
While Katz made it clear both on Twitter and during a Barstool SiriusXM radio broadcast that he didn’t want anyone to “go after her,” Portnoy begged to differ. “I’m excited it’s not ending,” he said , barely suppressing his glee and promising that he would “slowly suffocate” Ponder online.
After the Deadspin article was published, Portnoy set his sights on the woman who reported the story, Laura Wagner, who has covered Barstool extensively. This too was on-brand. For over eight months, Portnoy has been making highly sexualized, harassing comments about Wagner, and very much implied he wants others to follow his lead. He’s done so on Twitter , in blog post after blog post , during “The Rundown,” and on Barstool radio . And no one associated with Barstool, from the site’s bloggers and podcasters to upper management, seems to care. Not enough to get Portnoy to stop, anyway.
A front-facing executive like Portnoy, who has repeatedly said that he “want[s] to stick my tongue down [Wagner’s] throat,” would not last long at any sports media company, let alone one with a recent $100 million valuation per Bloomberg News .
But Barstool Sports isn’t like any other sports-media company. The online harassment by Portnoy and in turn by Barstool’s most devoted fans—largely young, white men or “Stoolies,” as they’re known—is a feature of the site, not a bug.
Any attempt to rein in Portnoy or the harassment would transform Barstool into something that is not Barstool. The harassment campaigns and the pummeling of their so-called enemies —the “haters and losers” or the “blue checkmark brigade”—are celebrated by Barstool, and recapped like they were a sport in and of itself. If so, it’s very much a contact sport. Four female reporters who anonymously spoke with me detailed the piles of abuse doled out by Barstool bloggers and Stoolies, and not just online. “People have been doxed, calls have made to their home late at night, and they’ve had to lock down every single scrap of personal information, rightly fearing that it would be weaponized.”
People have been doxed, calls have made to their home late at night, and they’ve had to lock down every single scrap of personal information, rightly fearing that it would be weaponized. (While reporting this story, I was doxed by Portnoy.) The mere mention of Portnoy or Barstool on social media risks unleashing the hounds, as reporters like Wagner know all too well.
Nor were these reporters willing to view Sollenberger and Katz as somehow separate from the rest of Barstool. Rather, they explained that beyond the success of their podcast, Sollenberger and Katz provide another valuable service: The widespread and false perception that they’re “the good ones” creates an acceptable point of entry , allowing brands to associate with Barstool and giving readers permission to wave away the worst of the site’s behavior.
What’s more, for some Stoolies, all of this is consumed as a form of entertainment. Lulz, even. Or as Lindsay Gibbs, a sports writer with ThinkProgress and one of the rare female reporters willing to go on the record told me, “Portnoy and his Stoolies treat sexual harassment and cyberbullying as a game.”
One writer for a professional league I spoke with sheepishly confessed that a couple of his co-workers are fans. Though they’re both straight white men, they’re older than the usual Stoolie, and at a glance, don’t come across as the kind of guys who’d be into its toxic mix of brotastic comedy and performative masculinity. But they still regularly click on Barstool.
Why? “They want to see what Portnoy will do next,” he said.
Founded in 2003 by Dave “El Presidente” Portnoy, a 41-year-old from Swampscott, Massachusetts, Barstool Sports started out as a Boston-only free newspaper before migrating online. Over the ensuing 15 years, it has developed a reputation for trafficking in misogynistic and boorish blog posts, which now can total close to 100 per day. Though the site is frequently described by the press as a “satirical sports and men’s lifestyle blog,” the homepage is bulked out with nondescript aggregations of whatever viral detritus is swirling around and soft-core pornography.
Barstool regularly features photos of scantily clad young women who are called “smokeshows,” and another recurring blog post rates the sexual appeal of female teachers alleged to have molested underage male students. In the past, they ran a recurring blog post titled “Guess That Ass” and “Guess That Rack.” Like a relic of mid- to late-2000s Tucker Max-style internet writing , when women do merit a mention, Barstool’s house style guide seems to indicate the use of the word “chicks.” The site also snagged a decent hunk of viral fame of late with an ongoing bit called “Saturdays Are for the Boys.” Dudes—including pro athletes and the president’s son —snap selfies and share videos while partying and sporting Barstool merch, having a grand old time without any women around.
In 2016, as the site continued to attract a greater following, the Chernin Group purchased a majority share of the company from Portnoy, estimated at $10 million to $15 million. (Chernin has since invested an additional $15 million .) Barstool then hired Erika Nardini, who previously worked at AOL and Yahoo News, to serve as chief executive officer. Her overarching mission was to add a veneer of professionalism and make Barstool presentable enough that it could attract larger corporate partners and sponsors and continue scaling up.
To a certain degree, she’s succeeded. A ton of prominent athletes, coaches, and mainstream sports media figures, including from ESPN, have made regular appearances on PMT and other podcasts; Barstool has partnered with all manner of blue-chip brands, including Twitter , Facebook , FanDuel , Bud Light , Panera , Dunkin’ Donuts , Comedy Central , and many Major League Baseball teams ; movie stars and celebs have eaten pizza with Portnoy ; and he’s popped up as a freshly scrubbed guest on CNBC , Late Night with Seth Meyers and Tucker Carlson Tonight .
Only two of Barstool’s corporate partners responded to a request for comment. A Twitter spokesperson wrote: “Not much for us to share on this front” and sent a link to an April press release. Netflix, which produces Queer Eye , declined to comment on the recent appearance by two cast members in a video with Portnoy.
One brand, though, forwarded my request to Portnoy, who then posted a partial screenshot of the email in this falsehood-laden blog post . On Twitter, Portnoy shrugged off an invitation to respond, instead offering to engage me in a filmed debate. On Thursday, I sent a request for comment to Barstool’s public-relations firm, Alison Brod Marketing + Communications. Portnoy responded by doxing me , tweeting out my home phone number. Over the next half-hour, I received hundreds of calls, voice messages, FaceTime requests, and texts from Stoolies. Ultimately, Portnoy did not respond to a list of questions sent via the site’s official PR firm.
(Katz and Kevin “KFC” Clancy, a blogger and radio host, did not respond to a request for comment. Editor in Chief Keith “Kmarko” Markovich wrote this blog post in response. He defended himself against any allegations of racism, homophobia, or sexism, praised Barstool’s female employees, and bragged that his therapist charges $350 per hour.)
In a New York Times profile of the site by Jay Caspian Kang, Nardini harrumphed that coverage of Barstool will always include “that requisite paragraph” detailing their transgressions. She has never gotten around to explaining how Barstool may have fundamentally changed since the beginning of her stewardship, possibly because it hasn’t.
“I don’t think we change who we are, what we stand for, or how we do it,” Nardini said in 2017, per the Boston Globe . “I’m really proud of those things.” (Nardini did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Mike Kerns, Chernin’s president of digital.)
Here are some examples of Barstool’s output since Nardini and Chernin came on board.
Portnoy filmed a Barstool blogger in the shower without his consent, then called his employee “crazy” after he vigorously and repeatedly objected; he also told another 20-year-old employee her looks would deteriorate in five years , such that she wouldn’t be worth putting in front of the camera (the employee fled the radio segment in tears); Portnoy wondered on-air if Harvey Weinstein should be able to offer roles in movies in exchange for consensual sex, and he wrote blog posts mocking the appearance of Deadspin’s editor in chief and the editorial director of Gizmodo Media Group, both of whom are women; Portnoy, Katz, and another Barstool blogger argued that, awful or not, Corey Lewandowski saying “womp, womp”—because a 10-year-old with Down syndrome was separated from her parents at the border—was actually hysterical ; a clause in the contract offered to prospective female employees of Barstool stated that they would be unable to object to or be offended by “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity, and references to stereotypes” in the workplace; Markovich wrote a blog post in which he described a 16-year-old girl as “hot,” and a Barstool Radio host described Olympian Chloe Kim , age 17, as a “little hot piece of ass” (the latter was fired); Barstool’s senior director of editorial strategy and growth wrote a blog post fat-shaming Rihanna (the post was deleted, and he eventually left Barstool); during “The Rundown,” a Fox Sports reporter told racist jokes while Portnoy, Katz, and Clancy chortled; the individual manning Barstool’s Twitch channel threatened to swat someone ; Barstool’s main Twitter account shared a video in which Portnoy sang the N-word while Clancy cringed in the background; and a Barstool intern nicknamed “Cervix Killer” sent repeated and highly sexualized texts to another female intern.
“I guess when you hire somebody who calls themselves the Cervix Killer, who wears a Cervix Killer tshirt [sic] to the interview, you get Cervix killer [sic] stuff. Classic mix up on our part,” Portnoy jokingly wrote . Cervix Killer was let go because, “Subtle sexual harassment is fine and dandy. Cervix killing in the DM’s though? Well that’s crossing the line.”
Prior to Nardini’s arrival, there was no one around to sand down Barstool’s roughest edges. This has led to whingeing from the most indoctrinated Stoolies : Namely, that Barstool has kowtowed to the dreaded forces of political correctness in exchange for a ticket into the mainstream. The question of whether or not Portnoy has “lost his fastball” when it comes to doling out insults, taunts, and bluster is endlessly debated in the comments section and the Barstool Sports subreddit.
It makes for a possibly unsolvable quandary for Nardini. Creating a truly sanitized version of Barstool would risk alienating a core constituency: the guys who buy their products and beef up engagement rates . For those who might’ve forgotten, here is a brief but incomplete list of items from Barstool’s glory days.
Portnoy joked that a woman wearing size 6 skinny jeans “kind of deserve[s] to be raped right?”; he joked that while “we don’t condone rape,” should a woman pass out at one of their “Blackout” parties , any sexual assault is “kind of a gray area”; he referred to critics of the parties as “crazy bitches” and “ugly dykes”; Portnoy wrote a blog post snarling that he was “bringing back the word ‘c–t’”; Barstool promoted this since-deleted blog post with the headline: “Slut Reporter Drinks Cam Newton’s Jizz”; and he said that anyone who blocked traffic while protesting state-sanctioned violence and the racist policing of African Americans “deserves to die a horrible gruesome slow death,” and “Not enough bad things can happen to these people. I want them all harassed, dead, murdered.”
Further, nude photos of Tom Brady’s 2-year-old son were published by Barstool, with Portnoy joking that the infant “had a big howitzer”; Portnoy wrote multiple pro-torture blog posts ; multiple transphobic blog posts ran on the site ( homophobic blog posts and transphobic blog posts still crop up at Barstool post-Chernin); Clancy has a longstanding affinity for jokes about Jews ; and, while Portnoy, Katz, and Clancy were conducting an exit interview with a female intern on “The Rundown,” Katz said two of his coworkers were engaged in “a race to see who could fuck her first.” Then Katz and Clancy laughed .
To be clear, not all of Barstool’s readership identifies as Stoolies. Plenty flock to the site simply because they dig Sollenberger and Katz, and try their best to ignore Portnoy’s behavior. Were it just a question of garbage opinions and bigoted humor, Barstool wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy. Even within the limited world of sports blogs, there are plenty of online places people can go to wallow in revanchist attitudes. It’s the Gamergate-like way he, the site, and Stoolies go nuclear in response to the slightest criticism that sets Barstool apart.
During an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine in 2013, Portnoy explained that whenever a line is crossed and met with justifiable outrage, contrition is not an option. And because it profits Barstool to do so, a disproportionate response is always required. Instead: “We fan the fires.”
I spoke with four female sportswriters who have reported on Barstool or spoken about the site on social media. They did so on condition of anonymity, fearing that anything but would only set off another cycle of vicious harassment. Other female reporters the site has specifically targeted declined to comment for this very reason or did not respond.
One journalist who has covered Barstool outlined the flood of tweets and emails that inevitably arrive after a story is published, but “then it dies down, and then when I write something else it flares back up like a gross rash,” she said. Though her Instagram account is set to private, she will be bombarded with dozens of follower requests, which are “clearly coordinated somewhere” and she ignores, she said. Invariably, Stoolies will offer the same limp retort: She is “using Barstool for clicks,” “just jealous” of the site’s popularity, or Barstool “lives rent free in your head.”
I asked if it ever feels like reporting on the site isn’t worth it. Yes, but even if it requires cataloguing all the instances of abuse for her own protection, and leaves her feeling “so angry,” she replied, “at least I did something to push back in some small way.”
It still takes an emotional toll. “It’s humiliating sometimes, what they say. I admit that,” she said. “They do what they intend to do by humiliating me and other women.”
A second female sportswriter has spent two and a half years relentlessly blocking anyone associated with Barstool. Even so, the iTunes page of her podcast has been spammed and she’s been doxed by people she assumed to be Stoolies. “That’s not even mentioning all the times I’ve had to lock down or flat out deactivate my account to get the harassment to stop… It’s just exhausting,” she said via email. (Numerous screenshots of sexualized and abusive social-media posts were provided by the writer.) “Like most women who work in the industry, I don’t talk about them in public, don’t use their name on social media, because I know what the response will be.”
She continued: “I even had a producer ask me to be in a documentary about the site and I was like, ‘Are you serious? Do you know what happens to women who are critical of them?’” “It’s humiliating sometimes, what they say. I admit that. They do what they intend to do by humiliating me and other women.”
Similarly, another female sportswriter always makes sure she removes the word “Barstool” from any tweets, knowing it would put a target on her back. Yet another female reporter was stunned by the response after she wrote about the site.
“As a woman who writes about sports, and a woman who writes feminist content about sports, I am very used to trolls,” she said. “I’m very used to abuse.”
This was different. The barrage lasted almost a week, well past the date she assumed the trolls would tucker themselves out. She had to remove the contact email and submission form from her website, and despite being armed with a verified Twitter account and filters capable of wiping away the very worst attacks, “it was still overwhelming to me,” she said. Nor was it an easy decision to lock her account. If so, “I feel like they win,” she recalled thinking. A friend advised her: “At least if you do that then somebody wins and the game stops.”
Any attempt to engage or rebut the harassment only made the situation worse. “I was torn between the need to ignore it because I want it to stop,” she said, “but also I feel like it’s so important to make visible what’s happening.” And those who never have been subjected to a targeted harassment campaign, either by Stoolies or any online mob, can’t begin to fathom how grueling, debilitating, and dehumanizing the experience can be.
“I think if you’ve never been in that position, you don’t understand how much fucking guts it takes even to write [about Barstool] in the first place,” she said, especially when Stoolies are quick to lob personal invectives. “It actually does not feel great to get 50 people telling you how ugly you are.”
Aside from Gibbs, the only other female sports journalist who was willing to attach her name was Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN . While Hill was quick to praise Sollenberger and Katz, and said she had a “great experience” as a guest on PMT, she isn’t a fan of the site as a whole.
“[Barstool] wants to call everything politically correct but it’s not PC not to use racial slurs,” she said. “It’s called ‘not being a shithead.’”
“This is a space where they are allowed to be insulting to women, to people of color, to all the ‘others,’” Hill continued. Whether intentional or not, the site’s overall culture is “misogynistic.” Though she herself has never been subjected to Stoolies’ wrath, Hill is more than aware of the targeted harassment campaigns her colleagues have experienced, and the justifiable fear that those threats might transfer to the real world is always present.
“We don’t know what they look like but they know what we look like,” said Hill. “A lot of these people have no problem physically threatening you and saying horrible things about you and your family.”
All the other journalists I spoke with, though, weren’t willing to let Sollenberger and Katz off the hook so easily. From their point of view, both are very much complicit.
“PFT is a not a good guy. He’s a coward,” one said, because he’s refused to publicly condemn the harassment by Portnoy. As both Wagner and Kang previously noted, Sollenberger and Katz serve a valuable purpose to Barstool. Largely regarded as somehow being siloed off from the rest of the Barstool universe, they are seen as a respectable point of entry for casual Barstool readers, athletes, and brands alike.
Reached via text message, Sollenberger claimed he’d asked Portnoy on-air “to not go after Laura Wagner and implored the audience to do the same,” a request he reiterated in private.
“In regards to the ‘no comment’ in the Deadspin article in which Laura published my name for the first time, I find it disingenuous for a unionized website like Deadspin to ask me to attack my boss in their publication and just because I didn’t give a quote to Deadspin doesn’t mean I haven’t said anything publicly about it,” he said.
I hadn’t specifically asked Sollenberger about Wagner’s article, but rather the long history of public, harassing sexual comments by Portnoy about her. When presented with recent examples, he stopped responding to my questions.
Wagner provided this statement in response: “Since I was writing about Eric Sollenberger’s place at Barstool, I wanted to give him the opportunity to comment on his boss’s sexual harassment of me. If his comment to you is meant to imply that he couldn’t answer truthfully because his workplace is not unionized, then I suggest he look into taking the necessary steps to unionize Barstool.” (Full disclosure: I’ve written two pieces for Deadspin.)
That said, Katz has been as vocal about the harassment as any Barstool blogger, not that it seems to have made much of a difference. In a 2016 GQ interview , he called anyone lashing out on the site’s behalf a “scumbag.” In that same interview, though, Sollenberger asserted that neither Katz nor “anyone at Barstool ever really did anything to sic attack dogs on people online.”
That is not at all accurate.
Some of the examples below came after the GQ article ran, but there is no evidence Sollenberger has publicly updated his take. It seems as if he’s kitty-cornered the entirety of Portnoy’s past statements, nor has read any of these blog posts. The site practically dances a jig when Barstool’s perceived antagonists suffer.
“If I was [sic] Julie DiCaro [a Chicago sports writer], I’d be sleeping with one eye open. Id [sic] be watching my back,” Clancy wrote in 2017 . “Because the universe is coming for that ass.” Jamie O’Grady, the founder of the now-defunct sports site The Cauldron, is also tagged in Clancy’s blog post. In 2016, his site published an article criticizing Barstool and its readers, specifically, their propensity for online harassment . [Full disclosure: I’ve been published by The Cauldron and co-authored a book with O’Grady.]
Markovich also got off a gloating blog post after The Cauldron folded, and Portnoy reveled in schadenfreude on-air , on “The Rundown,” and at Barstool, in which he wrote : “I’m not even close to done dancing on [O’Grady’s] grave.” Two years after the fact, Portnoy has continued to tag O’Grady on Twitter and encouraged Stoolies to pile on . All in response to a single article, which O’Grady didn’t write.
O’Grady told me that installing software to block “tens of thousands” of Twitter accounts associated with Barstool removed the worst vitriol from his timeline. At its apex, though, “the attacks were relentless,” he said.
Nor were they confined to the internet.
“I had people calling my home number and shouting insults at 3 a.m. We had offensive packages delivered to my home address,” O’Grady said. “It was way beyond anything even remotely appropriate. And it was all done because of Portnoy’s irresponsible use of social media.”
After Portnoy’s twentysomething girlfriend allegedly cheated on him with a SoulCycle employee, he went off on another tweetstorm, riling Stoolies up to the point that they harassed not just his ex, but both the SoulCycle employee and the company . Barstool monetized this, selling “CuckCycle” T-shirts , and promoting the return of “Grudge Dave,” as if Portnoy were a wrestling heel. The situation grew so fraught that SoulCycle allegedly sent a message warning employees that angry Stoolies might show up at one of their locations .
On multiple occasions , Nardini has said that Barstool has a “zero-tolerance policy” vis-à-vis harassment. It’s difficult to find public examples where the policy has been enforced.
The most common way Barstool tries to rebuke the notion that Portnoy bears any animus against women is this, via Clancy : “Dave responds [to Ponder] in a way Dave responds to everyone: men, women, old, young, fat, skinny, employees.” If that sounds like a line uttered by Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a White House press briefing, it should. Portnoy has described himself as “a Trump guy.”
Funnily enough, for all the Trump-like time and energy Barstool spends kvetching about how it’s covered, Portnoy has made it perfectly clear that he relishes a “hit piece” as much as he seemingly would a soft-focus profile. “Everytime [sic] somebody writes a hit piece about us we get stronger and my grip on the internet tightens,” Portnoy wrote . “You don’t destroy us. We destroy you.”
Despite promises of total annihilation, and no matter how often Portnoy cosplays as Jordan Belfort or compares himself to Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker , it’s difficult to tell how much of Portnoy’s public behavior is a performance. As Wagner and Samer Kalaf have noted , everything Barstool does is drenched in a thick coat of kayfabe. It’s partially why the site functions more like a reality show than a blog, and why all the intra-office drama and bloggers’ personal lives are inevitably repackaged and turned into content . “Therein lies the problem with understanding Barstool at all. It’s almost impossible to parse the layers of performance and determine when they’ve got the clown nose on or off.”
Therein lies the problem with understanding Barstool at all. It’s almost impossible to parse the layers of performance and determine when it’s got the clown nose on or off . Stoolies and the site will earnestly claim that they’re soldiers in some epic, existential struggle versus the PC, jackbooted thugs trying to shame and control them—with Portnoy as their troll king —then quickly pivot to mocking anyone who takes it seriously. And those who do complain are accused of being a killjoy who’s trying to ruin their fun. For those on the receiving end, it doesn’t really make a difference whether the harassment is being done in earnest or not.
But it’s impossible to deny the resentment and genuine anger hidden just beneath all that sarcasm. Some percentage of Stoolies and Barstool bloggers really do see their way of life as somehow being under assault, and that they are the real victims here. The siege mentality and dedicated trolling both dovetail to the same result, though: never, ever having to consider that there are real human beings on the other side of the screen, ones who never asked to play Judy in this grim Punch and Judy show . And yes, Barstool is but one vector of white male grievance culture that has been monetized .
There’s a line in Kang’s article I keep returning to. He writes that for a certain brand of bro, Barstool functions as a “safe space,” one that’s free of politics, or at least free to constantly complain about the politics of others while never reckoning with their own. But make no mistake, a political ethos definitely exists.
By accident, Markovich may have done the best, most succinct job of summing it up. In a recent blog post—naturally, one complaining about a woman, who then spent days fending off Stoolies online—he said the internet used to be a fun place.
Not so much in 2018, because “there are so many vocal minorities stomping their feet and yelling about shit,” he wrote .
After a week had passed, Portnoy and Barstool seemed to have let the battle with Ponder die out. But for Wagner—or any woman who runs afoul of the site—covering Barstool means harassment is the brutal cost of doing business .
On Sept. 13, Portnoy called in to a Barstool radio show to discuss Wagner’s most recent article. “I couldn’t love her any harder,” he said. While he disagreed with her characterization—that Portnoy’s behavior is “sociopathic”—he regretted “tweeting, like, love emojis at her” ( again ), he said. Portnoy also worried this might get him suspended from Twitter ( again ) “because I can’t restrain myself.”
He didn’t restrain himself. Later that night, Portnoy threw up a blog post calling Wagner a “total wildcat in the sack” in the headline and bleating ( again ) “I want to stick my tongue down her throat.” Despite the risk of temporary or permanent social-media exile, as Portnoy explained on-air, he evidently can’t or won’t stop because “I just want to kiss her.”
None of the Barstool hosts batted an eye and the show kept rolling merrily along.
Broadway smash ‘Hamilton’ lives up to the hype
Broadway smash ‘Hamilton’ lives up to the hype Dana Barbuto The Patriot Ledger Thursday Sep 20, 2018 at 3:26 PM Sep 21, 2018 at 3:44 PM
The waiting was the hardest part. But after two long years, the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton” is in Boston at the Opera House, exceeding hype and blowing minds. To quote lyrics from the show, “Look around, look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now.”
It’s the hottest ticket in town and those of us fortunate enough to be in Wednesday’s opening-night audience, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, saw an unforgettable show comprising more than 30 songs and spanning a timeline of about 50 years: from Alexander Hamilton’s birth to his death (spoiler alert) by duel at the hands of frenemy Aaron Burr. Simply put: “Hamilton” is “wicked pissah.”
Before a full house — just blocks from where colonists protested Britain’s “taxation without representation” by dumping tea in Boston Harbor — the hip-hop stage biography of the fledgling nation’s first treasury secretary feels perfectly at home, and will continue to do so through Nov. 18. It’s told mostly by a young African-American and Latino cast, which is revolutionary in its own right. You’ll learn more about American history in three hours here than you did in three years of school. The story mixes in the American Revolution, the Federalist Papers and the ratification of the Constitution, which sounds like a snooze fest on paper but is quite extraordinary when on stage set to a score blending musical theater, rap, hip-hop and pop. “Hamilton” eschews the typical Broadway razzle-dazzle and delivers a show that has style and substance. History has never been so electrifying or relevant.
Every aspect of the production, from the choreography to lighting to staging, is technically proficient. It’s also historically accurate (yes, Hamilton and Quincy’s own John Adams hated each other) and creatively groundbreaking. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (he wrote the book, the music and the lyrics) blockbuster won 11 Tony Awards, including best musical. It’s a phenomenon and something of an obsession among its legion of fans. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I’m a tough nut to crack. I don’t have much patience for the flimsy storytelling that is typical of too many “hit” musicals. I also hated “Les Miserables,” which, like “Hamilton” is sung-through. But “Hamilton” is in another stratosphere. It’s bold, vibrant, informative and emotional, and very much a group effort, from top to bottom, where any of the ensemble musicals numbers (“Yorktown,”“Ten Duel Commandments”) could be considered showstoppers.
Locally, David Korins of Mansfield designed the iconic set. Brockton’s Jacob Guzman dances in the ensemble. Winchester’s Nick Christopher plays “Aaron Burr, sir,” and nearly steals the show as Hamilton’s longtime rival. A story is only as good as its villain. Christopher portrays Burr as relatable, revealing the man’s humanity and sense of humor and desperation. When he sings “The Room Where It Happens,” you actually feel badly for Burr. In the title role, Austin Scott is terrific as a penniless immigrant who “rises up” to become the right-hand man of Gen. George Washington (a towering Paul Oakley Stovall).
Scott captivates with a booming voice, delivering lightning-fast verse about debt, credit and states’ rights. He wows from the show-opener, “Alexander Hamilton,” through the inspiring crowd-pleaser, “My Shot,” all the way to the end with “The World Was Wide Enough” in which Burr and Hamilton lament: “I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Together, they were stronger; that’s not a bad takeaway.
Other standouts are Stovall as the mighty George Washington, Bryson Bruce in the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson and Peter Matthew Smith as the infantile and hysterical King George III, taking shots at John Adams. He sings about the second president: “That poor man they’re going to eat him alive,” and in the number “The Adams Administration,” Abigail’s husband fares even worse, referred to as a “fat mother****er.”
“Hamilton” might be about all about men, their ambitions, jealousies, weaknesses and indiscretions, but it has a surprising feminist bent in its characterizations of the Schuyler sisters, three daughters of the powerful New York politician. It would be easy to cast the girls aside as a trio of taffeta-wearing socialites whose presence is there to set up a love triangle and prop up the men’s stories. No, Miranda has more on his mind with them, as Hannah Cruz (Eliza), Sabrina Sloan (Angelica) and Isa Briones (Peggy) sing empowering lyrics: “You want a revolution? I want a revelation” or “When I meet Thomas Jefferson; I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel.” And Cruz is heartbreaking and uplifting in the finale. That was you crying, not me.
Like no other, “Hamilton” commands your attention from the get-go, but it takes a moment for your ears to get used to the beats, cadence and rhythms. It’s a good idea to listen to the cast album first. Otherwise, buckle up and enjoy. Don’t “throw away your shot.” Sign up for weekly e-mails