Thursday, May 14, 2009

One More Open Letter to Steven Cohen

(Quick disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow UF contributors.)

I’ve largely been ignoring the Steven Cohen-Hillsbrough controversy, because it only seemed to confirm what I and many others already knew: that Steven Cohen is a jerk. Actually, to be fair, he's not a jerk. He's more of a muppet -- a talking head with a hand up his ass.

The merits, or lack thereof, of Cohen’s comments about Hillsbrough have been well explored elsewhere. For instance, Tim Vickery had probably the most articulate response, which at least the folks at World Soccer Daily had the good sense to re-post.

I, however, would like to respond to Cohen’s recent statements in the L.A. Daily News. My open letter after the jump.

Dear Stevie,

You might not care who I am, but know that I'm one of the people who you have permanently turned off. As I watch you flail through a controversy that was solely of your own making, my reaction is to simply turn away, to say I've had enough and don't want to hear what you have to say anymore. So, you might be curious to hear why.

But first, let’s get a little bit of context out of the way.

Please turn your Wayback Machine to sometime in 2006. I happened to be watching Fox Football Fonein when you and your then-cohost Nick Geber got into a typically inane argument. As I recall, the discussion was about the state of English football. When the talk became more and more heated, you decided to wind up Geber. That’s when you said that Liverpool supporters were responsible for two of the biggest disasters in football history, both starting with the letter H. I distinctly remember that there was a twinkle in your eye, and you let out a chuckle, because then you weren’t making a reasoned argument. No, you were just trying to turn the knife into your co-host’s back.

It was mission accomplished because Geber was visibly aghast, genuinely offended that you had in fact “gone there.” But you didn’t back down, and at the end of the show you even said something about being entitled to your opinion. Amazingly enough -- and your “amazement” is a theme that runs throughout this letter -- lots of viewers were offended. So you were forced into an on-air apology the next week, not completely contrite but still acknowledging that you had made a mistake. Fair enough, you went too far on this one occasion, but you made your mea culpa. Lesson learned. Moving onward, right?

Nope, it turns out that you were just biding your time. I can only guess what you were thinking. Maybe it was genuine hurt that you had been publicly shamed? Maybe you knew that rehashing this “debate” would get your name in the press? Maybe you even thought, and presumably still think that you have a genuine point to make? In any case, you decided to wait until the 20th anniversary of Hillsbrough to again bring up that Liverpool supporters weren’t sharing enough blame for the disaster. (Audio here, during which you can audibly hear co-host Kenny Hassan cringing.)

I personally find your comments to be more inane than offensive, although they strangely remind me of Father Charles Coughlin and his argument that we have to "blame someone” (quick hint, it was us the Jews). But, leaving that aside, what I take issue with are your recent comments where you decry the response that you’ve received:

"I've seen the Taliban less defensive," Cohen said. "If this was being done in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we'd call these people terrorists. A lot of them are little cowards hiding behind their computers.

"(But) I feel my life and my livelihood is at stake."

Some e-mails compare Cohen's comments to blaming the victims in the World Trade Center for Sept. 11.

"You almost wonder what they are protesting so much?" Cohen said. "Why do they care so much about what some nebbish in California in a soccer wasteland thinks? This is terror tactics from one club's fans that are hypersensitive."

* * *

"I adore this country," he said. "I don't care for Rush Limbaugh, but I'd defend his right to say it."

He knows that in his native England, he would already be fired.

"I'd be lynched (in England)," he said. "The English media are being scared off this story."

Here begins my lesson. Let’s call it a lesson in free speech and your role as, yes, a public voice. In the same way that your Englishness makes you an expert on football, my Americaness makes me an expert on free speech.

Now, I will not in any way defend death threats against you or your family. That is not the sort of “discourse” that has any place anywhere, period. And I know that your quotes are mostly responding to the worst of the worst. But I do see much more in your words, and I find your attempt to cloak your Hillsbrough comments in the garb of free speech to be what is doubly offensive. You are just utterly and completely in the wrong on this one.

The way I see it, you have lumped together death threats with people trying to take away your “livelihood.” In other words, you equate making a death threat with voicing strong opposition to you and with trying to get your advertisers pulled (they aren't nameless, by the way -- I found them right here and here, as a matter of fact). When you respond by comparing these people to the Taliban and terrorists, you expose yourself as just plain foolish. Allow me explain to you what freedom of speech really entails.

I assume that you and many of our readers fundamentally support the idea of free speech. That’s great, but free speech only means the freedom from having the government define what you can and can’t say. There are of course limits on that freedom (obscenity, defamation, threats, etc.) that we sometimes must balance, but this is the basic framework. In other words, free speech is about having the right to speak without the government choosing sides or telling you what is right and what is wrong. That is why the KKK, who everyone finds abhorrent, still has the right to march in my town square. If the government prevented them from marching, it would be picking sides. Still with me?

Now, in response to your Hillsbrough comments, some Liverpool supporters have started a campaign to boycott your show and to pull your advertisers. The thing is, Steven -- and here comes the crucial point -- they are exercising the very same freedom of speech that you are pretending to defend! This is the epitome of the marketplace of ideas in action.

You, on the other hand, are the one who has a forum to speak your mind publicly on a regular basis. What forum do people have when they disagree with you? Well, one forum is to put their effort and their dollars where it counts to counteract you. So when you become defensive and compare the Liverpool supporters to terrorists, you are truly doing this entire process a disservice. Freedom of speech doesn’t just mean shrugging and saying you have the right to your opinion and everyone else can go fuck themselves (and that's essentially what your response has been). It means that, when you have a public platform to speak, you have to live with the consequences if you cross an invisible line. Your job, as a broadcaster in the public eye, is to know where that line is. Just ask Don Imus.

Now, to bring this discussion back to the beginning, you started the whole adventure on shaky grounds to begin with. On some level, you had to have known people would be offended, both by repeating the "spread the blame" comments and also due to your timing with the 20th anniversary. So what exactly was your point anyway? What does your statement accomplish?

The thing is, Steven, the reason that people are coming after you so strongly on this one is the same reason that many people fundamentally can’t stand you. Everything you do is always about you. "Why are they trying to take away my livelihood." If you could only display an ounce of genuine humility and contrition, this would have ended weeks ago. And no, calling yourself a nebbish doesn’t work when in the next breath you label your enemies as “hypersensitive terrorists." But we both know that you aren’t capable of such a leap. If you really had some self-awareness, you would have never made the comment in the first place.

You are just far too smug, arrogant and self-righteous to act otherwise. That is the true shame, because you are one of the few, if not the only regular football commentator in the United States. If you really cared about what that entails, than you would realize that your position carries responsibility. If you really wanted to spread the love of the greatest sport on Earth, than you would do your job with the respect that it deserves. That means having respect for your audience. In the end, you may survive this sorry episode. But have you learned this lesson? Sadly, we both know the answer to that question.

So, even though I am a Sirius subscriber, I won't be tuning into World Soccer Daily anymore. And I won't be watching Fox Football Fonein as long as you are on the program. If I have been able to get anything across to you with this letter, it's that I agree with the Liverpool supporters. You have broken the public trust and you no longer deserve to have an audience. You simply haven't earned it, and you haven't shown that have the mental fortitude to bear the responsibility. My refusal to tune in to your programming is what free speech is really and truly about.

I realize that this was a rather long letter, but you can see that I'm somewhat incredulous that I have to explain these things to you, nebbish in the wasteland that you are.

Yours sincerely,


The NY Kid said...

Cohen is a massive twat. Obviously, death threats are over the line, but he deserves all of the verbal vitriol in his direction for his idiotic rants.

ü75 said...

When I saw the pic, I thought this was a Sven post.

Precious Roy said...

Isn't the KKK's right to march in your town square protected by the right to free assembly? Still the First Amendment but I like to nitpick.

Also, while I in no way want to side with or defend Cohen, I seem to be the resident 'contextualizer' around here.

I'm pretty sure the genesis of the terrorists comments came in the wake of WSD having their trips to Austin and (I think) Philly for Champions League semis and finals watching parties canceled after Fadó (the sponsor) refused to guarantee the safety of Cohen and Hassan (his radio partner). So essentially the threats caused the duo to not make the trips. And the use of threats and violence to intimidate and coerce is, by definition, terrorism.

epiblast said...

I too subscribe to SIRIUS/XM and find it hard to even want to tune into the show anymore. FFF is on during Top Gear so I don't watch it anyway.
I feel bad for Kenny Hassan, Cohen's WSD co-host, he's a terrific example of what a football pundit and phone-in host should be. I hope he can find himself something in a better situation in the future along side someone with at least an iota of cooth and respect.

Goat said...

I've never understood the tendency to become defensive and turn up the ridiculous rhetoric when confronted with your own ignorance. I would think that after the first dust-up Cohen would have educated himself and revised his opinion of the disaster. That he hasn't done so seems to indicate that he's less than interested in getting things right. That's not to say that there has to be a unanimous consensus on all things but there are such things as facts and while people are entitled to their opinion, they're not entitled to their own facts, especially when confronted with a mountain of evidence that clearly contradict them. I wonder if Cohen is also a global warming denier.

Phillip said...

The quote that Liverpool fans have been bitching about was completely taken out of context. He wasn't even talking about Hillsborough. He was talking about the deaths in the Ivory Coast.

Learn the facts.

Spectator said...

@Phillip: I don't know how anyone could say that after listening to the audio. But, like Steven would say, you're entitled to your opinion.

Precious Roy said...

Phillip, which quote are you talking about? The pull quotes above are sourced from the LA Daily News (there's a link up top) and, if you read the article, you see it's pretty clear they do not allude in the least bit to the Ivory Coast incident from the end of March of this year.

As for the "quote" that Liverpool fans are bitching about, I don't believe there is one single quote at issue here. There have been a number of things he has said which are under discussion.

The only thing I'm aware Cohen has apologize or recounted for was the assertion that 6000 to 8000 ticketless Liverpool supporters crashed their way into the stadium that day. He has admitted in some form that he was inaccurate in that statement. But I think he still maintains that there were fans in excess of capacity coming to the stadium that day (not certain of his actual wording on that).

If you think there is something else that was taken out of context, please share it here. We're all about an open discussion.

Phillip said...

"People show­ing up with­out ticket, hell bent in get­ting into some­where where they shouldn’t be going because they don’t have tick­ets, is the root cause of [the Hills­bor­ough Disaster].”

That quote... is actually...

"The thing is, the 23 that died in the Ivory Coast, in my opin­ion, the police were absolutely had some­thing to do with it. At the end of the day, people show­ing up with­out ticket, hell bent in get­ting into some­where where they shouldn’t be going because they don’t have tick­ets, is the root cause of it in my opinion.

Spectator said...

@Phillip: Oh, I see how you are confused now. I was only linking to EPL Talk because they are hosting the audio. That's why I wrote "Audio here." I never ever said that EPL Talk had transcribed the quotes perfectly. In fact, my implied suggestion was to listen for yourself and make up your own mind. Thanks for your comment though.

Precious Roy said...

Phillip: I think you need to put that bit into a longer quote from Cohen.

I have the podcast from 4/13 where he says those words. I'll pull the entire bit and post a link here in a few minutes. When you listen to it, it's pretty clear what he's saying about Hillsboro and what he's saying about the Ivory Coast.

Precious Roy said...


You can hear the entire clip here.

Your quote above leaves out a very important word. He doesn't say "At the end of the day..." He says "But at the end of the day..."

It's not a trivial oversight as the implication is that, after mentioning the Ivory Coast, he is switching gears and referring back to Liverpool and Hillsboro.

I don't see how you can listen to the comments in the audio above and think that Cohen is being misquoted and was talking about Ivory Coast.

Precious Roy said...

My last comment should actually say "solely about the Ivory Coast"

I can see where you could argue he is making a parallel between the two incidents, where the argument is basically in any such situation the fans have to share some of the responsibility.

Mike Georger said...

Two things

1) Excellent, excellent post.

2) The memorial game is today and I believe it will be available through the traditional pirating routes.

Alan Shearer, Teddy Shears, Dave Watson, Alan Stubbs, Trevor Steven Alan Irvine, Mike Newell, Graham Stuart, Des Walker and Nigel Clough plus some celebs.

Not sure who all is playing for the LFC Legends side yet.

Keith said...

Goat- here's why he's not interested. Were you talking about Steven Cohen before he opened his mouth? I highly doubt you were. Basically, whenever he wants to remind the world he exists, Cohen opens his yaw about Hillsborough, and know that suddenly, Liverpool fans will be calling for his head. Unfortunately, what he fails to grasp is that, given that Hillsborough changed how stadiums in the FA treat football, he's not going to attract non-Liverpool-supporting fans lookign for "wacky, controversial opinions about the beautiful game."

Mike Georger said...

This game is outstanding, there's a perfect feed on myp2p. Actually some very nice play.

Rushie just scored. Whelan with an inch perfect cross to Aldo that he got a good head on, keeper got a touch to it, Rushie runs in an buries the rebound.

Mike Georger said...

Alan Stubbs just got mercilessly booed. Awesome.

Mike Georger said...

Redknapp, and Gary Mac just came on. Yeah they're gonna score.

Beardo has been outstanding.

Mike Georger said...

Tim Lovejoy just had a literally empty net and hit the post from six yards out. In front of the Kop end. That's what you get for being a Chelsea fan.

Precious Roy said...

Mike: We are in awe of your dedication to the cause. Never has a legends match been liveblogged in comments before.

Well done.

The Gaffer said...

Cohen was not misquoted in the EPL Talk article. He stated, as the audio clip shows, that 6-8,000 ticketless Liverpool fans were the root cause of the Hillsborough Disaster. And if they never showed up, the tragedy would never have happened.

We all know that this misinformation that Cohen spread was false.

Cohen then later that week flip-flopped and said that Liverpool fans should share the responsibility for the disaster, which is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say.

The Gaffer

Mike Georger said...

Gary Mac cross across front of goal, Aldo buries the diving header. 2-0!

Mike Georger said...

steve mcmanaman coming on, look at that head of hair!

Mike Georger said...

A yellow for diving in a legends match, that's something to tell the kids.

Mike Georger said...


Mike Georger said...

Sheringham just chipped in a gorgeous goal. What a cock.

Mike Georger said...

Well I can now say I watched King Kenny score a goal at the Kop end. Classic.