You have to feel for Erin Andrews. There's a big difference between being the object of fanboy fascination and being unknowingly stalked by some creep with a camera.
If you missed it, here's the time line of how the unfortunate, regrettable event unfolded. Late last week, a video of the ESPN sideline reporter was posted on the Internet. The recording was taken through a hotel peephole and featured grainy footage of a naked blond woman in her room. Andrews' attorney later issued a statement saying she plans to press civil and criminal charges.
A number of journalists have rightly and harshly criticized Site X for posting the video in the first place. That's the sober, expected part of the editorializing happening across the country.
The more complicated part of this unseemly mess is how and why it became a national controversy.
Deadspin has been condemned by some for linking to Site X and greatly increasing its traffic as a result. A.J. Daulerio, the editor of Deadspin and author of three posts about the Andrews video, said he wrote about it because ESPN's lawyers were involved. Daulerio added it would be a story if ESPN's lawyers were forced to take action against someone in possession of an illegal video involving Chris Berman or any nationally known media personality.
Daulerio is right about that. But he was wrong for linking to Site X. He took the link down almost immediately and apologized on Deadspin.
He told me he linked to the site - but not to the actual video - for context. That's an awfully fine line. (Attempts to reach an ESPN spokesman were unsuccessful.)
"We never had any intention of putting the video on our site," Daulerio said. "I wasn't linking to it to show the video. The name of the site is all letters - it sounds like a site someone made up. I didn't link to it to explode the story. It was more like sourcing."
I've known Daulerio for a little while now. We used to work for the same company. We're friends. I believe him when he says he was trying to write a Meta piece about ESPN's lawyers going after some slimy Peeping Tom. Not surprisingly, the nuance of Daulerio's story was lost on a lot of people. As a result, this is a potential game-changer for Deadspin and possibly the blogosphere.
Deadspin has long juxtaposed light and funny posts against heavy and more serious ones. It's a delicate format. Those light and funny stories (say, about a Minnesota Vikings player appearing naked in the background of a live Fox broadcast) often drive traffic - partly because they're amusing, partly because the overstarched mainstream media usually ignores them.
Trouble is, when those light and funny - or, in this case, scandalous and incendiary - posts go awry, they give the anti-blog militia all the ammo it needs to attack Deadspin for being fluff peddlers at best, or paparazzi at worst. As a result, the good, sound work Deadspin and other blogs often produce can be lost in a cacophony of angry denunciations. (Deadspin, for example, was the first to break news about Mark McGwire's brother writing a book about providing his sibling with steroids - a story that was picked up by ESPN and other national outlets.)
The Deadspin comments section - which is generally supportive of the staff there - has lately included some atypical criticism of the site and its involvement in the Andrews story. That's ironic considering those are some of the same people who have obsessed over Andrews and her every move since she first appeared on ESPN.
This comes courtesy of Deadspin commenter "Scrappy McHustle:" The Andrews video "wasn't going to stay in the realm of shady porn blogs for long. The fire was already burning. [Daulerio] and [Deadspin] poured the gasoline on it because it was the profitable thing to do."
Daulerio said the Andrews posts received a lot of hits but added that "you can't predict how many page views you're going to get on any story."
More important than motives is what happens next. Will it be business as usual at Deadspin HQ or will this flap affect how the site and other blogs like it operate in the future?
"Does this change the way we cover Erin Andrews? Yeah, I think so," Daulerio said. "We can't do anything fun with her. When we write about what she wears to the ESPYs or her getting hit in the face with a foul ball - we cover that because of her hyper-popularity, but we also do it as tongue-in-cheek commentary. Some people get that. Some don't. We'll probably have to back off the cheesecake coverage. But we're not backing off this story because it is a story."