It was a good one, in my opinion, with two more thorough, fairly absorbing interviews. The first was with John Caldwell, Editor-in-Chief of PokerNews. Wise and Caldwell talked at length about the current state of poker media, coverage of the Absolute Poker scandal, exclusivity deals (e.g., for covering the WSOP or WPT), among other topics. The second guest was Andy Bloch who shared a lot of interesting observations about the new film 21 and the book on which it was based, Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House. Was quite intriguing to hear Bloch discuss the huge differences between what actually happened with the M.I.T. blackjack team and how the story has mutated (quite wildly, in some particulars) into its various fictional forms.
Getting back to the first interview, though, there was one observation made by Caldwell that I found especially insightful -- something that brought together a couple of different ideas I had explored here before, but which in itself struck me as something I hadn’t necessarily consciously considered (nor written about, of course).
I’ve written several times here about the poker media and the various (mostly commercial) reasons why it often fails to be “objective” -- or at least reasonably free and unrestrained -- when covering the poker world. Wasn’t that long ago I was discussing that issue in an earlier post about Wise Hand Poker in which I reflected on some of Wise’s interview with Linda Johnson. Johnson had told Wise about her experience as the publisher and owner of CardPlayer back in the 1990s, and her notion that part of her role was to be “a ‘good will’ part of the industry,” an idea she mainly connected to the fact that advertisers wouldn’t support the magazine otherwise.
I’ve also written here more than once about the way poker is viewed by much of the general population as objectionable. Probably the most recent attempt to address that subject was about a month ago when I wrote “On the Poker Haters.” There I discussed a few of the many reasons why folks tend to denigrate poker as a disreputable activity.
During the show, Wise brought up the tendency of some poker media outlets to gloss over or suppress negative stories about particular players or other occurrences. Then he asked Caldwell for his thoughts on the subject. This is where Caldwell made that point I thought brought together a couple of earlier interests of mine.
Caldwell said that with regard to poker, “I try very hard to -- at least within some parameters of responsibility -- portray things in a positive light. Reason being, I feel like there are a lot of people out there that would like to see . . . that consider poker not okay. [If] the surge in the popularity of poker waned, they would like to see all of that stuff go away. So as a result, I’m going to do what I can to try to promote the game and try to put the game into a positive light . . . .”
I suppose I have always been aware of this idea -- this need, really -- for those who cover poker to remain aware of poker’s negative reputation (particularly among non-poker players). The idea is certainly related to the more practical concern of keeping advertisers happy. However, I think it is safe to say Caldwell is really thinking not so much here about the bottom line as about the big picture.
The truth of the matter is there are a lot of “poker haters” out there, and many are certainly on the lookout for further evidence to support their point of view. It makes sense, then, for those who cover poker to want to promote the game as a legitimate pastime/recreation/career. And I like Caldwell’s additional qualification that it is okay to do so “within some parameters of responsibility” -- another “big picture”-type point to make.
Wise responded by asking Caldwell when he thought we were going to be able to know that poker had gotten past this stage in its development -- this stage of poker media needing to try to promote the game as well as simply report on it -- and therefore stop delivering what he called the “sunshine and lollipops version of the game.” (Wise admitted that he himself is guilty at times of coloring the game in a perhaps overly-rosy light, too.) Unfortunately, the conversation moved into another direction and the pair did not return to the question.
If I were asked that question, I’d probably say that will happen only when poker becomes accepted into society as readily as other games, sports, and/or forms of popular entertainment. In other words, not any time soon -- indeed, probably not ever. The fact is, as long as poker continues to be regarded as a shady activity that provokes bitter reactions, those who cover it are gonna find at least some sunshine and lollipops to be necessary.