The evolution of a career is always intriguing, and Dan Patrick’s career is no exception. I was not a big Sports Center watcher back in the days when he and a certain loony Liberal innovated the now ubiquitous sports highlights format, and I was not a loyal listener of his ESPN radio show (thought I flipped past it from time to time). When he left ESPN, and then launched a personal website foreshadowing his next move, I became interested.
In 2007 he launched his own radio show and in only a few years achieved broad national distribution along with a television simulcast. I have been a listener of this show from the very beginning and consider myself a fan; it has been a great ride. Lately, though, I feel like I am listening to a man who is losing his edge, specifically in two areas: laziness, and failure to ask the tough questions in interviews of his guests.
Dan is Lazy
I say “lazy” for several reasons.
The first is his over-reliance on certain callers to his show. As a listener to many radio shows (sports and political in nature) I understand the agonies that hosts must endure when taking calls from unknown people across the country: there are freaks and geeks and people who can’t get their words out; people who talk too long, too short, and everything in between. Fielding calls takes infinite patience and brilliance on the part of the host. Dan may be smarter than many, but he no longer seems to have the patience for this particular part of the game. So he cops out and goes to a roster of guys who are just not deserving of a daily or weekly spot on a national radio show. I should add that “Chris-in-Syracuse” gets an exemption from this criticism given his early claim to the real estate and because he is just weird enough to keep our interest, although at the same time he has lately been abusing the privilege and milking more time than he should be.
The second is Dan’s inability to come up with an interesting tid-bit of “what he learned on the show” each day (a nice piece of inventory for sponsorship that Dan created). “What he learned” is not so terribly interesting, mind you, but the fact that he asks one of his side-kicks to be the author of it is another example of his sloth.
The third reason is of far more importance to the declining quality of the show: Dan has chosen to replicate the Howard Stern Faux-Fighting-Family ecosystem that apparently earns big ratings in the culture but is an absolute bore to a thinking man’s sensibilities. This motif is one of a parental figure (Howard, or Dan in this case) playing favorites with certain “children” and chastising and scolding certain other “children”. Stern’s reliable doormat is Gary Dell’abate and Howard has earned more than $500 million yelling at him for his foibles (yes, with some naked women thrown in, but don’t underestimate the “family” vibration Howard has cultivated). Dan’s version of this is to chastise Andrew Perloff, a smart guy who apparently drew the short straw among his other “siblings” and has to ape that he is prone to making mistakes. The whole thing is asinine and an insult to the alleged superior quality Dan imagines that he offers to his listeners.
Why do radio hosts pursue this strategy, other than to attempt to earn Howard money? The human animal seeks the familiar, even if that familiar involves painful experiences. We all grew up in houses with occasionally angry parents, and so radio hosts either unconsciously or consciously try to recreate this emotional terrain for their listeners. There is no denying the power of the motif, but personally speaking I hate it and am not entertained by it. It is boring, predictable, and adolescent, and I expect a more sophisticated experience, especially from hosts who purport to offer one.
It is also the easy way out, and Dan is taking it now far more than when he started his show five years ago. He has become lazy.
Dan is Scared
I had begun to wonder a few years ago just how far beneath Dan’s lofty self-assessments he was getting in terms of his interview skills, and this really matters to him. I’m sure if Dan had to rank his professional attributes — the ones that really count for him personally — he would put interviewing near or at the top. Sadly, at this point, he has fallen into the middling crowd. I offer only one example, but it is comprehensive and effectively the death knell of a once-talented interviewer: his recent interview of disgraced former pitcher Roger Clemens.
By Dan’s own admission, he failed to ask the tough questions or challenge Roger’s obvious lies. After the interview was over, we were treated to more than ten minutes of a supposedly brutal self-assessment by Dan: “I should have asked him this, I should have followed up with that…”. I say supposedly because after awhile it seemed to me that he was beginning to imagine that a self-critique would restore some credibility, as if the display of his knowledge of how he should have done it were an achievement in and of itself.
Sorry Dan, you ran scared and screaming from mr. Clemens, a man whom you disagree with on so many levels. I could make the analogy of Matt Lauer throwing soft balls to Hillary Clinton in 2008, but you were worse. You were worse because Matt Lauer does not pretend to be a tough interviewer.
You will say that “Hey, keep comparing me to Howard Stern and Matt Lauer, I’ll be king of the hill at this rate.” And I will say, sure, go ahead and use such defense mechanisms to mask the decline in your professional integrity.
Will the money be worth it? I think you know the answer.
UPDATE: Nov 14, 2013
Dan this week gave Jay Glazer of ESPN heaping piles of grief for not asking tougher questions of Rich Incognito, the football player embroiled in controversy over bullying a team mate.
Sorry Dan, but your interview with Roger Clemens was so pathetic — you were so scared, and so mute on all the important issues — that you have no standing whatsoever to give Jay or anyone any grief.
Man-up yourself first, and then critique your colleagues.