Serena Williams, In A Tennis Tradition

katie-bakes-iii“That’s as angry as I’ve ever seen her,” remarked CBS analyst John McEnroe Saturday night as Serena Williams advanced, shaking her racquet and shouting, on a wide-eyed lineswoman at the US Open.

Williams was reacting, maniacally, to a second serve foot fault call that gave opponent Kim Clijsters a double match point at 6-5 in the second set of the semifinals. Her rant was vulgar and uncalled for. It was menacing and immature. It was unsportsmanlike. It was also, dare I say, pretty entertaining.

Televised ranting in sports is nothing new. Anyone who has watched Tiger Woods play has probably lip-read some choice words before, and Twitter’s own Shaquille O’Neal once dropped an f-bomb in a postgame interview. And McEnroe himself could always be counted on for some theatrics: in a bit of an elephant-in-the-room situation for tennis’ on-air team, it is practically impossible to give context to any on-court meltdown without invoking his name, or at least Jimmy Connors’.

In fact, no more genteel a tennis lover and scholar than Sidney B. Wood, Jr. – 1931’s Wimbledon champion – was in 1981 inspired by McEnroe to write an essay for the New York Times titled “Tantrum Throwers Through The Years”. He began:

IT has taken far more than one act of gross misbehavior to persuade this writer, as a member of what can be described as the international tennis fraternity, to publicly berate certain of his offending fellow members, and one in particular. The time has come.

The time came because Mac lacked the time – he snubbed the All England Club’s victory dinner, forcing poor Chris Evert Lloyd to apologize “as an American” for his absence and gravely offending Wood, who wrote that his name “will stand out as adefacement on the All England Club’s 104-year championship roster.”

But Wood’s essay, which reads like a Dominic Dunne dispatch – the phrase “heterosexual proclivities” is used, and he gets super catty about Connors – goes on to identify great complainers through the ages, proving that the more things change, etc. It’s unfortunate that Serena lost her cool, and she’s certainly better than that. But great athletes are like geniuses: sometimes they’re just a little crazy. And sometimes in tennis, it just may be a lunatic we’re looking for.

Many people, myself included, missed the Williams-Clijsters match live; rain throughout the weekend pushed it back to an awkward start time early Saturday evening. But no doubt most have by now seen the replays, whether they’ve wanted to or not. Williams’ rant was both meticulously recorded and visually stunning. It didn’t take long for enterprising onlookers to provide a transcription of her explosive words — suffice to say that balls being shoved down throats was a clear and present threat — and cameras were there to capture the essence of each tangential character.

Viewers saw the diminutive lineswoman scurrying, (the New York Times identified her as “Shino”yesterday morning before before changing the article to note that the USTA had not released her name) the imposing Williams hulking, the doddering tennis officials brow-furrowing.

Adding to the drama, it wasn’t even Williams’ first outburst of the match, which is why it was to be her last. After losing the first set 6-4 to Clijsters, Williams manhandled her racquet in frustration and was assessed a code violation warning. Her later outburst, then, was a second offense that carried with it a point penalty. As it happened, that was at match point, giving Clijsters, unseeded and just out of retirement, a bizarre ascension into the Finals and a chance to be the first mother to win a Grand Slam in 29 years.

“You can’t call that there,” whined McEnroe from the booth, showing his old colors and making the age-old argument that refs should just let the players play when the game is on the line. Later, after Serena named McEnroe one of her idols in a very incongruously laid-back press conference, the TV analyst began to backpedal, saying that he couldn’t “defend the indefensible” according to Newsday’s Neil Best.

Best also noted that Mary Carillo, the gloriously understated and NPR-voiced tennis analyst, chastised Williams for “the disingenuous, Oscar-worthy performance in her post-match news conference.” It was definitely an odd presser, with Williams’ on court menace replaced by an upbeat series of spotty memories (I was reminded of Will Ferrell in Old School, post-debate: “What happened? I blacked out!”) and rote clichés. She seemed robotic. One observer remarked on Tumblr that “she must have mainlined a cup of Xanax” en route to the press room.

But others found it to be the calm after the storm. Richard Deitsch, writing on, credited USTA officials for holding a normal press conference. And ESPN’s Bonnie Ford noted that both players “handled their meetings with the press superbly” and focused on the on-court moment where Williams quietly accepted the procedural defeat and immediately ran to congratulate the bewildered Clijsters:

While Richard Williams may have bequeathed fierceness and an explosive, racket-cracking temper to his daughter, her mother Oracene Price is visible in Serena’s makeup as well. It’s evident in the composure Serena can display under stifling pressure, and it was evident in Serena’s ability to curb her emotions at the moment when it was clear that rules dictated the match end.

Not so much her mercurial father: the Times reported, amusingly, that Richard Williams “was talking to the N.B.A. star Kevin Garnett outside the stadium when reporters approached him. “Just get out of my face,” he said.

Now that’s entertainment! But in all seriousness, while I am unable to muster too much outrage for what transpired, I will admit that it rubs me the wrong way that Williams has yet to issue even the most transparently unapologetic of apologies (“I did not intend to offend anyone…” can usually do the trick) and I do feel genuinely sorry for the poor lineswoman who bore the brunt of Williams’ unhinged threats. After all, as Sidney Wood wrote in his 1981 essay, “While the authorities of our day were also, on average, barely sufferable badgewearers, almost all of us were able to control our murderous impulses and retain our composure.” Not so Williams, at least at first.

But Wood also acknowledged:

Because the ever-fickle crowd can one day hate the villain and in 24 hours be overcome with adulation for his heroics, McEnroe will again have his ovations.

So too will Serena Williams. One of them will be mine.

How To Estimate A 9/12 Protest

pbump 2In the passion of yesterday’s 9/12 protests against, um, something, Jay Rosen noticed that Michelle Malkin was crowing about attendance of 2 million at the protest in D.C. Also known as one out of every 130 people in America.

Sensing that perhaps that number was a little high, he traced the error back to a conservative Twitterer named @pinkelephantpun, who claimed to have gotten the figure from ABC News. (Which, faster than Joe Wilson can amend an apology, ABC News denied.) In fact, ABC estimated the crowd, on the high end, at about 70,000.

That’s a pretty big difference. How big? It’s two orders of magnitude. As King Kaufman notes, it’s like confusing Vermont with Texas. More concretely, it’s akin to confusing the number of pixels in the two images below.


That’s some error!

(N.B. This image, believe it or not, was condensed for size. For actual image showing visible pixels, please see the original post at

Philip Bump is a technology and communications consultant in New York City who writes “The Wayback Machine,” an occasional column for Mediaite about the intersection of history and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter here.

Who Distributed Offensive Ted Kennedy Sign at 9/12 Rally?

Mediaite editor-at-large Rachel Sklar has done an excellent job of pointing out what Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project isn’t, but activist Alex Lawson, who was at today’s 9/12 rally in DC, is doing a great job showing what it is. Alex has experience capturing the essence of these protests, having been attacked at the DC Tax Day Tea Party, and he did his part today in chronicling the Spirit of 9/12:

Billionaires for Wealthcare were on hand to serenade and thank the teabaggers in Washington today. We arrived en force dressed in tuxes and tiaras to celebrate those fighting so hard on behalf of our freedom to deny claims and raise rates. Because hey, at least OUR death panels turn a profit.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think this one says it all:


As if the “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” sign wasn’t already dripping with class, the Twelvers cover Kennedy’s name with horseshit to really turn the 9/12 ‘tude up to 11. What’s really disgusting about this is that this isn’t some homemade bit of filth, but a pre-printed message distributed by the American Life League, a right-wing anti-choice group.

There was plenty of homemade hatriot goodness to be seen, however. Here’s a sampling of Alex’s photos from today’s rally. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Tommy Christopher is a Mediaite columnist on politics and media and also reports frequently from the White House. Tommy can also be found at his own blog: Follow him on Twitter here.

MMS Comes Early To Your iPhone (or, at least, mine)

ash-profile-iiApple’s big 9.9.09 Music event may have disappointed when it comes to the Beatles (Rock Band rocked that one) and the mythical tablet (not even close, guys), but the event did herald the release of the iPhone OS 3.1 update, as well as the release of iTunes 9.

With the two software updates, Apple has added several new features and incremental changes, (though still no exposure of the video or augmented reality APIs that developers are anxiously awaiting).  So yesterday afternoon, like any good Apple devotee, I downloaded and installed both updates.

And then, last night, something unexpected happened.  MMS started working on my iPhone, weeks ahead of AT&T’s announced release date for the feature.

The Multimedia Messaging Service, which transmits pictures videos and sounds between mobile phones in a manner that resembles regular SMS text messaging, first hit Norwegian cell phones in 2002, and has been common on most camera equipped phones in the US for years.  Your Motorola Razr could do it from day one, and your phone before that probably could too.   Along with tethering, which allows iPhone owners to use their phones to connect their computers to the internet on the go, it is a long-awaited feature that was made possible by Apple with the release of iPhone OS 3.0, but which has not been made generally available to AT&T’s US users – much to customers’ chagrin.

-7This makes AT&T’s recent announcement that MMS would be coming to iPhones by September 25th a welcome one, as customers have been asking AT&T and Apple where the feature, ubiquitous on other, cheaper, lower-tech phones, was and when it would be coming.  In fact, people have been asking since the release of the original iPhone in 2007, so it is about time.

MMS has been intermittently available for months to those more adventurous iPhone users who don’t mind a slightly less-than-legitimate work-around, but the methods available to enable it have been unreliable at best. The process seems to have gotten easier with the 3.1 release, but better yet, you may not have to wait or hack to MMS right now.

For me at least, it seems to just be working.  And this hashtag may indicate that it may be for others as well.

This likely has to do with AT&T working through the process of removing the opt-out codes that have blocked MMS from working on iPhone accounts since the 3.0 release.  If my phone is any evidence, it looks like the rollout has begun.

So if you can’t wait for the 25th, or don’t trust AT&T to get there on time, give it a try.  Your iPhone might just MMS too.

Ash Kalb is the general counsel of a New York-based telecommunications and technology company and an instrument-rated pilot. He writes about geeky things for Mediaite.

Panel Nerds: Women of the Media World Unite and Take Over

panel nerds girlsWho: Glynnis MacNicol (Mediaite), Caroline McCarthy (CNET), Jessica Grose (Slate), Anna Holmes (Jezebel), moderated by Rachel Sklar (Mediaite).

What: Gelf Magazine’s Media Circus “Overlooked: Women in Media”

Where: JLA Studios Art Gallery

When September 10, 2009

Thumbs: Up

There’s an inherent irony to promoting gender diversity by having only female panelists, but last’s night Gelf Magazine panel was not about resetting the balance for this one discussion. The goal was to demonstrate to future conference planners and columnists that women offer a unique voice and belong on the panelist circuit. While acknowledging that workplaces have moved in the direction of becoming gender-neutral, moderator Rachel Sklar said that there is still a lack of female participation at public events and an underrepresentation of women in lists of accomplished people. Aloud, she wondered why that is the case and how can it be fixed.

Women must continue to speak up and step up to opportunities, the panel said. Glynnis MacNicol urged women in positions of power to take on the responsibility of helping others rise to the top. To this end, the panelists each shared names of women in the media they deem overlooked.

The panel offered several explanations for this media cultural imbalance. Anna Holmes said that most of the time women are forced to take whatever opportunities they can get, which often means working at women-focused magazines that aren’t taken as seriously. Jessica Grose agreed, but cited a more systemic problem. She speculated that women pursuing positions of power may be sidetracked by editors encouraging them to reveal personal details in their writing.

Caroline McCarthy put a different spin on it. She believes that women, far more than men, prefer to stay out of the public eye. Holmes added that writing requires you to be confrontational and confident while many women tend to be apologetic and uncomfortable.

Social barriers are partially to blame but so is the harsh judgment of Internet trolls. MacNicol revealed that there’s always a concern that responses will skip criticism of the details of your piece, and focus instead on the merits of your physical appearance. McCarthy worries that any differences of opinion between two women will be tagged as a bitch fight. Even if you escape being identified in that way, you can still be called anti-feminist.

Men don’t face the threat that one public comment might earn them an undeserved and unwanted label. The only labels that men wear at panels have their names on them.

What They Said

“Women are hesitant to grab the bull by the horns and run with it.”

- Glynnis MacNicol is disappointed more women aren’t jumping at the opportunity to be heard online and on panels

“Because the pickings are so slim, no offense to my gender, women don’t do as well.”

- Caroline McCarthy says that sometimes underqualified or unprepared female panelists are chosen to fill a quota and wind up being sub-par panelists

“Letting them affect your work, unless you’re factually wrong, is a mistake.”

- Jessica Grose advises women to not read or care about comments left on blogs

“I think that there’s room for everybody. I think we can make room for everybody.”

- Anna Holmes fears that some women think there are a limited number of spots available for female writers, making them less inclined to help the next one

“I actually chose this panel based on how hot they were.”

- Rachel Sklar mocked those who elevate looks ahead of ability. (We think…)

What We Thought

  • We enjoyed watching the way the panelists displayed genuine signs of friendship and admiration for one another. Holmes pointed to Grose as an example of someone who is helping to make positive changes for women in media. Community, for them, is valued ahead of competition. We doubt, for instance, whether a man on a panel would have complimented another’s shoes.
  • It was interesting to see the way the panel dealt with talking about women ranging from Maureen Dowd to Julia Allison to Helen Gurley Brown. Each of these women contributes to the discussion of how the female gender is perceived in the media today. It shows how deep this discussion goes, and also how broad a range of women are impacted by the accomplishments and decisions of others.


Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like… One Republic

When it comes to introducing your question, it’s always too late to apologize. Don’t preface your thoughts with a disclaimer that this might be a “dumb question.” You shouldn’t apologize for not already knowing the answer. If we already knew all the answers, there wouldn’t be a need for a panel. And if there were no panels, where would that leave the Panel Nerds?

[Disclaimer: Mediaite's Rachel Sklar, who recruited us and who edits our columns, was one of the members of this panel. While she reviewed the post prior to publication, the opinions expressed were untouched and we were not edited for content. We decided to attend this panel on our own; that Rachel was one of the panel members speaks to our dovetailing interests, and we are in favor of anything that dovetails.]

Panel Nerds Etan Bednarsh and Danny Groner are New York-based writers and avid panel-goers. Want them at your panel? Email them here:

About That Lending Library: Notes on Book Publishing in a Socially Networked World

StephenElliotA few months ago, sitting on a bunch of advance copies of my new book, The Adderall Diaries, copies that were supposed to go to well placed media outlets, I decided to start The Adderall Diaries Lending Library. My plan was to allow anyone who wanted to read an advance copy of the book the opportunity to do so, provided they forwarded the book within a week to the next reader. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing played right into the new publishing environment, an environment that is still uncharted and mysterious. A brave new democratic book world where everyone is a potential reviewer.

Since then a lot of authors (and book publicists) have asked about the program, wondering if it’s a good or bad thing to let anyone who wants to read an advance copy of your book for free. Here’s some answers for those interested in planning their own lending library.

What is it a success? Absolutely. 400 people signed up for advance copies. It enabled me to interact directly with people who read The Adderall Diaries, which is incredibly fulfilling for an author. One reader started a facebook group called “I Read an Advance Copy of The Adderall Diaries.”

The Lending Library itself got written up in a bunch of publications, which was surprising because I wasn’t doing it as a marketing stunt. I was doing it because I wanted people to read my book. But maybe that’s the same thing. I think of “marketing” as something you do for someone else. Wanting to share your art is something that predates the term and probably goes back to cave drawings.

I ended up doing a lot of interviews and people wrote reviews of the book before the book was available. HTMLGIANT even hosted a conversation about the book. Some people told me this was a bad idea. I was getting too much press at a point when people couldn’t yet purchase the book. I think the jury is still out on that. But it seemed OK to me. I was glad people were reviewing the book in advance. I figure when a book comes out people talk about it for a month, but you have four months before that happens to initiate a conversation.

When I was told I should do a large book tour, rather than going from bookstore to bookstore I sent a note to the 400 advance readers of the book. Now I’m doing a cross-country tour of readings and events primarily in people’s homes. It’s a lot less lonely, I think, to have someone responsible for your event in each town. And I’ll probably sleep on their couches (there’s no budget for hotel rooms). These are mostly people I haven’t met who liked the book enough to invite me into their homes. Hopefully none of them are crazy. They’re probably thinking the same thing about me.

Of course, I want to support local independent bookstores so often I’ll try to get the local store involved in the event. Book People, for example, is selling books at the Austin House Party September 22.

Was it worth it? That depends on what you hope to get out of it. For me it was worth it. But it’s expensive and it takes a huge amount of time. My publisher picked up the shipping costs, which came to about $800. The way the lending library was setup we paid the initial postage. But the real cost was in time. It took a lot of time to do this. I had to make a giant spread sheet (actually, a word document with a huge table). It turns out most people won’t forward the book to the next person without a gentle nudge. I didn’t realize that at first. I thought I could just send books, send addresses, and let the library run itself. But it doesn’t work that way.

Still, compared to the traditional route of sending galley copies to “opinion makers” it was very efficient. Instead of getting one read for every five books you send out I was getting five reads for every one book.

Still… you would think that if people agreed to read the book and forward it within a week that most of them would do that. Not true. Not even remotely true. I had to keep track of where the book was in the chain, notice when someone didn’t receive the book, contact members and remind them how easy it was to purchase postage online. The most common excuses for not sending the book on time were, “I’m in the process of moving” and “I’ve been out of town.” My favorite was the person who requested a book and then volunteered for a three month stint with the forest service.

But hey, nobody’s perfect. I once robbed a comic book store.

Ultimately, the thing you really have to ask is if you have the time to deal with this. It’s basically a customer service job. You have to field notes from people asking where the book is, then go figure it out and respond to them. It can take ten hours a week. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t believe in the book. I feel certain The Adderall Diaries is the best book I’ve ever written. Part true crime part memoir. It’s at once the tale of Hans Reiser a brilliant computer programmer accused of killing his wife, an investigation into a murder my father confessed to in his own unpublished memoir, and a journey into the meaning of identity. It’s filled with false confessions and thoughts on what is and isn’t knowable. But more than anything it’s a book about being a writer.

One thing to remember: If you don’t write the right book nothing will work. The reader has to connect with the work. I would advise against putting significant time and resources into a work you don’t really believe in.

Got any advice? Why yes, yes I do. If you want to do a lending library tell everyone they have to forward the book using priority mail. I didn’t realize this until after two months. This will result in far fewer lost books. It’s $4.95 as opposed to $3.07, depending on the size of the book. But it can reduce shipping time from ten days to two.

Figure the average time with a book to be closer to seventeen days, including shipping. Organize based on city and state. People should send the book to people that live close to them. Often this enables people just to hand off the book, rather than using the mail. Send everyone an email every Friday asking if they’ve received the book and forwarded it to the next person. Once someone says they’ve forwarded the book, take them off the list.

Don’t spam people. Just because they signed up to read an advance copy of your book doesn’t mean they want to hear from you every time you update your tour or get a review. It’s not cool to add people to your mailing list. I think it’s OK to send everybody in the group one email when your book becomes available and also if you’re doing a reading in their town. That’s exactly two non-lending library emails. That’s just my opinion. In those emails you could also ask them to join your mailing list, if you have one. After that you should really leave the nice people alone.

What are you doing with the galleys now that it’s over? Asking the last person with the book to mail it to someone with an income of less than $25,000 who can’t afford to buy a hardcover. When I said that I would do this almost all the copies were requested right away, but I’m still collecting addresses in case anyone wants to donate a copy of the book to someone who can’t afford their own.

Would you do it again? In a heartbeat. But I’d have to write another book first.

Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries and the founding editor of The Rumpus.

Twitter Reacts to MSNBC’s 9/11 Replay

I found out, this morning, that MSNBC is replaying its 9/11 coverage in realtime when I got this tweet from my old colleague, Mo Rocca:

MSNBC’s rerunning of 9/11 coverage (as it happened!) is not news. It’s death porn

For a variety of reasons, 9/11 is usually a TV-free day for me, with the exception of the observance of the moment of silence. As such, I had no idea that MSNBC had been doing this for the last four years, and that the decision to do so sprang from Mediaite creator Dan Abrams:

Four years ago I decided MSNBC should replay NBC’s 9/11 coverage all morning. They are still doing it 4 years later. What do you think?

My immediate reaction was revulsion. Turning on the TV and seeing that coverage in real time was like being hit in the face.

I was surprised when Dan tweeted that he was getting mixed reactions:

The Twitterverse seems divided about replaying the 9/11 coverage much the way we were in 2006 (with more believing it is worth it).

There is unquestionable historical value in seeing how that event was covered that day. The uncertainty, the fast-flying rumors, the gut-wrenching images, all serve to=2 0enunciate the true horror of the day in ways that hindsight accounts lack.

Still, it is jarring to turn the channel and be thrust into that nightmare, unawares. Unfortunately, there’s no real way for MSNBC to issue a warning as you tune in.

I’ve found that reactions to 9/11 tend to be very individual, and very personal. For me, the images I carry from that day are more than enough. Here’s what folks on Twitter have been saying:

bookwomanblue@TommyXtopher I lived 9/11 and can’t stomach watching it again. Maybe it is different for people outside the tri-state area? #msnbcreplayabout 1 hour ago from web in reply to TommyXtopher

dibutler@TommyXtopher It is probably diff seeing this for those of us who didnt live thru it in NY. It is also important for those who are younger.about 1 hour ago from web in reply to TommyXtopher

tradepolicyguy: Watching MSNBC as they replay NBC’s coverage of 9/11. I’m glad that they do this every year
about 2 hours ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
philrj: @sjflynn Did MSNBC say they were going to replay the footage or is this just a big suprise to boost ratings? I want to vomit.
about 2 hours ago from SimplyTweet · Reply · View Tweet · Thread Show Conversation
CraigOchs: Dare I say kudos to @msnbc for being the only cable outlet to replay the actual events of 9/11. On now.
about 2 hours ago from Tw eetDeck · Reply · View Tweet
rw09: #retrored Good question. I had my kids watch the replay on MSNBC while they got ready for school.
about 2 hours ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
scattoni: MSNBC replay o f 9-11-01 coverage is brutal..
about 2 hours ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
LauMusic: Every yr msnbc replay the horros of Sept 11. I can’t c how ppl can stand 2 watch as the memories r still fresh. Tell sum1 u love them 2day
about 2 hours ago from UberTwitter · Reply · View Tweet
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Slah3: @danielabrams MSNBC should move on and not replay the coverage – the other channels are showing memorial events with the President etc.
about 2 hours ago from Twittelator · Reply · View Tweet
TonyBruno: TV on MSNBC as they replay the coverage from the morning of September 11, 2001 in real time. I appreciate this tradition more than any other
about 1 hour ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
jwhite63: I have to admit that I am feeling sick to my stomach and have some anxiety, watching the replay of 9/11 on MSNBC.
about 1 hour ago from web · Reply · View Tweet
JoySims: MSNBC replaying 9/11 coverage from dark day. I’m a20MSNBC fan, but IMHO not sure this replay helps our country’s healing/future.
24 minutes ago from web · Reply · View Tweet