August 25, 2009

Steven Cohen quits punditry, citing death threats, after long-running spat with Scousers: A familiar face and voice for US-based EPL fans, he's also a Chelsea supporter with an unfortunate habit of blaming Liverpool fans for Hillsborough, apologising, and then doing it again. After repeating his charges on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, a group of US-based Liverpool fans began an advertiser boycott; fearing a global backlash, a number of Sirius and FSC sponsors pulled their support; another apology wasn't enough to stop FSC from kicking Cohen into touch. On Friday, he walked away from his radio show, invoking the American tradition of free speech, citing antisemitism and death threats to his stepchildren, and blaming... pretty much everybody.

posted by etagloh to soccer at 02:19 AM - 18 comments

When he wasn't mouthing off about dead people, was his punditry any good? As far as I can understand, his freedom of speech was never threatened. Unluckily for him, he was free to say whatever he wanted. Free to live with the consequences of doing so as well.

posted by JJ at 05:05 AM on August 25, 2009

JJ: Yeah, everyone seems to forget that last bit sadly.

posted by Drood at 05:06 AM on August 25, 2009

Don't get me started, Drood. I'd feel free to say some shit that would come back to haunt me no doubt.

posted by JJ at 05:45 AM on August 25, 2009

He sounds like an incredible jerk. I just read quite a bit about Hillsborough following the link. I don't understand why he felt the need to bring this incident up repeatedly, and endorse a conspiracy theory that has already been debunked.

On another note, do fans now have assigned seats or do they still do this standing room thing?

posted by bperk at 10:08 AM on August 25, 2009

bperk, the Taylor Report was commissioned to establish the cause of the tragedy and recommend measures to avoid its being repeated. As a result of its findings, stadia of clubs in the top divisions in England and Scotland are now all seater.

posted by JJ at 10:56 AM on August 25, 2009

I did a bit of research on Hillsborough earlier this year for a project here at school, and from every sign, this was a terrible tragedy and one which should not be ridiculed like Mr. Cohen apparently did. I never read his stuff as far as I can recall, and now I'm certainly glad I didn't.

posted by boredom_08 at 11:05 AM on August 25, 2009

As a Jew and signer of the Boycott Cohen petition I'm pretty sure antisemitism has nothing to do with this.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:54 AM on August 25, 2009

From the link: Cohen's allegations of antisemitism have puzzled Liverpool fans because the captain of the Israeli national team, Yossi Benayoun, is one of Liverpool's star players ... and Cohen's ethnicity was never an issue in the Hillsborough debate.

How can the writer declare that Cohen's ethnicity was never an issue with anyone else? If you gin up an angry mob against somebody, particularly over the Internet, a lot of hateful and bigoted stuff gets directed at the target. I don't doubt at all that his surname attracted some anti-Semitic bile.

posted by rcade at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2009

I think it's a good case study of "first-mover advantage" having its disadvantages: if you were to pick the voice of football talk in the US, you probably wouldn't have settled on Cohen and Nick Geber, but they saw a gap in the US market and filled it. As such, I'm sure there are younger viewers and listeners who accord him a kind of authority.

Perhaps he was trolling, in an attempt to generate controversy, publicity and viewers. Looking at the history, though, it just seems like he couldn't help himself: he's swallowed a standard terrace line that Liverpool fans have milked Hillsborough for two decades despite being partly culpable, and no amount of apologising is going to change that fundamental opinion, in spite of it being both disproven by Taylor and deliberately provocative.

If he'd been smart, he'd have realised that it was going to come to a head, and that he'd eventually face the kind of organised anger that makes The Sun still verboten on Merseyside. If he couldn't stop himself from pulling at that string, he could have hired someone to take over the presenting slot and moved to a production role.

I don't doubt that he's been exposed to some rough stuff, but it's not the result of some kind of free-speech martyrdom. You wouldn't even be allowed as a caller on 6-0-6 saying some of that stuff.

posted by etagloh at 12:22 PM on August 25, 2009

As a result of its findings, stadia of clubs in the top divisions in England and Scotland are now all seater.

Good. I hope the police get better training. They seemed to be a pretty major contributing factor to the disaster.

posted by bperk at 01:15 PM on August 25, 2009

I, for one, will miss the show. I've listened off and on for years, and the guests (managers, players, journalists) got better and better along the way. I'm sorry to see a single issue axe what was an excellent asset to the US soccer community.

posted by sbacharach at 02:21 PM on August 25, 2009

@sbacharach I don't think it was the issue per se but that Cohen kept dragging it out like a favorite bone despite being warned many times. If Cohen was as smart as he thinks he'd have learned that lesson years ago.

posted by billsaysthis at 02:45 PM on August 25, 2009

Within a show of any kind I am able to tune out what I don't like and derive something positive from the rest. It certainly works for news broadcasts and blogs. Or one can just tune out completely - change the channel, don't listen, etc. I will admit, however, that the sensitivity of Hillsborough is not something that I can appreciate in the visceral way that others do, so perhaps it's near impossible for them to ignore such things they find so objectionable, and they feel compelled to act.

posted by sbacharach at 03:45 PM on August 25, 2009

Within a show of any kind I am able to tune out what I don't like and derive something positive from the rest.

The problem isn't simply that people don't like it, it's frankly offensive bullshit that he keeps bringing up, incorrectly and unfairly blaming the victims for a tragic accident, including on the anniversary of the incident. It's not like they're disagreeing with him on some opinion he has.

posted by inigo2 at 04:13 PM on August 25, 2009

I'm sorry to see a single issue axe what was an excellent asset to the US soccer community.

I think that's part of the problem, though: WSD had that first-mover momentum, and built up the clout to attract good guests and claim a kind of implicit authority. (It also got Cohen and Geber their original FSC gig.) For Americans, it's pretty much the only regular venue with a decent audience where MLS, the EPL and the world's leagues are all equally valid subjects for discussion. With that implicit authority comes a degree of responsibility.

The BBC's Tim Vickerey, who hosts Five Live's world football phone-in in the wee hours of Saturday mornings, was asked about Cohen's departure last week, and put it pretty succinctly: where there's an accepted, official account, offering up a widely different opinion as a broadcaster either requires evidence to justify that opinion, or apologising and keeping those opinions to yourself. Cohen just couldn't stop going there, and either thought that he was bulletproof in the US, or didn't care about the potential consequences.

I've seen the flipside in broadcasting where a major sport in one country is a minority interest in another. The US sports presenters on Five in the UK are enthusiastic, but not the most clued-up, and Americans would probably find them barely tolerable. But they're smart enough to know their limitations.

posted by etagloh at 04:45 PM on August 25, 2009

Totally agree with JJ Cohen's freedom of speech was never questioned. In fact you'd have to argue that Liverpool fans were simply using their own freedom of speech to get their own point across.

Consequences people, there are usually consequences when you say something factually wrong in the public arena

posted by Fence at 05:20 PM on August 25, 2009

If you gin up an angry mob against somebody,

So you're saying Cohen is an anti-Semite? because that's the only person gining up a mob.

posted by rodgerd at 08:05 PM on August 26, 2009

That's not true at all, Rodgerd. People have been calling for his firing, organizing boycotts and complaining to the advertisers on shows he was involved in.

Anyone at the center of a controversy like that gets a lot of hatred aimed at them. I have no doubt at all that Cohen heard from some anti-Semites and other vile people.

posted by rcade at 08:11 PM on August 26, 2009

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