Mr. Oppenheim's Article, Part II

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, August 14, 2008 | , , | 6 comments »

Gabe Oppenheim replied to my comment on his article this morning, and invited me to call him to talk about things. We then exchanged several e-mails and did eventually have our conversation. He gave me permission to paraphrase and use some of his remarks in his e-mails to explain his perspective, but declined to answer directly by commenting on my blog or as a comment to his own story on the Post.

I will start by saying that I believe him to be sorry about the way his article was perceived. But he also admitted that he really doesn't understand how or why people are misinterpreting his story. He said that he understands fan loyalty and passion and thought his article conveyed that, and not the condescending, mocking tone that I, and many others, perceived.

He stated his article was about the certain men at that certain table that he quoted, but readily admitted he did a poor job explaining that in the article. He even mentioned he had some filler at the end about the little boy that got the trivia contest right and won tickets, but that it was "trimmed" by his editor.

He stated in his opening e-mail:

I'm sorry if the story in any way misrepresented the scene. To be perfectly honest, I'm a huge baseball fan and as such, I have great, great respect for fans who follow teams -- especially ones who follow bad teams.


I assure you I didn't came in with an intention to mock. I think the words I use in the piece can be taken of two ways: as indicators of the table's ineffaceable dignity, despite the losses, or as sardonic tweaks.
When pressed on the issue of categorizing Nats fans as "men, mostly middle-aged", he replied:

"You are obviously right that Nats fans aren't all middle-aged men, and my first graph is deceptively constructed (not intentionally). I realize now that it seems as if I'm characterizing the whole place, when really I was trying to characterize only the men at the table -- when really, I wanted the article to be ABOUT only the men at my table. But that doesn't come through, and it's my fault.

I did say that the 70 in attendance were "fanboys of various ages," which was supposed to cover the rest of the place. The problem became that people misinterpreted "fanboys" to be a term of mockery and male chauvinism; I assumed women could be subsumed under "fanboys," too, just as they can be under the phrase "you guys.""

We talked about the use of the term "fanboy" and it's generally negative connotation in the sporting world, but again, he didn't understand that and didn't feel the term was negative. And since I am not female, I won't speak to the phrase "you guys" as being insutling to women, but will allow the women who read this tell me if they are insulted that a writer for the Washington Post thinks it's ok to label women as "you guys" and "fanboys".

What is still troubling to me is that after trading e-mails and speaking for about 10 minutes, he still didn't understand why I, and others were upset. He was sorry that we were, and time and again stated that was not his intention, but he still didn't get it. It's not the references to old allegiances that people took exception to. It speaks more to the way the whole theme of the article seemed to belittle the subjects of the story.

He kept saying that it wasn't his intention, but that's obviously the perception.

But there is a larger point. The Post sent a writer from the Style section to cover a sports event, and Mr. Oppenheim did not understand my frustration at all about that distinction. He said,"They wouldn't send me to do a game story." But why not? They have interns write gamers. Why not someone from the Style section. Do you think they'd send Chico Harlan to write a story about the American Urological Association's yearly exhibition?

Mr. Oppenheim also admitted to me that he was unaware of the long-time problems fans have had with the Post's coverage of the Nationals, something he now is completely submersed in.

Here's what it boils down to: the Post sent a Style Reporter with no institutional knowledge to cover a baseball story and he wrote an article that had absolutely nothing to do with why the event was being held and many Nationals fans found it at least troubling, if not down-right insulting. And the author, though honestly sorry for the way his article was perceived, doesn't quite understand why they feel that way.

Photo (C) C. Nichols 2008.


  1. Sec314 // August 14, 2008 at 11:17 PM  

    Great stuff here, Great post. I hope Oppenheim's bosses read this. The Post should be ashamed. I'm still a subscriber, but I really don't need to be when there are blogs like this.

  2. An Briosca Mor // August 15, 2008 at 8:22 AM  

    He was sorry that we were, and time and again stated that was not his intention, but he still didn't get it.

    You know what they say at the Washington Post: If you don't get it, you don't get it. And the Washington Post is writing the book on not getting it when it comes to the Nationals. Every season, they assign a Style writer to write another chapter for that book. This year, Oppenheim drew the short straw. Last year it was Linton Weeks. Who will it be next?

  3. natsfan1a // August 15, 2008 at 9:50 AM  

    Thanks for your excellent letter to the Post. As a female fan who wrangles words for a living, I'd prefer not to be lumped in the "fanboy" designator. I also think that the term is pejorative and wonder how a person who works with words for a living (and who professes to be a fan) would not realize that. I gave up on "you guys" as a lost cause years ago.

  4. Bergmann on Man // August 15, 2008 at 1:08 PM  

    Great work. What is his e-mail address? They seemed to have removed it.

  5. Dave Nichols // August 15, 2008 at 2:48 PM  


    I'm sorry, but I promised not to give his work e-mail out. I know the story is lousy, but the guy made the effort to contact me, and out of respect, I'm going to honor his request.

    Not that he showed Nats fans a whole lot of respect...

  6. Dave Nichols // August 15, 2008 at 2:49 PM  


    i meant to add, the best way to let him know how you feel is to click his article and leave a comment. i promise you he's reading each and every one.