Bill Simmons-Keith Olbermann Twitter Feud Symbolizes Bigger Problem with Society

Sam WestmorelandFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2011

Bill Simmons-Keith Olbermann Feud Reignites, but There's More to This Than Just Jokes

The feud between ESPN writer Bill Simmons and former ESPN personality turned MSNBC personality turned Current TV personality Keith Olbermann erupted again over the last two days, after a Simmons tweet making a Kennedy assassination joke set the combustible television anchor off. 

Since then, Simmons has been quick to point out the moments when Olbermann has been wrong and blasted him for "burning bridges at three different networks," along with generally being a jerk, based on the nature of the fight. 

But Olbermann has fired back, blasting Simmons for being a lousy writer and, well, that's pretty much it.

As the war rages on and sides are taken (by the way, this one's on Olbermann; Simmons' joke was harmless; he's not the first to make an assassination joke, and he won't be the last; Keith needs to find his sense of humor), those who look at this feud as just a feud are missing a bigger issue here.

Sure, it's fun to watch two media personalities bicker over whether Bill Simmons really is a lackluster writer or Olbermann really is a pompous blowhard who doesn't know when to close his mouth. 

No, the real issue here is much bigger, much more deeply engrained in our society. 

Let's not forget that this whole argument started over a Twitter post. That's right; 140 characters of a joke set off a massive sniping war between two media personalities, and it's hardly the first time the social media has done this. 

Remember Rashard Mendenhall last week? The Steelers running back started a media firestorm with his tweets about the death of Osama bin Laden, eventually losing a sponsor because of it. 

Now, I'm not attacking or defending Twitter here; it is what it is, and if people want to make jokes about the Kennedy assassination or question whether we were right to kill bin Laden on it, that's their right. 

No, my issue comes from the way in which we as a society view Twitter and most news nowadays. In the age of 24/7 news coverage, we focus a lot on the tiniest details, the off-hand comments, the fart a player, coach or media personality lets loose in a locker room. 

While it's important to note the details, we must also not obsess over them. In this age of constant media coverage, we take the tiniest misstep, the tiniest faux pas, and blow it into something infinitely larger than it should be. 

We saw it with Mendenhall last week, and we're seeing it with Olbermann this week. Simmons made a relatively harmless post, one made in jest, and one referencing an assassination that took place almost 50 years ago, and Olbermann jumped all over it like Albert Haynesworth on a Hostess truck. 

Granted, Simmons didn't need to fire back (but when you attack a writer's skills, they tend not to like it too much). But if Keith stopped for a second and said, "Hey, maybe it was a little tasteless, but everyone makes stupid jokes sometimes, no big deal" (granted, Keith's stupid jokes tend to be stupider and occur with more frequency than most, but that's beside the point)—if people had stopped and said, "I don't agree with what Rashard said, but everyone says stupid things every once in a while, no big deal"—we wouldn't have an issue. 

This isn't an issue with reporting the details. Like I said, they're important, and without them, you can't have much news. But obsessing over the tiniest details, turning molehills into mountains and generally freaking out about harmless stupid comments every time someone makes one is definitely not the way to go about it. 

So here's hoping Keith and Bill take a step back, remember that they're getting all hot and bothered over a 140-character blurb no one would have remembered otherwise and move on. Maybe then the rest of us can learn to move on too.