Unprofessional Foul


December 15, 2010

Jonathan Alter: Twitter Tease

What’s in a Tweet? If you’re Courtney Love, it’s most likely a load of nonsense or some self-indulgent pictures, but really, the same could be said of all of us.

If you’re Jonathan Alter, respected longtime columnist and reporter for Newsweek magazine, it might occasionally serve as a place to spill some secrets, though not in a way that any of us could glean much of worth. For example, his little burst on Saturday, presumably after a chat with someone in the know:


Salacious stuff, right? And exactly the right, and wrong, thing to post on Twitter. Many of us soccer bloggers and reporters ran with it in various directions; some dismissed it as the burgeoning move in a smear campaign (weird, but ok). others thought it to be vague confirmation of misdeeds long suspected since the World Cups were awards, and others just kinda mocked it and moved on.

All of them right to do what they did, because until Alter spills a few more beans—or gives someone beans—it’s hard to know what to make of it.

Fueled by indignant outrage and justified bitterness over the awarding of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar respectively, Alter’s tweets provided little comfort but plenty of hope for those searching for a smoking gun. If you study the FIFA organization long enough, pretty soon all you see is the rancid plumes of smoke emanating from various weapons, so to hear Alter’s “news” that Qatar had indeed paid out cash to secure their 2022 bid is unsatisfying. It resigns us to what we think to be the truth, but doesn’t give us every piece of the puzzle needed for full closure or that post-coital cigarette.

Like the guy in Pi, we might want to conclude this search with a well-placed drill bit to the frontal lobe.

Gasoline on an open flame!

If anything, Alter’s revelations cause more confusion than clarity.

Several questions arise:

1. Why would FIFA let its facade slip now?
FIFA has been implicated in several scandals over its 106-year history. The 1974 presidential election, David Yallop’s work in How They Stole the Game, investigative work by the esteemed David Conn, the collapse of ISL as detailed by Andrew Jennings in FOUL! (plus the Transparency in Sport web site), the Visa/Mastercard fiasco in 2006, and even the various misdeeds and miscellaneous chicanery pinned on the bespoke CONCACAF chief, Jack Warner. For that entire hegemony of closed-rank dealings to be toppled by 140 characters just doesn’t make sense, not that the glass house is in danger of being shattered by this tiny stone.

Even so, the complete lack of whistle-blowers—Jerome Champagne and Michel Zen-Ruffinen aside, neither of whom escaped without various character assaults in the wake of their revelations—make this slip of the tongue seem disappointing. When you’ve been trailing such loathsome individuals for a while, you’d hope that the takedown has more oomph to it than the equivalent of catching them with a busted headlight. It’s all hung up on that use of the word “legal” in the phrase “legal bribe.” What does that even mean?

Exclusive tweets!

2. Why is Alter not chasing the story himself?
If his juicy, tabloid-friendly morsel does contain plenty of truth—and Alter seemed sure enough on Twitter, where everything’s a lark—then why is he imploring others to pick up the baton? I understand full well that it’s not his beat and never was, but to publicly hope for Twitter to run with his initial blast is also disappointing. When a journalist grabs a scoop by the scruff of his neck, he doesn’t let go until every drop of blood is wrung from the target between his teeth. Alter’s unwillingness to chase suggests to me that there either isn’t much to go on, or that his initial 140-character salvo is about as far as it goes.

An opaque inference of money changing hands. Hardly the kind of thing to disrupt Sepp Blatter’s midmorning tea, is it?

Someone else do it!

3. Why is no-one else talking?
If there is a serious mountain of corruption being hidden under the flimsiest of rugs, why is Alter’s source—I assume it’s someone within the Washington political machine, which is Alter’s domain these days, but I have no confirmation—the only person whispering in reporters’ ears about it? Andy Anson, head of the failed England 2018 bid, offered nothing substantive beyond the expected sour grapes. Sunil Gulati was polite and contrite, hinting at impropriety yet dancing around it like any good diplomat. Chuck Blazer was respectful and opined briefly upon the need for change within FIFA’s voting system.

There are plenty of other angry people who were involved in the bidding process; the Australian contingent has spoken out with fury, in particular paid consultant Peter Hargitay, a man with a less-than-clean slate himself, marked with a reputation for sleaze. And yet, the best we’ve got is Jonathan Alter’s source buzzing in his ear? If there’s a lot more to this story, you’d imagine plenty more to be forthcoming about it, though perhaps I’m underestimating the power of FIFA’s omerta.

Call to (Twitter) Arms

Ultimately, this story could have legs, but could just as easily be a big sloppy false alarm. We all want to see proof of FIFA’s sin unearthed with every passing day, and yet, a compelling case against soccer’s ruling body has been a slow drip instead of an avalanche. The Sunday Times made a breakthrough in uncovering voter corruption, but the follow-through, especially if Alter is indeed speaking truth, needs to arrive momentarily.

And so, I put it to established journos worth their druthers to give Alter a ring and see what he has to say. Heck, give us a name or a number. If he’s got a few names in the rolodex, it’d serve him well to hook others up beyond just “Twitter” and get some real reporting on these stories. Something beyond he-said, she-said. Something more substantive than a short shrill note on a social networking site. Maybe it’s in the works, but considering the screeching halt to Alter’s gossip, it remains to be seen.

About the Author

James T


  1. Ryan

    Alter’s magazine sold for $1. You’re expecting first rate journalism?

  2. Outside Mid

    Give ‘im beans! This is a big slopppy, unsatisfying tease.

  3. Outside Mid

    ^^So sloppy, it’s worth 3 Ps apparently

  4. James T

    I’m certainly expecting more than what we got, which is essentially “Hey! This is big news! Now someone else go and find it!”

  5. Anonsters

    The election protests in Iran should’ve demonstrated that Twitter/the intarwebz can be used as more than just a place for you to exercise your wit. I’m a bit puzzled by your Alter-directed whinging, JT. If he clearly has no intention of investigating the story because he has other fish to fry (or other fish to munch on while cozying up to his sources and so not really doing any serious journalism), you’re saying, what? That he should just sit on it forever?

  6. James T

    Just saying I’m dissatisfied by his “reporting”. Friend told him something, he got everyone all up in arms about it, and he seems to have no intention of putting it all together beyond errant gossip.

  7. James T

    Also, your point about Iran/Twitter/interwebz is well taken, but this is hardly in the same ballpark. And, may we look at the ratio of successful internet movements to those that never really got off the ground…

  8. Anonsters

    Yeah, the Iran election protest thing was a stretch as an analogy, but I was just trying to make the point. :P I don’t have a problem with what he did. He obviously doesn’t have any intention of pursuing the tip. But at the same time, why not put it out there and try to stir up some good old/new fashioned cloud reporting?

  9. James T

    Fair enough. Just thought he was cooking in the kitchen, looking for sous chefs on Twitter, yet keeping the recipe all to himself, to use an even worse analogy. And the “legal bribe” note is just so vague that it could be chasing a false lead. Needs more than 140 chars

  10. Anonsters

    Well, I agree, if he has more information that he can release (within his obligations to his source, etc. etc.), he should dish the dirt. I suppose I was just assuming that he doesn’t have much more than that if that’s all he released.

  11. Ryan

    The legal bribe thing interests me as well. Could it be possible that he just doesn’t understand the bidding process?

  12. Anonsters

    I heard something the other day (on the Grauniad pod?) about how it used to be legal to bribe people in Switzerland or some shit. Maybe that’s related.

  13. James T

    @Anonsters @Ryan
    The legal bribe thing just needs clarification from him, even if he goes no further. Else he might just be roiling the Twitterverse into a frenzy over absolutely nothing. He wouldn’t be the first, but still. Meh.

  14. Anonsters

    Tuesdays and Wednesdays kind of suck without CL to watch.

  15. James T

    2.45p ET – Liverpool v. FC Utrecht – Europa League

    Yeah, I see your point.

  16. Keith

    The fuck’s a Twitter?

  17. Outside Mid

    I smell a Bochum…

  18. Shane

    @pup: Refs aren’t gettin taken care of by teh SF-Eh?, gotta pay the bills somehow.

  19. Anonsters

    Is it mandatory that SPL refs have named ending in -ie? Dougie. Stevie.

  20. Shane

    My full name is actually Shaneie. It’s just tough for the Murican’s to deal with.

  21. dan

    I straight up think these tweets are stupid and should be embarrassing to this guy if he considers himself a real reporter. Is this all he has? Then he should be quiet until/unless he finds some actual proof that he can present.

  22. dan

    Also, anyone have a liverpool feed?

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