In silence, there is fear.
As players and veterans of the news business, we've never been ones to accept the old adage, "No news is good news." In the current online poker climate, players and industry types spend inordinate amounts of their waking hours waiting for something--anything!--that will lead them to some conclusion about what's really happening out there. What are the sites doing? What is the government doing? Something has to be happening.
We once had a boss who said, "There is no such thing as good news or bad news. There's just news."
And that's what everybody needs right now. They need something to think about. They need something to get their minds off the fact that they have way too much money tied up in NETeller. They need something to distract them from the possibility that their online games are going to dry up. They need something to make them feel like if they wait just long enough, everything will go back to normal and the bad dream will be over.
And thus began the rampant rumor that poker's godfather, Doyle Brunson, had been arrested.
Looking for a Martyr
Poker players, by and large, are not people who put a lot of stock into symbolism. Sure, there are poker writers like us. There are people who view poker as a life-mirror game. But, overall, poker players are pretty literal people. They know the pot size. They know the bet size. They know the odds. What they want is information and they will take it however they can get it.
Still, in this new climate of online poker uncertainty, there are a lot of symbols and ideas under attack. Personal freedom, personal privacy, a nation's view of its world, and world's view of its most powerful nation. All of these and more are on the block for review right now. Not many people would debate that Doyle Brunson symbolizes all that is poker. Chris Moneymaker may have kicked off the revolution. The balla crowd may be beating up the game from the bottom. But Texas Dolly symbolizes the game and any attack on him--real or imagined-- is going to draw more than a little attention.
It may be constructive, first, to figure out why. The obvious answer is, "Well, everybody loves Doyle." And that's true. A better answer is that Doyle's exit from the poker world in handcuffs would pretty much signal then end of everything. If Doyle were to die, he would be memorialized. If he were to retire, he would be roasted and applauded. If he were to be arrested (for anything involving the government's crackdown on online gaming, anyway) he would be martyred. That said, even in martyrdom, even Brunson would probably admit that his potential arrest would mean that the sky has, indeed, fallen.
Everyone's eyes on are the sky right now. Some people insist they see it falling. Others insist they are surrounded by a bunch of Chicken Littles. If Doyle went down, however, most people would agree, the shit would be on more than just the fan.
Even if you question that argument, ask yourself, what other rumor could spread as fast as that in the poker community? Even a rumor that an online poker company had gone to hell could easily be refuted by logging on and seeing if it were still running.
No, none of that would get alll this attention.
Doyle's rumored arrest was the thing.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
It wasn't at all hard to figure out where the first whiffs of the rumor began. Emad Tahtouh started everything off with a post to The Poker Network, an Australia-based site. In a post that was edited four times over the course of seven or so hours, Tahtouh claimed to have reliable but unsubstantiated information that Brunson has been arrested. Where he initially heard this rumor is unknown, but by 3:30pm on the day the rumor started, even Tahtouh was calling bullshit on himself. What he couldn't take back were the tons of blogs and forum posts that followed his initial cry. Most sites reported the story by way of a "Doyle Brunson Arrested?" headline with links to the offending forum post. It didn't matter that by 1pm Gambling 911 was reporting that the reports were all a bunch of "hooey." The seed had been planted. More importantly, the Google spiders had already started crawling.
Spiders, you say? Well, of course. It is no secret why Brunson's non-story spread as fast as it did. A story like this, even if it doesn't have even a lick of truth to it, is going to be searched on Google more times than we can all count on our digits. And that's traffic, baby. And traffic is the same thing as money in the online world.
While it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, consider the death of Anna Nicole Smith. The
star let died under mysterious circumstances in a second-rate casino in Florida. The ensuing news coverage eclipsed anything we would've seen if most members of Congress died. A one-time serious newsman, Wolf Blitzer dedicated the whole of his "Situation Room" program to live wall-to-wall coverage of Smith's demise. Where a sarcastic Jack Cafferty asked in his toss-back to Blitzer, "Is Anna Nicole Smith still dead?" (read: I just talked about a bunch of serious shit, now back to your fluff), Blitzer kept a straight face, as if Smith's death was in fact the international mystery he was making it out to be. Only one news person (not even really a news person) really fessed up about it. Court TV's Jami Floyd said (paraphrasing here) "Why did we give so much coverage to Anna Nicole Smith? Ratings, that's why."
We here are no exception, to be sure. We make SEO efforts like everybody else. In fact, it could be legitimately argued that what we're doing here is the same thing that fueled this rumor to begin with. And we wouldn't argue that. Regardless, it is an interesting foundation for a debate about the free exchange of information and the risk/reward of allowing citizen journalists to influence how we spend our days. All in all, this thing was up and down in less than 12 hours. The thing about the internet, though, is that, regardless of how quick it's up and down, it's here forever. If you don't believe it, just ask John Seigenthaler Sr. A lot of people still think there's a chance he killed Robert Kennedy.
In the end, what we have here amounts to the struggles of an industry and its players. Everybody wants some news to get them through the day. There are dark hours when many of us wonder if this hobby or our jobs will even be around in a year. When we are weary, we look to our forefathers and we look for information. Sometimes, we get on such tilt that we're willing to believe just about anything--even if we did hear it from a poker player.