by mike in boston @mikeinboston [hatemailaccount /a/t/ gmail /com]
The Curious Case of Mike Toth
The hiring of George Strombolopoulous as the face of HNIC prompted several opinion pieces from a range of hockey outlets, blogs, and media critics. This site hosted a media roundtable on the subject last week. One piece you might have missed was entitled “Death of a Sportscaster” and it was written by ex-Rogers employee Mike Toth. In it, Toth argues that the Strombo hiring is indicative of a lack of respect in Canadian media for the job of the sportscaster, and sends a terrible message to all sports broadcasters struggling to work their way up the ladder.
Mr. Toth last made news around these parts back in summer of 2013 when TSM/Jonah criticized Toth for making a spectacle of himself at the Masai Ujiri press conference. Some of you might be new readers to the site or too young to remember the case history involving Mike Toth, so let’s take a walk back in time to 2008. At that time Toth was co-hosting a mid-morning show with Mike Hogan. Toth replaced Don Landry, who had moved to the morning show. Toth moved to radio after a stint hosting a hockey show on Rogers Sportsnet. It’s hard to quantify the success of his time on television since Toth was voted the most annoying TV announcer in a Star poll. Nevertheless, Toth’s star was shining mostly brightly at this time. In fact, he was asked to host PTS during a McCown absence, and was tabbed by some to be McCown’s eventual successor on the FAN’s flagship radio show.
But things eventually took a turn for the worse. In Fall of 2009 Toth was let go from the FAN. He later caught on at Newstalk 1010, and has remained there in spite of TSN Radio’s launch. One might have thought someone with his track record would have been a natural hire for TSN, since they scooped up established sports radio people like Bryan Hayes and Mike Hogan, and even Scott Ferguson. I have not listened to 1010 in about 15 years so I don’t know what his role involves, but he lists himself as their Sports Director.
Now, there are conflicting stories about what exactly went wrong towards the end at Rogers/SN/FAN590. In his piece, Toth says that he has been “black-balled” by Canadian network television for “being too opinionated” and “hurting our brand.” I contacted Mr. Toth by email to see if he would be interviewed for this site. He more or less politely declined though he did add that he has “never been fired from any broadcast job in [my] life.” [note – I am using this quote since Mr. Toth also repeated it in the comments section on his blog.] So what happened to precipitate Toth’s exit from Rogers?
One thing is clear: Toth’s personality was an issue. The Star poll confirms that many people found him grating. His radio presence was very bombastic and brash. But of course many people in radio share those traits. So, this is not a very compelling explanation for Toth’s eventual departure. The radio show was not getting great ratings, but that had been a problem for that time slot for a very long time.
As Toth’s blog attests, he sees himself as a straight-shooter and believes that his propensity to ‘tell it like it is’ is too much for some people to handle. McCown has made a career out of being a contrarian, so it is possible to play this role into career success. Admittedly there is a difference though: Bob is a faux-contrarian, and adopts positions just to get a rise out of people. Indeed, the FAN markets the show with the tagline “whatever you’re for, he’s against it!” (As bad as this ad is, it is an improvement over the promos indicating that Bob kicks his dog.) For better or for worse, Toth is someone who says what he actually thinks, and so evades the charge of being disingenuous like McCown.
Toth’s approach has some commonalities with Don Cherry’s but that’s not a perfect comparison either. Cherry is a borderline racist whose opinions were set in stone 40 years ago. So when he ‘tells it like it is’, he’s mostly just ranting dogmatically. Toth actually tries to defend his positions. If you look at this piece, his main complaint is that Strombo is underserving of such a high profile job because he lacks hockey credentials. That’s a perfectly fine position to hold, and I imagine many people share it. But instead of making the argument that Strombo will be a bad hockey analyst, Toth complains that Strombo hasn’t paid his dues.
You can see why Toth is attracted to his argument. Toth is a guy who has paid his dues, but has been drummed out of the business nonetheless. In his mind, it’s because he tells it like it is. He’s too dangerous! But once you look at the evidence a different picture emerges, one that has more to do with telling it like it’s not. Toth was let go by the FAN shortly after claiming:
“This is going to sound harsh, but be that as it may, here it comes: There are no female sportscasters that I can think of that have more knowledge than their male counterparts.”
This was obviously an off-the-cuff remark and he was unprepared to defend it. But it gives some insight into the mind of a guy who sees himself as telling it like it is without having really thought the point through. (Note: we have been having an ongoing discussion on this site about the lack of women in sports media.)
There were other serious lapses in judgment. In one of his call-in shows he encouraged callers to rip on Mike Wilner. I’m someone who thinks Wilner lowers the bar in talk radio and is a disservice to Jays fans, but this clearly violates professional ethics. (You can read Wilner’s whiny yet somehow condescending reply here). Beyond these two incidents, many will remember Toth asking a guest for free tickets on the air. Lastly, I’m told he has reputation for attacking people on Twitter. I’ve only been following him for a few weeks, so I can’t comment on previous incidents, but following the publication of his blog on Strombo he spent a lot of time making sarcastic remarks @strombo.
What do we get when put this all together? It paints a picture of a guy who is just not fully in touch with reality. He sees himself as a straight-shooter while most others see him as a clueless jerk. That’s when the right parallel became clear to me. Damian Goddard was “let go” from Sportsnet back in 2011 after tweeting out his support for “REAL” marriage and opposing marriage equality. If you visit his website you’ll see that he regards himself as having been drummed out of the business for speaking his mind. Sound familiar?
Both men see themselves as victims of an agenda designed to silence their outspoken ways. But Goddard is not guilty of being outspoken. He is guilty of believing that his religious opinion of others should shape social policy and determine civil and political rights. He’s wrong about that. The agenda that is opposing him is political equality. It’s worth remembering that the people who opposed inter-racial marriage also saw themselves as fighting against PC bullshit. They were wrong too. Damian Goddard took his firing to the Human Rights Commission on grounds of religious freedom and lost.
Very few people ever fully leave the Canadian sports media scene. I’ve commented before that there are next to no examples of people who flunk out of the business once they have a job. So, it seems likely that Mr. Toth will be directing the sports department over at 1010 for many years to come. I’ve never met Mike Toth so I can’t pretend to know who the real Mike Toth is, but his public persona is fully formed at this time. I’m sure his former colleagues at TSN, Sportsnet, and the FAN have a much better sense of whether there is more there than what we the audience see and hear.
In a piece by Cathal Kelly he cites a quote from Goddard: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” I think we can all agree with this statement. There is something brave about trying to walk that line, but there is also a risk that one will end up walking on the stupid side without knowing it.
(note: I contacted Mr. Toth several times for comment but did not receive any reply.)
thanks for reading,
until next time …
mike (in boston)