The Thick Of It

The global battle against misinformation flared last week in the studio of the Nine Club, where host Chris Roberts put the ‘View’ for the switch heelflip set on pause for a few minutes to share his personal turmoil, bouts of gut-wrenching stress that verged on nausea: “The last couple of days have been really tough.”

This all was brought on by the pod-cast’s previous longform interview with Mark Oblow, longtime industry head of Prime, Gravis and other team/brand management positions over the course of several decades, who opted about 20 minutes into his nearly three-hour interview to veer abruptly into one of the darkest chapters in skateboarding’s history — Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski’s 1991 murder of Jessica Bergsten — relating a version of the story he said he had “pieced together.” Preserved here, he characterized her death as an accident chalked up to drugs and “rough sex,” that Mark Rogowski, who “wasn’t that type of person,” later turned himself in and helped authorities locate the body. He then went on to chuckle over how he ever since avoids getting rough in bed; the Nine Club hosts offered “wow” and “really” as Mark Oblow segued to a related story about later trying to work prison connections to protect Mark Rogowski from other inmates.

Articles from the LA Times and Village Voice covering the murder and trial are archived here, citing trial documents and Mark Rogowski’s own words to contradict in graphic terms this version of the story, including that Mark Rogowski confessed to initially bludgeoning Jessica Bergsten with a Club, that he had hated and resented her, and that her decomposed body was found by campers.

On IG, Youtube, the Slap Boards and elsewhere people reacted with shock and revulsion. The rape and murder Mark Rogowski committed was the subject of the 2003 ‘Stoked’ documentary and occasional message board threads since. Whereas much of the unwritten code that guides, binds, strengthens and constrains what remains of skateboarding’s tribalism is wrapped up a kind of living oral history, handed down over shop counters and traded whilst sitting on curbs, the digital age has set down half-remembered stories and rumors in pixels and binary machine languages, sharpening them, memorializing them for posterity and permanent scrutiny. In this case, the ‘receipts’ were not hard to find. Mark Oblow soon apologized for what he called “ignorant and insensitive comments,” saying that for the past 30-plus years he had believed a version of the story told to him by Mark Rogowski.

Chris Roberts apologized as well, and vowed to do a better job of policing content on what’s become one of skateboarding’s biggest platforms. “We want to be able to question a guest, challenge a guest, on what they’re saying, if it’s inaccurate, we want to be able to have that discussion and feel like we can get in there,” he said on the Nine-Club ‘Experience’ episode several days after the interview aired. “At the end of the day we don’t want anything to come out of our show that’s inaccurate, misinformation, disinformation.”

It’s a noble sentiment, if a dauntingly lofty one. Setting aside whether the Nine Club itself is equipped to identify and push back on improbable takes or wrong-seeming recollections, given the hosts’ seeming preference for going into interviews cold, there are limits that would challenge even skilled interviewers like Eric Swisher, Tim Anderson, Mike Burnett and Willy Staley, possessed of historical knowledge, the inclination to research and the tact to wade in deeper. Time’s passage, the frequent involvement of intoxicants and general human subjectivity are always gonna cast a certain gauze over the specifics of tales like Tom Penny shutting down a session in hiking boots, or the particulars of those World wheel invoices.

A bigger hurdle though is that more than ever, a given pro or industry bro has no particular need to subject themselves to potential tough questioning. Ascendant talents and established luminaries alike have their own social media platforms to post photos and clips, vids can go straight to Youtube, limited edition hand-numbered whatzits and premiumly priced apparels can be marketed directly to the fanbase. The longform podcast or published textual interview can be trimmed of controversial or uncomfortable subject matter, by appealing to friendship with the interviewer or the potential discomfort of a mutual sponsor.

It’s also unclear whether the skateboard media consumer, by and large a population intensely invested in the logos on their and others’ t-shirts, care deeply about how high up a given anecdote or tidbit lands in the great coordinate plane of narrative content, with truthfulness as the Y axis and entertainment value the X; an ‘Athletic’ or ‘Sports Illustrated’ for skateboarding has yet existed in part because there’s no significant, sustaining demand. Thrasher’s expanding space in recent years for exploring mental health and addiction, and making room on its platform for women, gay, lesbian, trans and other participants raise an interesting question as to whether that’s changing.

Should that grotesque take on a still-horrific crime have been edited out of the Nine Club episode to begin with, or was it preferable for it to be posted and to have had the whole ensuing discussion? With CNN+’s sudden plug-pulling, is there a guest pod-cast hosting spot for new free agent Chris Wallace? Who’s going to host an affordable housing debate with Mikey Taylor, or a digital asset bubble assessment with Stevie Williams and Justin Eldridge?

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2 Responses to “The Thick Of It”

  1. Paperclip Says:

    Thank you mister Boil the Ocean. This was a good read.

  2. Streetsweepers | Quartersnacks – Adidas Blog Says:

    […] “The Thick Of It” — Boil the Ocean discusses the crossroads of disinformation, fact-checking, and interviewing in trendy skate media. […]

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