The Media Column: El Pres and AOC's 'feud' was brilliant PR stunt that we all bought into

Alex Reimer
August 15, 2019 - 11:40 am

At the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union each adhered to the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, which predicted a full-scale nuclear entanglement between the two superpowers would result in the complete annihilation of both parties –– and the world. As a result, the U.S. and USSR spent the mid-20th century fighting gruesome proxy wars, stretching from Southeast Asia all the way to Latin America.

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While the stakes between two titans are seldom that high, it is not uncommon to witness larger-than-life adversaries clash with intermediaries rather than each other. Nobody wants to come at the king, because to quote Omar Little, when you do that, you best not miss. 

That is, unless you can use the confrontation as a genesis for fundraising and media whoredom. Enter El Pres and AOC.

Two of our country’s biggest heroes and boogeymen –– depending on whether you wear boat shoes or trendy thrift shop throwbacks –– went to battle on social media this week. Dave Portnoy, who embodies toxic masculinity to the vegan-only crowd, went on a rant decrying unions in the wake of the Ringer’s announced plans to unionize. On Twitter, Portnoy threatened to fire any Barstool Sports employee who attempts to form a union, prompting a rebuke from the freshman congresswoman. 

“If you’re a boss tweeting firing threats to employees trying to unionize, you are likely breaking the law and can be sued,in your words, ‘on the spot,’” Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Tuesday to her more than 5 million followers. “ALL workers in the US have the protected freedom to organize for better conditions.”

Per usual, Portnoy’s inflammatory rhetoric cited outrage from the social justice warrior blue checkmark brigade, with Deadspin and Daily Beast condemning his words. This time around, AFL-CIO –– the largest federation of unions in the country –– and the U.S. Department of Labor chimed in as well. Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal for companies to terminate employees for trying to unionize. 

Never missing the opportunity to capitalize on the PR bonanza, Portnoy spent the rest of the day challenging Ocasio-Cortez to a debate, mimicking the so-called “cool kids’ philosopher,” Ben Shapiro. On Wednesday, Portnoy also appeared on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to further rip Ocasio-Cortez. (AOC is mentioned nearly three times more often on Fox than CNN or MSNBC.) 

"The people that think I am going to jail, they're idiots,” Portnoy proclaimed. “Let me clarify real quick, we are a comedy site, we're pretty clear about that. We have no union at Barstool Sports. Nobody is trying to make a union at Barstool Sports.”

It is convenient for Portnoy to hide behind his comedic veil whenever he acts in a disgusting manner –– whether it’s humiliating a young female employee with barbs about her looks or harassing female journalists who are critical of Barstool Sports. But in this case, it is quite apparent Portnoy was joking. He’s seemingly playing into his loathsome caricature, and everyone took the bait. I mean, do these sound like the words of a serious person?

“I started a media empire by myself,” Portnoy tweeted. “Worked 32-hour days, 8 days a week. Delivered newspapers till my fingers fell off. Almost died of exhaustion 7 times. … But yeah, I’ll listen to snowflakes tell me how to run my company #brickbybrick.”

Much like when the NFL kicked Portnoy out of the Super Bowl, his feud with Ocasio-Cortez –– and by extension the so-called liberal media establishment –– is great for the Barstool brand. Spats like these are how a company valued at $100 million can continue to bill itself as an outsider. Barstool says its Twitter account gained more Twitter followers Tuesday than any other day this year, including when Portnoy was ejected from the Super Bowl.

Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, cited her feud with Barstool in a fundraising email to supporters, saying Portnoy’s anti-union screed is a “slam dunk case of worker intimidation.” Ocasio-Cortez raked in $1.2 million for her re-election in the second quarter –– the most among all freshman lawmakers.

El Pres and AOC are the perfect foils for each other, and the people behind the personas, Dave Portnoy and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appear to know this is true. They benefit when their followers get whipped into a frenzy, and given their cult-like statuses, that isn’t a difficult feat for either of them to accomplish.


Longtime Red Sox scribe Michael Silverman explains new beat at Globe: Michael Silverman has covered baseball for the Boston Herald since 1995. He will be making a big change in September, when he switches over to the Boston Globe to spearhead its new sports business and culture beat. 

In a brief phone conversation with, Silverman explained the breadth of his new venture. “It will be covering the intersection of sports with business, politics and culture,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a huge and busy intersection. But I’ve done stories like this at the Herald –– the Red Sox changing Yawkey Way, or sports betting. It could be things like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the anthem; men’s and women’s soccer; there are tons of sports companies in New England, like New Balance. There’s a lot going on.”

Silverman stresses the beat will focus on local stories, and look at issues from an analytical perspective.

“When I say ‘political,’ I’m not expecting to come down on one side or the other,” he explained. “I think it’s more of the analytical standpoint, and analyzing what’s going on and the issues involved –– like the White House invitation for a team. … This is not for the ‘stick to sports’ crowd.”

Preseason Patriots ratings trump Red Sox ratings: With the Red Sox now standing at 7.5 games out of a playoff spot, their TV ratings will expectedly take a big dip for the rest of the summer. But the numbers could get downright ugly. 

Last Thursday, for example, the Patriots drew a 12.1 for their preseason opener, which didn’t feature Tom Brady or a host of other starters. The Red Sox, meanwhile, garnered a 4.6 rating with Chris Sale on the mound.

The two clubs will go head-to-head Saturday night, with the Patriots taking on the Titans while the Red Sox host the Orioles. If Brady takes the field, the beating could get even uglier.

Mike Lynch last of an era: Legendary WCVB sports anchor Mike Lynch will sign off Thursday night for the final time. He will probably be the last recognizable network sports anchor we’ll ever have in this region.

To state the obvious, the proliferation of social media and cable sports channels have deemed the ol’ newscast sports update obsolete. Records and light wash jeans may have experienced comebacks in recent years, but the trusted local sports anchor is forever extinct.  

Related: The Media Column: Tom Brady's pending contract battle with Patriots setting up to be most contentious story in Boston sports his