Rarely a week goes by without Jason Mo ruffling somebody’s feathers on social media or the poker forums, but his provocations have drawn more than their usual amount of attention recently due to his latest choice of target: the internet’s best-known and most-visited poker media outlet, PokerNews. Among those who took issue with Mo’s criticisms was Remko Rinkema, one of the more prolific freelancers in the business, who writes regularly for PokerNews, as well as reporting for major tournament organizers like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the World Poker Tour.
Now, the two of them are scheduled to appear on an episode of Joey Ingram’s podcast this coming Friday, February 27 at 3 PM EST. If you haven’t tuned in before, Ingram’s podcast is one of the best-regarded in the poker world, and he’s consistently able to attract major players and industry figures to make appearances. You’ll be able to catch the interview through his Twitch channel or on YouTube.
Mo versus the media
Mo’s beef with the poker media in general and PokerNews specifically is longstanding, and originates largely from what he sees as a lack of professionalism and journalistic integrity. Like many professional players, he complains frequently about inaccuracies in things such as live tournament updates, and with the generally pro-industry slant adopted by most sites.
Mo is, of course, not entirely wrong about any of this, though his decision to blame writers themselves is misguided and the problems he points out have much less to do with the poker industry than they do with journalism, particularly niche journalism in the internet era. The internet news cycle is extremely short, and budgets and staff counts are far lower than they were in the print journalism era, meaning that writers are frequently rushed. Meanwhile, it’s true that when it comes to media for a niche industry like poker, the businesses being covered are also the ones paying the bills in one form or another. Individual sites may be more or less inclined to “play nice,” depending on their exact business model, but in an era when readers are accustomed to receiving their news for free, it seems a rather fantastical expectation that any niche site should be completely independent of industry money. It’s unfortunate, but until such time as the paradigm shifts again, it’s the reality.
Mo’s resentment has grown more specifically targeted at PokerNews in recent months, as a result of the unpopular changes being made at PokerStars. Mo, who spent most of his career as a high-stakes heads-up player on PokerStars, is among those most vocally opposed to the site’s decision to slash the VIP Rewards program for its top-volume players with minimal warning. Meanwhile, he sees PokerNews as being far too much “in the pocket” of PokerStars, though his guesses at how much money the former receives from the latter are laughably high. That said, his impression is has probably not been helped at all by recent rumors that PokerNews was secretly acquired by PokerStars owner Amaya some time last summer, or possibly earlier.
The last straw: Galfond’s op-ed
Mo’s most recent tirade was sparked by an “op-ed” penned by high-profile professional player Phil Galfond, and posted by PokerNews. In his piece, Galfond expresses the opinion that it’s irresponsible of the high stakes poker community to keep allegations of fraud and unpaid debts private, and that players have a responsibility to call out dishonest players publicly, for the protection of others. He proceeds to out Samuel Touil, who he claims borrowed $250,000 from him with no intention of repaying it. Mo’s opinion is that, although Galfond is very likely telling the truth and Touil is very likely a scammer, taking such allegations public is a slippery slope, and it’s therefore unprofessional of PokerNews to give Galfond a platform in this manner.
It sets a super bad precedent that @PhilGalfond is allowed to put a scammer from his perspective like its fact
— Jason Mo (@cuntycakes123) February 17, 2016
Being the guy he is, Mo decided to drag anyone he could into the fray by repeatedly describing the poker community in general as “stupid,” and everyone working at PokerNews as “idiots getting paid minimum wage yo [sic] spew nonsense about poker.” Needless to say, this didn’t go over particularly well with everyone, since a high percentage of poker writers have done a piece for PokerNews at some point. Rinkema was among those who came to the defence of the site and his fellow writers, leading Mo to challenge him to a debate on the subject.
The gauntlet is thrown
Since Mo’s opposition to PokerNews is such that he won’t agree to an interview which would appear there, the two of them ultimately agreed on Ingram’s podcast as reasonably neutral ground to conduct their war of words. I think it’s an excellent choice, myself. Ingram has generally been on the side of players rather than industry, and seems more amused and less annoyed than most at Mo’s demeanor. At the same time, he has described Rinkema as a personal friend and “one of the hardest-working people in the poker media,” so it’s probably safe to say he won’t be taking sides. Most importantly, he seems as excited as anyone else to see what happens once the two are able to butt heads without being hobbled by Twitter’s character limit.
It’s going to be an important conversation, because the relationship between professional players and the poker industry has disintegrated dramatically over the past six months or so, and the media increasingly finds itself caught between these two competing interests. Whereas once it was easy enough to write from a viewpoint that could please everyone, it’s increasingly becoming a tricky balancing act even for those of us most firmly committed to journalistic integrity. I don’t know what’s going to come out of Mo and Rinkema’s debate, but the media’s role and public expectations thereof in the current climate is a discussion that needs to be had… and, knowing Mo, if the discussion fails to be productive, then at least it can hardly fail to be entertaining.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.