The impossible becomes real: Murray Chass reaches new lows

December 8th, 2006 → 11:18 am @ // 11 Comments

More than two years ago, The New York Times established a written code for the use of anonymous sources. Murray Chass seems determined to blow those guidelines right out of the water. Especially when it comes to the Red Sox.

Today’s column, “Talk of Misconduct Is Swirling Around Red Sox,” is a case in point. “People in baseball,” Chass writes, “seem to view the Red Sox as a team that feels it can operate outside the rules.” Proof of this is the fact that “executives at several clubs” said the Sox were “a hot topic of private conversation at the general managers’ meeting” and the winter meetings. “Several” MLB officials agreed with this assessment. “Others,” Chass writes, “described Colletti as angry about the Drew development and said that relations between Colletti and Theo Epstein, Boston’s general manager, had become strained to the point where Colletti wasn’t returning Epstein’s telephone calls.” Now that, I buy. I mean, except for the fact that Colletti and Theo were actively discussing a Manny trade as recently as a couple of days ago.

What’s Murray’s proof for all this? The fact that J.D. Drew opted out of his three-year, $33 million deal with the Dodgers and went on to sign a five-year, $70 million deal with the Sox. An “executive of one club” — not the Dodgers, obviously — said “the Dodgers’ owner, Frank McCourt, was certain tampering had occured.” (McCourt, Chass said, couldn’t be reached for comment because he was “traveling” — apparently in an alternate universe in which cell phones don’t exist.) What’s more, “at various times last season, Drew displayed what appeared to be positive feelings about playing in Los Angeles.”

Now let’s check out those Times guidelines:

“The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy. When we use such sources, we accept an obligation not only to convince a reader of their reliability but also to convey what we can learn of their motivation — as much as we can supply to let a reader know whether the sources have a clear point of view on the issue under discussion.”

* In the period between November 1 and today, exactly one writer has raised specific speculation concerning the possibility of Red Sox tampering in relation to Drew (according to a Nexis search of “Red Sox” and “tampering” for all U.S. news sources): Murray Chass.

* Frank McCourt lost out on his bid to buy the Red Sox.

* He’s also a bit of, shall we say, a nut.

* As far as reliability goes, we have a) Scott Boras, an agent who’s known to squeeze every last dollar out of every player’s contract…to the point where he convinces players (such as, say, J.D. Drew) to sit out and miss a year of MLB service rather than sign a deal he doesn’t like; and b) a market in which Juan Pierre is worth $9 million a year. Of course, you wouldn’t learn this from Chass’s piece.

“Confidential sources must have direct knowledge of the information they are giving us — or they must be the authorized representatives of an authority, known to us, who has such knowledge.”

We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation, unless the very act of speculating is newsworthy and can be clearly labeled for what it is.”

* The fact that some GMs are club executives are griping about other GMs and club executives is about as speculative and newsworthy as the John McCain’s campaign advisor speculating that Rudy Giuliani isn’t as nice as everyone thinks he is.

“Anonymity should not be invoked for a trivial comment, or to make an unremarkable comment appear portentous.”

That one pretty much speaks for itself.

Maybe the Red Sox did sit Scott Boras down and tell him that if Drew opted out of his Dodgers contract they’d guarantee a better deals; maybe Boras simply realized the Sox needed an outfielder, they had some money to spend, and had expressed interest in Drew in the past. I have no idea (although I do have some speculations). But there’s nothing in Chass’s article that offers up a shred of evidence in support of what he’s claiming…and there’s a lot of pertinent information he left out.

***

In the two years, one month, and several weeks since the Red Sox won the World Series, Chass (again, according to a Nexis search), has written 195 columns that refer to the Red Sox by name; that’s compared to 271 columns that deal with the Yankees and 231 that refer to the Mets. Thirty of Chass’s columns have ID’d Theo Epstein by name; 36 have dealt with Brian Cashman, the general manager of the Yankees. Which means the baseball columnist for the largest paper in New York City has dealt with the Red Sox just 16 percent less than he’s dealt with one New York team and 28 percent less than he’s written about the other. The GM of the Sox has appeared in Chass’s columns a mere 17 less than the GM of the Yankees.

Those kind of figures make it worthwhile quoting the Times‘s ethics policy:

“Conflicts of interest, real or apparent, may arise in many areas. They may involve tensions between journalists’ professional obligations to our audience and their relationships with news sources, advocacy groups, advertisers, or competitors; with one another; or with the company or one of its units. And at a time when two-career families are the norm, the civic and professional activities of spouses, household members and other relatives can create conflicts or the appearance of them.”

Sow what’s going on? Those guidelines — combined with Murray Chass’s frequent disregard for reality and common sense, his clear obsession with the Red Sox, and the many e-mails I get from Times employees complaining about Chass’s reporting have resulted in a new theory: the Times is continuing to print Chass’s columns so that they can be used in a future workshop designed to show reporters what they should not do in their own work. Honestly, it’s the only explanation that makes any sense.


Post Categories: 2006 Hot Stove Season & Media ethics & Murray Chass & New York Times

11 Comments → “The impossible becomes real: Murray Chass reaches new lows”


  1. sturock

    11 years ago

    Thanks so much for writing this. As a Met fan, I used to bemoan Chass’s unwarranted and unrelenting attacks on my team throughout the Phillips-Valentine era. He went way beyond the call of accuracy and good taste. It seemed quite a lot like a personal vendetta, especially against Valentine. I wonder if the same thing is going on vis a vis the Red Sox. He’s been all over them for eyars and I’m happy you ran the stats to prove it. He’s so much worse than just a Yankee whore. He’s a mean, spiteful, crotchety old jerk who recycles lame old-school statistics and appears to have no clue how and why organizations do what they do. Or maybe it’s not that he has no clue. He just has no humanity or sympathy and appears to take no joy in what he does. I’m not surprised that some ethical lapses are coming into play too. Keep up the Chass-bashing!

    Reply

  2. jneu

    11 years ago

    For an entire generation, Chass was the best reporter in the country on baseball labor issues, a beat that mattered enormously during the upheavals of free-agency and lockouts and strikes. Unfortunately, the Times has continued to run his baseball notes column (still heavy on labor talk) long after he appears to have lost interest in writing entertainingly or informatively about the game itself. The anti-Red Sox venom has been embarrassing for years, but today’s column struck me, too, as a new low, devoid of substance and laden with innuendo. Sad, really.

    Reply

  3. chris

    11 years ago

    See, this is why I hav a macro that, whenever word detects the words “murray chass”, inserts “lying sack of shit.”

    Reply

  4. lonborgski

    11 years ago

    Seth: You need to read every word; it’s not a “written code for the use of anonymous sources,” but “Confidential News Sources.” Since the word “News” is part of the title, Murray, quite rightfully, concludes that it doesn’t apply to sports writers.

    Reply

  5. corrdawggy

    11 years ago

    Interesting that you also do not identify your sources.

    “the many e-mails I get from Times employees complaining about Chass’s reporting have resulted in a new theory”

    Yeah, that’s almost as interesting as the fact that a) this is a blog, not a news operation with 1000+ editorial employees, b) I don’t have some sort of written code of ethics and guidelines, c) I’ve never been accused of making up or plagiarizing dozens of stories (as a Times reporter was), and d) nor have I been accused of, you know, helping to provide justification used to start a war. Oh, and it’s also almost exactly as interesting as your making this comment without identifying yourself — you know, anonymously.

    — Seth

    Reply

  6. spira

    11 years ago

    Chass was not only the best reporter in the country on baseball’s labor matters, he may have been the only one. For a long time, most reporters just took the “ungrateful players are greedy” issue, and even those who got past that impulse didn’t understand the issues well enough to report them accurately. This was as much of the fault of the editors as the reporters, though, since most sports reporters understandably just didn’t come with the skill set to deal with complex collective bargaining issues, and someone from the news side who did understand the issues should have been gotten the assignment. But this is sports, and even today, it’s not treated seriously. If sports reporters were forced to follow the same basic procedures as news reporters, they’d be in trouble. I’m not surprised that even the Times holds their sports reporters to a lower standard than the rest of the reporters.

    Reply

  7. Zootster

    11 years ago

    Seth: You need to read every word; it’s not a “written code for the use of anonymous sources,” but “Confidential News Sources.” Since the word “News” is part of the title, Murray, quite rightfully, concludes that it doesn’t apply to sports writers.
    *****************************
    Since when is there a formal distinction between current events, arts, sports and other areas of ‘news’? The distinction is between ‘news’ generically and opinion. Whatever Chass thinks he’s doing – and I have my suspicions – it isn’t writing pure opinion.

    Reply

  8. alasky

    11 years ago

    “We haven’t reached a decision yet,” Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager, told The Times before leaving the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla.

    This quote from the article would at least suggest that it’s not just Murray Chass who believes this, but the actual GM looking into it. Thus, it’s not totally unfair by Chass.

    Not defending him as a writer, but at least in this instance, you may be getting a tad aggresive:

    * In the period between November 1 and today, exactly one writer has raised specific speculation concerning the possibility of Red Sox tampering in relation to Drew (according to a Nexis search of “Red Sox” and “tampering” for all U.S. news sources): Murray Chass.

    There may only one writer suggesting so, but there’s at least one GM as well, therefore, making it a semi-interesting piece, true or untrue.

    Reply

  9. Jossip

    11 years ago

    Jiblets: Policies Good, Breaking Them Bad…

    • Seth Mnookin joins parade calling bullshit on NYT’s anonymous source policy. • Ken Auletta can’t call others smug when he himself, is you know, that too. • Katie Couric isn’t the only diva at CBS News. • HuffPo’s Rachel……

    Reply

  10. corrdawggy

    11 years ago

    Take it easy dude. You’ve got to admit it’s ironic that in the same entry you lambaste Chass for not revealing his sources you do the exact same thing. The fact that you have no written code of ethics, does not mean that you get a free pass. As for Chass obsession with the Sox, is it really that strange? I mean he is basically a Yankee writer right? One would expect a lot of coverage of their biggest rival. If we’re talking obsession with the other side, how many times are the Yanks mentioned in Boston papers? Maybe you should do another Nexis search.

    Reply

  11. Nordberg

    11 years ago

    Speaking of once relevant sports writers who have lost their way and seem to have an agenda in their columns, allow me to mention Dan Shaughnessy.

    Corrdawggy: I have to agree with Seth on this one. The point he’s trying to make is that the Times has a written code of ethics that, in Chass’ case, it does not follow. Also, it is not ironic that Seth mentions acquaintences at the Times and does not name them while at the same time criticizing Chass’ use of anonymous sources. That’s more of a coincidence.

    Chass does seem to have an odd and unhealthy obsession with the Red Sox and seeing them fall on their faces. And in the case of the Globe, its writers do mention the Yankees a lot, but not with venom and spite. I think that, clearly, there is a great difference in tone and intent.

    I would challenge you to find a Globe writer who refers to the Yankees in the same tone as Chass does the Red Sox.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: