January 10th, 2007 → 11:57 am @ Seth Mnookin
Some interesting comments in response to yesterday’s Chass column that are worth highlighting.
For instance, when one reader (PatsFanDK) wrote in to Chass questioning his Drew columns, Chass (purportedly) responded (after all, I can’t confirm the existence or genuineness of this email exchange), “You might want to reread what I wrote. You obviously think I wrote that the Red Sox tampered with Drew. I did not, though I suspect they did. I wrote that baseball officials and executives of other clubs were talking about their suspicions that the Red Sox tampered. If you know that is a lie, you must be a terrific reporter.”
I’d suggest once again that Chass check out the Times‘s ethic guidelines, in which agendas — especially when sources are granted anonymity — are expected to be highlighted. In Chass’s pieces, they clearly weren’t: there was no explanation of why other GMs might have a vested interest in making the Red Sox look bad, and no indication as to whether any of these GMs or executives had any previous beef with Theo or the Sox. (There also still has not been any explanation of why, if these “suspicions” were so widely discussed, virtually all of the principals have since said, on the record, that they hadn’t heard anything about it until Chass’s piece.)
A little further down, branatical points out something I had missed. Yesterday, Chass wrote that “no one is saying” if Drew had had a second physical since the Sox-administered one that apparently raised some concerns. (Chass dismissingly attributes this to “privacy laws that give general managers and agents an excuse not to talk about a playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s medical condition when they donâ€šÃ„Ã´t want to talk about itâ€šÃ„Ã¹. Damn privacy laws!) But that “no one” doesn’t include Drew himself — whom Chass has been unable to reach. Way back on December 30, Nick Cafardo was able to get this info. He wroter: “Drew sought and received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. while Red Sox team physician Dr. Thomas Gill did his own battery of tests when Drew came for a physical in mid-December.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Which seems to indicate that Chass not only is a bad reporter…he doesn’t even bother to read what else has been written about a subject he’s been jawing on about for weeks on end. Or, as branatical says, “If I am Murray Chass and I am a writer for the NY Times, I do Lexis searches and find out (A.) Other reporters in my business have actually spoken to Drew at home and (B.) other reporters have found out the name of the doctor who allegedly did a second examination. Then, I give up on my nonsensical columns about the Red Sox and write more about how Jeter and ARod are planning a trip to Holland in the spring to pick tulips, all in an effort to become close friends again.”
December 18th, 2006 → 12:02 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Yesterday, the Times‘s Murray Chass wrote about the internal debate supposedly taking place within the front office of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time since he “broke” the story on December 8 that the Dodgers were considering filing tampering charges against the Red Sox for their “signing” of J.D. Drew. “Maybe it’s the environment — laid-back Los Angeles,” Chass wrote. “Maybe he would have been tougher in a tougher environment — Boston. But Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers, not the Red Sox, and he is what he is. What he is not is a fighter. McCourt, who has been described as not being a troublemaker, chose not to pursue a tampering charge against the Red Sox over the recent signing of J. D. Drew despite the urging of officials from other clubs.”
It was an astounding item at the tail ends of an astounding week, even by Chass’s flimsy standards. (It’s also likely the first time ever that Frank McCourt has been described as a big softy.) In his original piece, Chass wrote that “many people” had “urged the Dodgers to file a tampering charge.” Chass went on to say that “[o]thers 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” and that “[a]n executive of one club said the Dodgers’ owner, Frank McCourt, was certain tampering had occurred.”
Within 24 hours, other news outlets began reporting on just how off-base Chass’s story was. On the 9th, the Globe quoted MLB CEO Bob DuPuy saying he “had not heard anything” about the topic. That on-the-record quote immediately put Chass’s the central premise of Chass’s anonymously sourced story — that the Red Sox “were a hot topic of conversation at the general managers’ meeting last month and at the winter meetings last week” — into doubt. (In the clubby world of Major League Baseball, DuPuy would have been among the first people to hear if tampering charges were seriously being discussed.) The Globe story also knocked down the patently ridiculous notion that Colletti wasn’t returning Epstein’s calls: “Through a Dodgers spokesman, Colletti also refuted Chass’s allegation that there was a rift between Colletti and Epstein, and that he refused to take Epstein’s phone calls in Orlando. ‘They probably talked about 20 times last week,’ said spokesman Josh Rawitch. Indeed, when Colletti arrived at the meetings late last Sunday night from the Dominican Republic, one of his first orders of business was to conduct an hourlong face-to-face meeting with Epstein on a possible deal for Manny Ramâˆšâ‰ rez.” (A hot conversation at both meetings most definitely was the potential of a Dodgers-Sox trade involving Manny.)
Three days later, the Los Angeles Times went one step further, writing that “[t]he Dodgers hadnâ€šÃ„Ã´t seriously considered asking Major League Baseball to investigate until a column last week in the New York Times suggested tampering had occurred.” (What’s more, Drew is still not signed, although in the scheme of things that’s a minor point.)
Chass’s creation of a story and his subsequent refusal to acknowledge his mistakes is nothing new for the Times‘s irascible sports columnist. (It’s also worth noting the likelihood that Chass is as agenda-driven as anyone on the paper; only a month ago, Chass asked — in all seriousness — if the Sox’s posting fee bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka was “evil.” He decided it was â€šÃ„Ãº[m]ind boggling perhaps, but not evil. Stunning perhaps, but not evil. Incredulous maybe, but not evil. Obscene, as an executive of another club said, but not evil.â€šÃ„Ã¹) On September 19, he wrote that the likelihood that the Mets would clinch their division at home meant the team “sold more than 10,000 extra tickets for last night’s game.” The attendance for the game Chass was referring to was 46,729. As I pointed out at the time, in the entire second half of the season, the Metsâ€šÃ„Ã´ home attendance had dipped below 45,000 only nine times, had been under 40,000 only three times, and under 35,000 only once.
A little more than a month before that, Chass wrote that the Red Sox should be embarrassed by the Yankees lead in the AL East because “the Yankees have played much of the season without a third of their starting lineup. … Bruised and bloodied, the Yankees have been winning with players named Melky and Bubba. With only a third of the season to go, they have won more than the Red Sox, who until catcher Jason Varitek had knee surgery last week, had not dealt with the extended absence of an everyday player.” That’s perilously close to an out-and-out lie: the Sox’s starting center fielder (Coco Crisp) and their starting right fielder (Trot Nixon) had both been on the DL; at the time Chass’s article ran, Nixon had already been out of commission for several weeks. What’s more, six members of the Sox’s pitching staff had been on the DL; David Wells had already been out on three separate occasions.
Chass’s stories seem to skirt many of the Times‘s codified ethics regulations. The paper’s failure to correct Chass’s errors also directly contradicts its stated policy on corrections: “As journalists we treat our readers, viewers, listeners and online users as fairly and openly as possible. Whatever the medium, we tell our audiences the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it. We correct our errors explicitly as soon as we become aware of them. We do not wait for someone to request a correction. We publish corrections in a prominent and consistent location or broadcast time slot.” Let’s see: complete, unvarnished truth? Nope. None of the examples I’ve cited above have received corrections, and several of these have been pointed out to an editor or editors in the paper’s sports department (and not by me). Responding to a query about Chass’s piece about the MASH-unit Yankees, one editor explained in an email that since Coco was not still on the disabled list, he didn’t count. And Trot? Well, he’d only “recently been injured.” Finally, since “pitchers are not considered everyday players,” they didn’t count either. So not only did the Times fail to publish a correction on its own, it actively refused to run a correction after an error had been brought to an editors attention. I still haven’t heard any explanation of why there hasn’t been a correction on the contention that Ned Colletti wasn’t returning Theo’s calls, or why the fuzzy math used for the Mets attendance boost was never clarified, or why…well, there are lots and lots of examples, including such easily verifiable information as, say, a player’s age.
I don’t mean to pick on Murray. OK, fine, that’s not true; I most definitely mean to pick on Murray. (Before someone points out the irony of my having an axe to grind with the fact that Chass has an act to grind, let me point out — and not for the first time — that this is a blog. It’s entire reason for being is so I can put forth my take on things. I have no codified ethics policy, etc etc.) But I also want to raise a larger point: why is it that the ethical guidelines so scrupulously enforced in virtually every other part of daily newspapers are ignored when it comes to the sports section? In Feeding the Monster, I wrote how an article by Dan Shaughnessy that described the mood in the Red Sox’s baseball operations department on the day that Theo Epstein’s officially returned to the team was flat-out wrong; I knew that because I (unlike Shaughnessy) was physically there. There sure as hell hasn’t been a correction on that item. Reporters carry water for sources with some regularity. Information that’s known to be false is printed. There’s been lots of talk about how the media fell down on the job during the steroids era; that seems to be the least of the problems. There are, of course, daily examples of excellent journalism being committed by sportswriters. There’s also lots and lots of crap.
I understand that the sports section is not of the same import as national or international news. But arts sections and styles sections and food sections are all held to some standards. What makes sports so different?
December 12th, 2006 → 3:01 pm @ Seth Mnookin
Remember last week, when the Times‘s Murray Chass wrote an anonymously sourced article that claimed Dodgers officials were considering filing tampering charges against the Red Sox because of the J.D. Drew signing? (I sure do.) Here was Chass’s proof: an “executive of one club” said the “Dodgers’ owner, Frank McCourt, was certain tampering had occured.”
Now, Chass got a truly shocking number of things wrong in the piece, including whether or not Theo and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti were talking (they were). Now it seems as if the entire premise of the piece was, in fact, made up out of whole cloth.
No joke. Check out this story in today’s Los Angeles Times:
“The Dodgers hadn’t seriously considered asking Major League Baseball to investigate until a column last week in the New York Times suggested tampering had occurred, leading General Manager Ned Colletti to say Friday, ‘We’ve looked into’ filing charges.’” (Emphasis added to stress just how insane this whole thing is.)
To review: Murray Chass writes one in a series of his bizarre, vitriolic rants directed at the Red Sox in which he quotes anonymous “executives” as saying the Dodgers are considering filing tampering charges…while, in reality, the Dodgers weren’t considering any such thing until Chass wrote his column!
We direct Chass to the relevant sections of the Times‘s guideline on ethics:
p. 9, paragraph 23: “[I]t is essential that we preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias.”
As well as the paper’s policy on anonymous sourcing:
“In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. … Confidential sources must have direct knowledge of the information they are giving us â€šÃ„Ã® or they must be the authorized representatives of an authority, known to us, who has such knowledge.”
Not only did the source not have direct knowledge of the information, the article actually created the exact situation it purported to report — that there was “talk of misconduct” swirling around the Sox.
It’s kind of impressive, if you think about it.
December 8th, 2006 → 11:18 am @ Seth Mnookin
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, Bostonâ€šÃ„Ã´s general manager, had become strained to the point where Colletti wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t returning Epsteinâ€šÃ„Ã´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 â€šÃ„Ã® 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 â€šÃ„Ã® 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.