January 18th, 2007 → 8:33 am @ Seth Mnookin
More readers send in their email correspondences with Murray Chass. This one is a gem.
“I would prefer not replying to your e-mail, but I need to tell you that you know nothing about journalism.It’s also questionable that you know anything about baseball, but I’ll leave that for you and your buddies to decide. If you want to talk about unhealthy obsessions, what about your obsessive need to comment on what I write? At least I get paid for what I write.
From a journalistic standpoint, it would have been remiss of me to write about the unusually long delay in Bonds signing his contract without noting that there was another such case. Had that other case involved Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, you would not have given it a second’s thought. But when ‘Red Sox’ appeared on your radar, you could not let it go without responding. That, my friend, is obsessive.
From a journalistic standpoint, it would also be remiss not to, at the very, very, very least, correct a glaring, blatant mistake that Chass printed one month ago: that the tension between Theo and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti resulted in a stony silence throughout the winter meetings. (I’ve written before about what Chass’s original article said about the questionable ethics of the sports section.) Within days of Chass’s original article, the Globe wrote that, â€šÃ„ÃºThrough a Dodgers spokesman, Colletti also refuted Chassâ€šÃ„Ã´s allegation that there was a rift between Colletti and Epstein, and that he refused to take Epsteinâ€šÃ„Ã´s phone calls in Orlando. â€šÃ„Ã²They probably talked about 20 times last week,â€šÃ„Ã´ 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.â€šÃ„Ã¹
But apparently, as Murray’s said before, he’d stake his “nearly 40 years at the Times” against other news outlets…even if those other news outlets actually, you know, talk to sources and stuff: “Ask anybody in the business, and he will tell you my reporting is always correct, whether Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m quoting people by name or not. You donâ€šÃ„Ã´t have to believe what I have reported, but thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s your problem, not mine.â€šÃ„Ã¹ And, apparently, Ned Colletti’s.
Also, from a baseball standpoint, the notion that Manny would be patrol perhaps the most spacious right field in baseball…well, it’s pretty moronic. Almost as moronic as suggesting Barry Bonds might end up wearing a Red Sox uniform, both of which Murray did yesterday.
Finally, if you’re interested in someone who knows something about both journalism (or at least writing) and baseball, check out Jose Melendez’s Keys to the Game. Astute readers will know that Jose has one of my coveted (and almost never updated) links on the left-hand rail of this page. Jose is also recogized in the acknowledgments of my first book. And, as Jose has said, I’m the only person ever to have bought a Keys to the Game thong. (Don’t ask.)
January 17th, 2007 → 9:51 am @ Seth Mnookin
Speaking of Murray, in the past week or so, I’ve been forwarded a whole slew of readers’ correspondences with Murray Chass. (Standard caveat: I have absolutely no way of knowing if these emails are legit, although this is a lot of trouble to go to if they’re not.) One thing they show us: Murray should think about spellchecking his email, especially when writing to the public.* Or pubic, as the case may be. They also demonstrate that Chass has a very healthy sense of his own skills.
Here’s some selected quotations from Chass’s response to a reader’s complaint about his ongoing obsession with the J.D. Drew (non) tampering charges:
“The Didgers (sic) pubicly (sic) and the Red Sox can refute the ‘allegation’ all they
want. The Dodgers privately believe there was tampering, and no one can
refute the existence of all of those converdsations (sic). If you were there and
monitored every conversation between and among club executives, let me know.
I would be impressed.”
There’s also this bit of condescension:
“As for Theo, I have no axe to grind with him. He’s a nice young man, and if
he were my son, I would be proud of him.”
Awww! I’m sure Theo’s thrilled.
“Your reaction reminds me of the reaction to the initial reports of Woodward and Bernstein about Watergate.No one wanted to believe them, and they were criticized for their reports.”
Seriously. I didn’t make that up.
* I have absolutely no doubt that karma will ensure that I have at least one spelling error in this post.
January 17th, 2007 → 9:49 am @ Seth Mnookin
Now, it’s very possible that I simply don’t get Murray Chass’s sense of humor…but no matter how many times I read this, I couldn’t find any indication that there was anything in here that was supposed to be a joke. But you decide:
“Six weeks after they agreed to terms on new contracts, Barry Bonds and J. D. Drew remain unsigned. Bonds hasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t signed with the Giants; Drew hasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t signed with the Red Sox. That prompts a thought. If both contracts were to fall through, the Red Sox could sign Bonds to play left field and move Manny Ramâˆšâ‰ rez back to his original position in right.”
If Chass is being serious, you need to give him credit for coming up with perhaps the all-time most idiotic idea ever. The Sox have been consistent in their desire to rid the team of distractions; they’re also trying to limit overpaying senior citizen superstars that aren’t named Roger Clemens. Putting Bonds — with his demands for special treatment and the media-circus that follows him — into the Sox’s clubhouse at Fenway is like forcing Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton to share a dressing room. And considering the media frenzy that occurs whenever Manny sneezes, can you imagine what it’d be like to have federal investigators and investigative reporters trying to see what they can dig up about Barry’s past? Good god.
(You do need to give Murray credit for finding new sources: Brian Sabean’s secretary. To wit: “Brian Sabean, the Giantsâ€šÃ„Ã´ general manager, did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment on the contract circumstances. His secretary, told what the call was about, said she did not think Sabean would comment.”)
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.”
January 9th, 2007 → 9:35 am @ Seth Mnookin
It’s a good question. On the one hand, you have my obsession with Murray Chass; on the other hand, there’s Murray’s infant-like fascination with the Red Sox. Whatever the answer to that question is, it’s fairly clear (to me, anyway), that my obsession doesn’t result in my putting bad info in a national newspaper week after week, while Murray’s does.
Like, for instance, today, when apropos of absolutely nothing, Murray revisits the J.D. Drew non-controversy. There’s no new info here — heck, there’s really not even any new reporting here, unless you count a phone call to Drew’s mom as reporting — but there is another chance for Chass to trot out his contention/implication that there was tampering going on between the Red Sox and Drew’s agent, Scott Boras. Murray’s had a hard-on for this issue for more than a month, and the fact that multiple outlets (like The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, the hometown papers of the two teams most intimately involved in this issue) have pretty much shown that Chass’s story had tenuously little connection to reality doesn’t seem to sway him one bit.
In a weird way, that’s understandable — after all, he recently told a reader that “my reporting is always correct.” But what’s up with the Times‘s editors — you know, the gatekeepers? At least one national sportswriter has written in to them, asking why Chass is allowed to print information that’s demonstrably false (like the claim that Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was refusing to talk to Theo when, Colletti readily confirmed that the two were speaking almost daily), or, for that matter, why Chass’s stories seem completely exempt from corrections.
Somehow, I doubt we’ll ever get an answer to that question. Sigh.
December 19th, 2006 → 10:27 am @ Seth Mnookin
To wit: this past weekend, Brian M. emailed Murray Chass and asked about the whole Drew/Dodgers tampering story. Brian says he got this reply in return:
“I will base my reputation of nearly 40 years at the Times against anything the LA Times reported. Ask anybody in the business, and he will tell you my reporting is always correct, whether Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m quoting people by name or not. You donâ€šÃ„Ã´t have to believe what I have reported, but thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s your problem, not mine.”
Wow. “My reporting is always correct”? We’re dealing with a deity here, folks. Apparently, Chass is so omniscient that his reporting is correct even when the subjects themselves say it’s not, as was the case when Chass said people were whispering in his ear that “Colletti wasn’t returning Epstein’s telephone calls.” That was so correct that a Dodgers spokesman felt compelled to clarify that “they probably talked about 20 times last week,” just one of several “clarifications” that article prompted.
Well sure, Ned Colletti might say that…but has he checked with Murray and his 40 years in the business?
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?