On Thursday, March 28th, Simon Houpt wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail that was titled, probably not by him, As Rogers circles the Jays, it’s tough to tell press from fans.
Shots fired, huh?
In it, Houpt gets specific about these charges.
[Rogers Media president Keith] Pelley’s enthusiasm [for the synergy between the Jays and the company's broadcasting platforms] may get equity analysts and shareholders excited, but it can make sports journalists – and regular sports fans – feel kind of icky. In the most recent issue of Sportsnet magazine, their marquee sports columnist Stephen Brunt wrote a fawning article about the great chemistry between the Dominicans playing for the Jays. (The column promoted a 30-minute special Mr. Brunt hosted for the TV network called Up Close: Dominican Blue Jays.) How are we to tell that he’s applying any sort of critical eye to the subject?
Whenever these issues come up, Rogers asserts its editorial integrity by noting the critical comments made about its teams by Sportsnet personalities such as Greg Zaun and Bob McCown. Still, it’s a short step from a media boss such as Mr. Pelley urging his network executives to give the Jays wall-to-wall coverage, and the toe-curlingly partisan play-by-play commentary that characterizes so much of the regional sports networks in the United States, which are often owned by the local teams.
RIDICULOUS SLIPPERY SLOPE ALERT!
Of course, ridiculous as it is, as anyone who has been on Twitter, in the comments of this site, or has heard Fan 590 call-in shows understands, this is a charge that’s flippantly levelled at all kinds of media members in this city with some regularity. (Not typically in Canada’s Paper Of Record, though). And, naturally, it’s especially the ones in Rogers’ employ who get it– though the occasional halfwit somehow tries to twist logic enough to group me in with the tainted and controlled mass media, even though I am rather obviously not a Rogers employee.
So with that in mind, and on a day when much of the sane world is trying to calm the hopelessly irrational masses about the Blue Jays’ first week of the season– and is, in all likelihood, getting shit on for perceived homerism– it seems appropriate to take a look at how Brunt fired back, which he did on Thursday, during the 5 o’clock segment on Prime Time Sports.
STEPHEN BRUNT: I had been not wanting to address this, because there was something ridiculous written in the Globe and Mail– my former employer– but I will address it now, OK? Rogers owns this station, Rogers own the Blue Jays, Rogers and Bell together own the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors. They have a vested interest in the success of those teams, and virtually half the media world outside of this building and Agincourt [i.e. TSN] is cashing a cheque from them as well. So all the newspaper guys are working in broadcast– everybody. But, if the Blue Jays suck, you’ll hear it here first, I guarantee you.
BOB McCOWN: You have for the last 20 years.
SB: And if Yunel Escobar writes a homophobic slur on his eye black, you’ll hear about it here. And if John Farrell walks out on them, or if they don’t sign Yu Darvish, you’re going to hear it here. And you know what, Rogers doesn’t care about that– because the conversation around a team is part of– the good, the bad; the high, the low; the winning and the losing is part of it. That’s it. They don’t want people to say the sky is blue when the sky is grey around a team– no one is going to believe that. It’s about being credible. So, it’s ludicrous this notion that– we’ll pay more attention to the Blue Jays, probably. You know, we will, than the other guys will. They’ll pay more attention to the Canadian Football League than we will.
BM: That’s a guarantee.
SB: That’s a guarantee. And everybody knows that going in. And no one’s going to sit here and tell you they’re good when they’re bad. That’s not– this is a conversation about sport. About good, bad, heroes and villains, all of that stuff, and that’s part of the mix, and that’s exactly what our job is. No one’s going to tell us. You know, the only place I’ve ever had a story censored for reasons from on high was at the Globe and Mail. When I was writing about politics years ago, they sent me out to write a profile of a political candidate– a candidate for the leadership of a political party. I’m not going to name it, but I went out and did the reporting and came back with stuff– straightforward reporting, biographical stuff– and came back with some stuff that made them uncomfortable. That stuff popped up in the extended biography of this person that was going to make it kind of– and this was their chosen political party at the time. Well, still is at the Globe and Mail. And you know what? They cut that story to ribbons at the Globe and Mail.
BM: So to turn around and start swinging an axe at us.
SB: Yeah, this “Rogers is paying for…”– they’ve got a thing called custom content over at the Globe and Mail, where they kind of blurred the line between advertising and editorial, trying to create stuff that advertisers like. So, it was ludicrous, that story. And it was a total misunderstanding of what sports media is. You know? The stuff I did on the Dominican Blue Jays, if I’d been at the Globe and Mail, I would have done the same thing– except they would never have paid for it. They wouldn’t have sent me to the Dominican, because they won’t spend– they won’t cover a road trip in Cleveland. But I would have done exactly the same story. Because that’s a legit story. Six, seven Dominicans, they just win the World Baseball Classic, the Jays have a history in the Dominican– Epy Guerrero– they abandoned it for a while, now they’re back there. That’s a pretty straightforward story– that’s not pumping anyone’s tires.
BM: By the way, it was a great doc, too. I’ve told you– I think I texted you the other day when I got a chance to see it. But it was great.
SB: Why thank you. I’m proud of that– but that’s a story. That’s a legitimate–
BM: Let me tell you how good it is: in 20 minutes it’s bumping us.
SB: Well, don’t tune in– stay with us. But anyway, I just– that is what I’m sensitive to. And I know, having sat beside you for quite some time now, if you believe the guys next door in the big tower are being cheap bastards– and I believe you use that phrase occasionally to describe them. That’s part of the churn around sports. No one is censoring anything here, no one is directing coverage. Will we spend more time– again, will I go to the Dominican to cover the Jays for somebody else? Probably not.
BM: Would this show have gone to Spring Training for two weeks last year? No. Why did we go this year? Because a suit decided it would be a good thing for us to do, and editorially, since the story was the big story from December, when Alex started to do things, we said, “Yeah, it’s worth doing.” Wouldn’t have been worth doing last year. Wouldn’t have been worth doing the year before that. Might not be worth doing next year. But this year, it was worth it.
SB: And again, it’s transparent. No one is pretending otherwise here. If this team– look, if they’re out of it in September, Bob, there will be calls for heads to roll and people to be gotten rid of and all kinds of stuff, and the charge will be led by probably you. I’m just guessing. And again, no one’s going to sit there and say, “Jeez, this team’s 15 games under .500, but pretend they’re really good.” Anyway, there’s my rant. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get that off my chest.
Also, pretty much exactly bang on. Though, as I said in this morning’s JaysTalk piece, sometimes there’s just no goddamn reasoning with people. Which isn’t to say that anybody needs to be entirely naive here– writers and commentators do sometimes employ a particular editorial bent for all kinds of reasons, transparent and not-so-transparent– it’s just… there’s really no need to invent elaborate conspiracies about this stuff when you don’t agree with someone’s take. It only takes a second or two of thought to figure things out.