Rogers-Globe

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.

Meow!

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.

Comments (58)

  1. long live your beard Stoeten!

  2. Stephen Brunt has been and continues to be one of the best writers & radio co-hosts in this city. If there’s anyone I would expect honesty and transparency from it would be him.

    • Agree 100%. I have been reading Brunt in various forms for almost 20 years (Books, G&M, Mags). He is by far the best sportswriter in the country and one of the country’s best columnists period.

      He does not stand down to anyone. I’m sure the Globe is still a bit hurt he left. It’s tough when you lose a cornerstone, but this attack is completely baseless and unwarranted.

    • Brunt is fantastic. I don’t always agree with him on every detail, but i always read, listen etc when he has something to say because its worthwhile, honest and frankly the exact opposite of what he was being “accused” of doing.

    • Yeah, even if this shit does go down (and I’m sure it does), who in their right mind would point the finger at Brunt? Davidi/Wilner/Barry Davis, yes. But calling Brunt out for poor credibility is like calling Halladay a disloyal pissant.

  3. Brunt just stomped on the Globe with that response. I don’t understand why they decided to take a shot at him, but as stated above, he is one of the best and most impartial writers in the city.

  4. It’s not about conspiracies though, at least that’s not how I read it. It’s about incentives. The broadcast crew, writers and reporters, having and incentive to walk carefully. It doesn’t mean they won’t cover things that happen, and of course they won’t outright lie, saying the team is good when it isn’t. It’s those grey areas though, where it is easier to walk away or not cover something than to stick ones neck out and do so, not because a bunch of old guys in a smoke filled room are twirling the snidely whiplash mustaches and telling you what to do, but because you know who is handing out your cheques. I doubt very many of us are immune from that at our places of employment, and I don’t see why reporters would be an exception to this rule. Again I don’t think it impacts on the quality of reporting in a tangible way that we can measure, but that doensn’t mean the people aren’t being affected in some way. Would Wilner have been forced to take some time off because of his interactions with Cito if he had been working for TSN?

    • I get where you’re coming from, but I think it’s mostly about access. This is why ESPN has become such a joke; they won’t do anything to risk the ire of an organization and potentially jeopardize the access they have to its players and its management. It seems to be a somewhat unavoidable, if lamentable, outcome.

      Which is why I prefer sports blogs for my news and insight. And inappropriate humour.

  5. Obviously, you have to take things said by a Rogers employee with a grain of salt. Even if they don’t get editorial notes from corporate, they may self-censor sometimes. I think that the inoffensive blandness of Jaime Campbell had a lot to do with why he was chosen as a colour commentator since it’s that type of thing that pleases marketing types, never mind that it was completely mind-numbing over 162 games a year.

    However, let’s not go crazy. Use your brain and you should be able to filter out the crap and read between the lines.

  6. I heard this on Thursday & Brunt was fired up. It was awesome.

    IMO, he’s the best & often most reasoned voice in Canada’s sports landscape. Always a treat to hear him on PTS and…well, anywhere else.

    • I agree. Brunt is one of the best in the business.

      • When Brunt is on PTS, I rarely change the station no matter what they are discussing. If he is not there, if I don’t care about the topic I change the station pretty quick. If McGowan and Brunt are not there, I hardly ever listen.

  7. I like Brunt. And his rant/defense here is fine by me. The Globe is throwing stones, imho.

  8. This one paragraph sums up the “logic” of the article:

    “And while it’s true that viewers apparently were hungry for the coverage – Mr. Pelley said the episode of Connected pulled in 139,000 viewers while TSN’s Sportscentre was seen by 79,000 – it’s also true that spending more time covering the Jays directly helped drive demand for Jays tickets.”

    Damn that Rogers, making money by catering to the people. They should do the proper thing and cover hockey some more, because you know, it’s hockey.

  9. This is why I come to DJF. Great writeup on this issue.

    Brunt has been one of the city’s best sport reporters and continues to have smart things to say. Loved him while he wrote for the Globe and still love him now. I find SN docs to generally be pieces of fluffy shit but his integrity as a sports reporter has never waned.

  10. I definitely wouldn’t call Buck and Pat’s offerings “toe-curlingly partisan play-by-play commentary”, I’d call it borderline idiotic play-by-play commentary. Mostly in Pat’s case.

    • Let’s not forget Jaime Campbell.

    • Pat and buck are pretty much positive about everyone. They’re old baseball guys, and this year it seems like they’re trying too take a step forward w/r/t how the game has changed.

  11. I agree that the criticism against Brunt was preposterous, but if we’re being honest does NO ONE believe that there is some serious bias in some corners of the Rogers owned media?

    I don’t doubt that Bob McCown would call Beeston all the worst names in the world if he got drunk enough on air. But what about Shi Davidi? No one thinks he goes a little bit too far in gobbling Rogers’ bright red balls?

    What about Wilner? He defended fucking JoJo Reyes! For weeks! I get that he considers himself to be Ash fending off the hordes of panicking idiots with only a microphone where his hand used to be, but does he really have to use the other hand to jerk off ownership and management every. single. time?

    Anyway, that’s my rant. Good on Brunt for taking on the assholes. Too bad Wilner is such a prick.

    • Are you referring to the same Mike Wilner who got suspended at one point due to his aggressive line of questioning to Cito Gaston a few years ago?

    • He also tried to temper enthusiasm for Bautista many times throughout his emergence.

    • I don’t get why anyone even cares one way or the other about this or that reporter’s real or imagined bias. Use your own eyes, ears and brain. I was listening to PTS callers (which I rearely do – hate call-in segments but I left work early that day) and everyone seemed all bent out of shape because,in their minds. some reporters don’t criticize the Jays enough. Who the fuck cares? Quit being lazy and form your own opinion.

      Its like in the US when fans complain that their team ‘doesn’t get enough respect’ in the national media. Personally, I can form an opinion on my own without having it validated by some media hack.

      Brunt rocks!

  12. What I want to know is who he was writing about when the Globe silenced him? Harper? Stockwell Day?

    • My secrets are going to the grave with me, pal.

    • I’d put my money on Stockwell Day. He believed that Dinosaur’s and humans coexisted at some point in history. And he was a member of some wacked out fundy church.

      • All of this is well known and back when Stockwell Day was running for the leadership of the CA, the Globe’s party du jour was still the Liberals (although they had a soft spot for the PCs.)

        My money’s on:
        - Belinda Stronach (when she ran for the Conservative leadership); or,
        - Paul Martin

        • It’s probably Ignatieff. I think he was their favourite in the last Liberal leadership contest that mattered (2006). Stomach, seriously?

          • Ha. Stronach, not stomach.

          • Ignatieff had no big financial clout. Stronach had all kinds of it. Can NOT see Stockwell Day having enough brains or clout to make a difference. But Harper had and has the influence and power and has a history. He’s silenced all of his cabinet, backbenchers and the entire scientific community, not to mention Stronach amongst others. He’s my pick.

            • It was a leadership candidate, not a leader. When was the last time the Conservatives elected a leader? Stockwell Day is way too far back, and the G&M didn’t prefer the Conservatives anyway, and certainly not when Harper became leader. I remember how big the 2006 Liberal leadership race was for the Globe, and I think I might have even read the de-boned article. But anyone with a Globe Unlimited subscription can solve this by searching ‘Brunt’ and the names of party candidates. Shouldn’t be too hard.

              • Notwithstanding all of our speculation, I just stumbled on the most likely “candidate”.
                The key was in Brunt saying “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”.
                Brunt joined the Globe in ’82 and covered politics in his early years until he went to sports in ’85.
                The PC leadership convention in Ottawa in ’83 was probably when it happened and my new choice is Brian Mulroney.

                Also FYI:
                “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Party_of_Canada_leadership_election,_2004

                “Stephen Harper, the former leader of the Canadian Alliance, was elected on the first (and only) ballot. Tony Clement, a former Ontario Progressive Conservative health minister, and Belinda Stronach, the former Chief Executive Officer of Magna International, were the other candidates on the ballot.”

                Granted this election was pretty much a forgone conclusion, but that’s not to say either that Harper would brook any kind of criticism.

  13. Meanwhile in finance, politics and pharma-medicine we have machines that absolutely dwarf baseball both in size and in sketchy back-scratching arrangements.

    It’s fucking baseball people. Baseball.

    Now we’re going to hear Zaun and Bob McCowan go extra overboard to be contrarian and hate on Reyes, Dickey, Bautista, etc.

    Soon I will stop reading or commenting anything on sport and stop attending (as long as paper airplanes get more buzz than Reyes) and just watch at home with the volume muted.

  14. While I personally wouldn’t single out Brunt (since he’s awesome), I don’t think there is anything wrong with being mildly skeptical of what a Rogers-paid employee says about a Rogers-owned sports franchise.

    I mean, Brunt gives a G & M example where he admits he was censored. It’s easy to give that example about a FORMER employer.

  15. Going after Brunt there was an awful choice. If that’s the story you really wanted to run with you probably could have pulled up some examples of Shi Davidi’s tame “analysis” that would have showed his bias. I don’t really have a problem with him, but it is easy to see why some people think he’s more cheerleader than analyst (as he’s described by SNet).

  16. The thing I find interesting about this is that the Globe was every bit as fawning and uncritical in their coverage of the Jays during the off-season as any Rogers outlet. They devoted at least an article a week to slobbering all over R.A. Dickey since December.

  17. As usual Stephen Brunt is spot-on. I actually missed that segment on Thursday, thanks for posting this Stoeten.

  18. I saw Stephen Brunt at the Toronto airport a few weeks ago on my way back from Florida. We were sitting around at the gates waiting for our flight and he was standing up and looking around like a lost little boy. He then found one of those computer w-fi stations and immersed himself in whatever eletronic gadget he had with him. I thought about yelling, “STEPHEN BRUNT!”, to see if he would look up but then thought better of it. Now, I am so filled with regret.

  19. I sometimes find Stephen Brunt’s prose a bit too purple … that ‘Sportswriting as great Literature’ thing is best done in moderation. He’s far more impressive speaking off the cuff, as he does here. However, I would not question his journalistic ethics for a moment, and the best point he makes is that from Rogers’s standpoint, journalists stirring the pot and riling fans up by saying ‘Jays suck’ is just as good business as saying ‘Jays rock’.

    If you really want to take pot-shots at Rogers media, I’d recommend a journalist look at 680 News and the more obscure shows on 590. There they definitely DO blur the lines between advertising and content in a way that is highly suspect. 680 regularly has ‘News’ pieces about products, which are just hidden ads. Worse still – if you listen to those bloody awful hunting and fishing shows on Saturday morning, it’s an endless catalogue of “Here’s my buddy Bob from Bob’s Hunting Supplies in Orillia – Hey Bob, what are you selling right now? Wow, that’s great Bob, and what phone number can people reach you at?”

    You can’t tell me that those aren’t paid advertising pretending to be ‘sports discussion’.

  20. I assume that Brunt means what he says, but if so, he’s entirely missing the point. (For the record, so is the G&M guy.)

    The issue isn’t partisan bias; the issue is the privatization of news, where what counts as news is determined according to corporate interests. And this isn’t new, and it certainly isn’t only happening in sports, and it CERTAINLY isn’t important when it’s happening in sports. But it is important, and if this really obvious case gets people’s attention, then that’s good.

    So Brunt’s point about the G&M censoring his piece on some leadership candidate is right on, but it’s a mistake to distinguish that from what’s going on with Rogers. It’s just that it’s not a problem when it happens in sports reporting, because nothing’s at stake.

    • There’s actually a really big difference between doing a fluff piece because your employer wants you too (not saying Brunts thing is that) and having a significant news story squashed because the higher ups don’t want to damage one of their buddies or business partners.

  21. Great synopsis Stoeten. Here’s a question: Even if there is a bias for quantity or direction of coverage by Rogers properties, isn’t TSN’s LACK of Jays coverage equally biased? As a news junky, this used to really bother me, seeing sports as a form of news content–and biased coverage should not be tolerated. Then I realized sports is much akin to entertainment than news, so who gives a shit. Anyway, anyone with a brain can see through any homerism on Rogers-owned content; that’s a little more difficult when there is no content at TSN.

  22. Thanks for posting this Stoeten.
    It was nice to see that side of Brunt, standing up for himself, and showing that he is proud of what he is doing.
    He is very good at what he does. I wish though he was the full time co-host of PTS. The show is so much better when he is on it than when either Cox or Shannon are the co-hosts. He has great analysis, does his homework, and keeps McCown on his toes forcing BM to step up his game and not be lazy.

  23. Yeah, I fully agree with Brunt here.

    Over the past few years, I actually found The Fan to be too negative on the Jays overall. Brady, Zaun, McCown etc.

    There was a TON of hype this offseason, but it made sense in light of the megamoves they made.

  24. While I do agree with everything in this article, it should be noted that – at least to my knowledge – none of the major news / sports outlet , be they tv, radio, print or net, employ a media critic. Based on what the media is actually for – informing the public – this is a serious affront to the people of this nation. CBC, The Globe, et. al. should employ someone who has a Supreme Court Justice style contract (i.e they can say anything without reprimand within certain obvious contexts) who can critique the media of this counrty. IN a world were corperate interests are blurring the line between news and news writing this is, in my opionion, essential and a major shortcomming of our society as it stands.

    • The word you’re looking for is “tenure,” and, yes, it would be useful if some journalists with high standing were granted it.

      In a way, Don Cherry has it at the CBC. And he shows you the downside of such a policy.

      • Dave Hodge certainly didn’t have tenure.
        (flips pen.)

        (We did get Ron MacLean next, mind.)

  25. I don’t see a problem with the G&M article by Houpt. He makes valid points and asks valid questions. The title of the article is, however, ridiculous.

    I think the reaction and shots fired by Brunt reek a bit of defensiveness. I think it is important to separate his roles with with Bob McCown’s PTS and writing articles for SportsNet the Magazine/hosting tv shows. I don’t think anyone would question that he is a ball washer in his role on PTS, but that is not what the G&M article did, it asked the “How are we to tell that he’s applying any sort of critical eye to the subject?” question about his Dominican article and follow-up tv show which, although I haven’t read/seen them, may have a promotional aspect to them.

    Anyway, I can see how Brunt may be butt hurt by the perception that he is having his integrity questioned, but he basically admitted in the quotes above that he knows who butters his bread (they have a lot more coverage of the Jays than TSN) and I don’t think the author of the article was trying to question his integrity so much as remind people of the vested interest in the article/tv series.

  26. i wonder if this is going to turn into a war of words? could be good for ratings…. :)

  27. Didn’t Bruce Dowbiggin try to take down Damian Cox last year? This seems to be what Globe sports columnists do these days.

  28. No corporate conspiracy huh? Wonder who’s paying the bills over at DJF these days. Just getting ready for the takeover and brown nosing for a promotion aren’t we?

  29. […] The reason Brunt’s absence is notable is that last year there was a kerfuffle between him and Simon Houpt at his previous employer about Brunt’s coverage of the Jays for Rogers. Brunt did a TV profile on the Dominican Jays prior to the start of the 2013 season, and was criticized for essentially producing promotional material under the guise of journalism. Brunt fired back that Rogers had given him resources that the Globe never would, and that he was so much happier in his new role. You can read a transcript of Brunt’s reply here. […]

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