Today Curtis Rush of the Toronto Star posted an excellent email exchange he had with Gregg Zaun, who was in the news this week for his bang-on excoriation of J.P. Arencibia.
In the piece Zaun is asked if there has “ever been a comment [he] regretted making,” which he affirms, explaining that he was disciplined internally for a comment made last year about Alex Anthopoulos, in which on Prime Time Sports he said that the GM was a “bean counting sabermatrician.” Despite multiple email apologies, and admitting to Rush that he was wrong and that the “extremely amateurish” comment was a too glib attempt to get his point across in the closing ten seconds of the program, he hasn’t spoken to AA since.
Sure, that’s a regrettable professional moment, especially given how Anthopoulos has supposedly reacted.
Unfortunately, Gregg might have new champion of regrettable comments on his hands, as the interview in the Star also included this nugget:
Have you been instructed to lay off on your criticism?
They (Rogers) told me when I came on full-time to be honest, be opinionated, as I tend to be, and to be fair. They have never asked me to censor myself or be a homer. They only asked that I not attack “The Man.” I was told I was free to criticize and praise performances all I wanted.
Just to be sure I was reading what I thought I was reading, I took to Twitter– enlisting the help of Star writer Cathal Kelly, who had tweeted a link to the piece– hoping for clarification that didn’t make me cringe as much as I feared it would.
— Curtis Rush (@CurtisGRush) September 21, 2013
Now, to be fair, while I have never been told such a thing explicitly, I know damn well that it would be a career limiting move if I attacked the company that employs me. Not that I would ever have a reason to ;) — but… uh… theScore doesn’t own the baseball team I cover. There’s little chance for conflict of interest, at least until I get assigned to write about mobile sports apps that are kicking ass and taking names. ;D
Rogers, however, has a tonne of analysts and hosts and reporters and media members of all stripes covering the Jays– many of whom, to be fair, did attack the lack of financial support given the Jays prior to last winter’s explosion of payroll cash– and that’s where the whole thing gets a bit sticky, doesn’t it?
That’s especially so because it’s not as though the question of the objectivity of Rogers-paid folks doesn’t come up a whole lot out here among the unwashed masses. And it’s also not like the fortunes of the team on the field aren’t inextricably linked to the fortunes– and the equitable dispensing of them– of “The Man.”
In terms of how these folks, Zaun included, deal with issues involving actual play on the field, they are, I think, beyond reproach. Jays Talk callers sometimes want to insist otherwise, but that truth is quite obvious. I mean, the only reason Zaun was spotlighted in Rush’s piece was because of the critical eye he took to the play of Arencibia, and the ramifications that stance has had. There are plenty of other examples, too– Dirk Hayhurst was also tattled on earlier in the year by Arencibia, and Jack Morris (and Alan Ashby before him) has taken a critical eye to the Jays’ lack of fundamentals, while Bob McCown, Jeff Blair and others are plainly critical when they feel it’s warranted.
Stephen Brunt addressed these sorts of issues on the radio earlier in the year, which I transcribed in a post titled On Homerism And Media Fights. He was responding to a Simon Houpt piece in the Globe and Mail, in which the author expressed concern about the abundant and glowing coverage given the Jays by Rogers-owned media outlets this spring– referring particularly to Brunt’s piece on the Jays’ Dominican connection, which appeared in Sportsnet magazine, as well as on TV in documentary form.
“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,” Houpt wrote. “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.”
Calling the comments “something ridiculous written in the Globe and Mail– my former employer,” Brunt made the case for Rogers-owned objectivity:
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. … 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.
. . .
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.
He’s not wrong about the “cheap bastards” stuff, nor is he wrong that everybody knows what’s what going in, so I don’t know if I want to make too much of this. I don’t even know if I necessarily think the patina of objectivity we try to insist our journalists not scuff isn’t wholly detrimental. We all have biases, institutional or otherwise– why not lay them out there and let everybody see the mess for what it is instead of trying to untangle ghosts?
The only thing is, that’s not necessarily the world we operate in, nor is it what’s Brunt’s saying. He’s saying “No one is censoring anything here, no one is directing the coverage.”
Now Zaun is telling us that “they only asked that I not attack ‘The Man’.”
That raises a lot of questions– some of them uncomfortable, even if the answers may be innocuous.
Is the standard different for someone in Zaun’s role than for reporters or other commentators? If so, is that OK? If not, do we care or did we always kind of know and accept this? Is the definition of “attack” maybe more narrow than it sounds?
Is the even the correct interpretation of the comment? I’ll take the author’s word– not to mention his syntax– on it, but lots of people are reading the comment as meaning that he was told not to criticize the player as a person, just the performance. Maybe?
Either way, like Brunt says, it’s about being credible. Unfortunately for some of those drawing a paycheque from Rogers– even though I think they did a sound job of maintaining theirs through the years in which the club’s payroll was inadequate and their pursuit of revenue sharing dollars too fervent– Zaun’s admission very possibly puts a dent in that.
Or maybe nothing changes at all. I know I certainly won’t look with any more skepticism than I already did at the work of those in Rogers’ employ (which isn’t terribly heavily, I should note). Regular readers know that I already snarkily note scoops on the “Rogers-owned Jays” as coming from reporters of the “Rogers-owned Rogers Sportsnet,” when they occur– it’s not like we’re not all aware that the connection is there, and so benign as to poke fun at. It doesn’t change anything about my view of the great work done by Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith and Mike Wilner and all the talented folks covering the team over there.
It’s just not going to make these questions go away any easier. But maybe that’s OK– maybe it’s good to have a reason to give us pause about the information we consume, rather than to just suck it back, varnish and all. As an alternative voice of coverage, completely independent of any Rogers influence, the skepticism of them certainly doesn’t hurt me, does it?
But on an instinctual level, it’s still kinda weird. They asked an analyst to not be overly critical of the team’s ownership? Leafs fans might want to have a little think on that nugget, too.
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