Son of Yhency

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Conspiracy and screwups in Boston

I think it's a well-known fact these days that a handful of massive media corporations out there own just about every TV station, radio station, newspaper, magazine, publishing company, etc. As you probably know, this concerns media watchers because of the inherent conflict of interest that comes with subsidiaries stacked upon subsidiaries. Put all of your resources together and you can build quite a powerful, non-competitive media behemoth.

The notion has been discussed far too many times, and I won't bore you with another example of that today. Instead, I'd like to present how all of this interconnectivity can actually be screwed up and make things worse. Impossible, you say? Well let's take a look at the good folks up in Boston.

Question: What do The Boston Globe, the Boston Red Sox, the New England Sports Network (NESN) and all have in common? They're owned, to some degree, by The New York Times Company. We can discuss at a later date how repulsive it is that a New York-based company has a share in so many Boston-area companies, but for the moment, let's stay focused and explore how this jumble of relationships has had an impact on the whole Theo Epstein debacle and how, somehow, it has actually made things worse for all parties involved.

The Boston Herald has bitched for years that the Globe gets preferential treatment from the Red Sox. And this may be true. For example, the Dan Shaughnessy column that acted as the final straw in convincing Theo Epstein to resign came from an exclusive phone conversation between Shaughnessy, Epstein and Larry Luchino, all of whom are essentially employees of The New York Times Company. Now how did a worthless columnist like Shaughnessy get this exclusive interview, something that any sports reporter in Boston would be drooling over? If he wrote for the Herald, would he have gotten it? Some would argue yes, but I'm not sure it's so clear. So let's chalk one up for the conglomerate here.

(On a side note, thankfully the Globe isn't shying away from this conflict of interest and has faced it head on in a column by its ombudsman, Richard Chacon. It's a noble effort, but I'm not sure Chacon completely allays the concerns some people have. He gives the old song and dance but there doesn't seem to be much substance or feeling behind it.)

Anyway, with his easy access to the braintrust of the Sox, Shaughnessy did what he does best and caused trouble by writing a column that was decisively Luchino-leaning. Now, mind you that most accounts of the phone conversation are that everyone was very buddy buddy; all signs were that Epstein would be re-signing with the Sox the following Monday. But after all, Shaughnessy is the man who brought us the Curse of the Bambino and the guarantee in June that the Sox would win the AL East, so why stop causing trouble now, even if it means messing with his parent company's subsidiary? So the madman's column was published, Theo realized he had had enough, and bolted. Screwup number one.

An even greater ironic twist and more embarrassing gaffe is the recent discovery that the Sox had a deal in place with Epstein as early as October 28, three days before his contract expired and all of this madness went down. However, the PR powers at the Sox caught wind that the Patriots would be announcing Tedy Bruschi's return over the weekend and didn't want the re-signing of Theo to be overshadowed. So, without making any official announcement, Theo and Luchino gave their interview to Shaughnessy on Friday with the understanding that they'd make the deal public the following Monday. But we all know what happened in between that call and Monday -- Shaughnessy published his column, stirred up his crap, and Epstein jumped ship.

To recap: In order to keep Theo, all the Sox had to do was make the announcement on Friday, have Theo sign the dotted line, and then no matter what crap Shaughnessy spewed, they would have had their man. But no, they outthinked themselves for some stupid press and managed to achieve screwup number two.

Was the decision to delay announcing Theo's re-signing completely motivated by the desire to overshadow Bruschi's news? Most likely, yes. (Which, on its own, is pretty pathetic.) But isn't at all probable that the folks at the Sox knew that Papa Times would be happy to have big time, front-page news from the weekend straight on into the week? I'd argue yes. Impossible to prove, and most likely not the key motivator, but quite possibly a factor in the decision making.

And that's how the big, happy, inbred family up in Boston screwed everything up. I can't believe they actually managed to mess up in so many ways, but they did. Now Bostonians are completely up in arms, the Herald is off in the corner gloating, and the The New York Times Company is probably shaking its head, wondering how Boston could actually screw up such a slam dunk. I guess the silver lining is that, although Boston messed up its own affairs, the group that oversees everything is based in New York. And I'll take that.