Keeping Up Appearances

Pete Abraham has a link to a column in The New York Daily News by Bob Raissman on Joe Girardi’s approach to media relations, and it’s well worth reading at LoHud. Raissman does a particularly good job laying the groundwork to why many, including myself, jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Hughes was not hurt. His column is not exculpatory on that issue, yet it does accurately target Girardi’s and the organization’s rather cryptic approach to the media generally, and injury issues specifically. People jump to conclusions about such things when the organization and its representatives are quite simply not forthcoming about pertinent details that fans and media want to know. People are well aware that there is only so much that the team will tell others in order not to divulge too much, to open their players to greater risks on the field, and to protect their interests. Yet the unfortunate by-product is leaving people in the dark, and doing so in a duplicitous way. To say that Hughes’s staying in the rotation is a matter of “internal discussion” while not divulging anything about an injury, then let work seep out about a minor injury that was revealed later to be major, inevitably induces speculation about the organization’s intentions. Trust is given when trust is earned.

No one should be jejune enough to think that some in the media and numerous fans do not have axes to grind, nor to think that there are no valid and understandable reasons for the organization to be intentionally vague. Yet there are also plenty of media and fans who are genuinely interested in getting things right, and when not doing so means not doing one’s job well, this is an annoyance to say the least.  While different in significance, scope, and severity, I could not help but be a little reminded of the tea-leaf reading that Kremlinologists undertook in order to ascertain the workings of the Soviet Union’s inner party. The Yankees are a terrific organization loaded with smart baseball people. They should do better than subject themselves to needless scrutiny by being as honest as they can, and to phrase things as such. If a player will be examined, or has complained of some ailment requiring an examination that everyone knows is not instantaneous, tell people so. If there is uncertainty about something, smart reporters can sniff that out anyway, so be honest about it and control the message. That should be fundamental–controlling the message and not doing so in a ham-handed or possibly duplicitous way. Girardi has a thing or two to learn about controlling the message while not doing so in a brusque manner. Torre wasn’t always honest, but he was open and patient enough to work with media, and therefore to a certain degree control the message and subsequently the tenor of the reporting about him and the team. Torre was darn good at it, and was early in his tenure with the team. Girardi might be showing more than the need to polish some PR skills. He might understandably be transferring a bit of frustration stemming his team’s significant under-performing through the first month.

Published in: on May 2, 2008 at 4:09 pm  Comments (9)  

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  1. I have a great deal of contempt for the media, Jason, maybe because I was, and sometimes am, too close.

    I majored in Speech Communication, Radio and Television Broadcasting Option, at PSU. So between majoring in it, and working in it for a while, you see some things from the inside out.

    While I don’t appreciate the Yanks’ duplicity, I do wonder about the media’s feeling that they need to know or report everything.

    Personally, if D-Day were going on today, I firmly believe that our wonderful media would spill the beans about Operation Overlord a good month before the invasion, then after the Nazis would then stomp the Allied asses, hide behind words such as “public’s right to know,” “freedom of the press,” “freedom of information,” etc.

    As long as the Yanks aren’t doing anything illegal (and it’s only baseball after all, not something of greater importance to humanity), the Yanks, I think, have the right to say “no comment,” or “we’ll get back to you later on that.”

    The duplicity, I don’t agree with. But if told “no comment,” then reporters should leave it at that. Don’t press the issue.

    It reminds me of a story about Maris. One reporter asked him if he fooled around on the road. Maris answered, “I’m married.” The reporter replied, “So am I, but I mess around when I’m on the road.” To which Maris walked away in disgust.

    I mean, what was Maris to say? He was devoted to his wife and family, and even if he were, say, like Mantle, who did fool around (which he confessed to and regretted later) did that reporter actually think he’d admit it?

    …and you wonder why some hate the media.

    In short, not everything needs to be reported. Pure and simple. The team should have the right to say “no comment” and if they do, the media should just drop it there and then. Don’t push things. Respect the fact that there is a line and don’t cross the line if that line is indeed drawn.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. I’m always grateful for your two cents, Mike, and I’m glad you contributed them here. I think by and large, Mike, you and I are in agreement on certain aspects the media (broadly speaking, though there are definitely different kinds with different agendas). I’m not of the opinion that everything needs to be reported either. There are times when it’s not possible, or even preferable, to be completely honest regarding even injuries. At times, details of injuries can mean players get targeted, such as in hockey with slashes. I also think that teams are perfectly justified in saying “no comment” to questions provided that does not become their m.o. There were plenty of times when Torre replied “no comment” to questions, and I don’t get the impression that beat writers were particularly offended because he did a good job generally of providing access and letting them do their jobs, while at times restraining what information he did and did not release. I’ll add that I get the distinct impression that there are times when teams such as the Yankees should use “no comment” when key people clearly are not on the same page. This would alleviate their relying on an “I don’t know” reply that some might find either bothersome or worthy of criticism. There’s nothing wrong with not commenting on something and getting to it later. If Raissman’s recounting of that press conference is credible, Girardi didn’t reply “no comment” to questions about Hughes. Perhaps he should have, especially if he didn’t have a good answer, and I’d argue that regardless of whatever he knew, he didn’t have a good answer. In fact, his use of “internal discussions” echoed the kind of response that Torre would use when the team contemplated removing a starter from the rotation, so the follow-up about whether or not Hughes would continue to be in the rotation (according to Raissman’s account) was both logical and natural.

    People in the media can be shallow, petty, and downright undermining, you’re absolutely right. There’s no question about that. I think that a good deal of the probing reporting (and nothing I would call journalism) is tabloid, scandal-sheet smut about people’s lives that simply does not qualify as news. I have never been interested in whether or not some Kardashian sister made a sex tape, what Britney Spears screwed up as a parent, or whether or not Lindsay Lohan strayed from her upteenth trip to rehab. There is plenty of probing into people’s lives, including some athletes and politicians, that is troubling at best and nauseatingly shallow and self-serving at worse. It serves as an enormous distraction from actual and significant events in our current events and history, deflecting people’s attention to dead-end garbage instead of substantively engaging the very pressing issues and problems of our day.

    Along those lines, and regarding the D-Day counter-factual you posed, I am not convinced that such a revelation of information then would necessarily occur now. Newspapers then all the way through until the present day and during wars have had a very good record not only of maintaining issues of national security at the forefront of their reporting (whether or not that’s actually been applicable, decreasingly so in the Bush administration I’d contend), and not only reflecting intensely nationalistic values, but also of consistently failing to question the policies and underlying logic of them in any systematic and coherent way. The result is that the current wars are largely detached from any serious mainstream analysis of, say, post-WW2 American geopolitical obligations and commitments extending to literally hundreds of military, intelligence, and communications around the world that can help readers assess how fundamental issues of political control undergird American foreign policy, successfully implemented or not. More centrally to your point, the American mainstream media has historically been largely quiescent and reticent to be critical on wartime issues. While many media outlets received a lot of criticism for its coverage of the Vietnam War, newspapers did not divulge operational plans until long after they were well under way. They also received the overwhelming bulk of their information from the military and the state department, rendering the government’s complaining about newspaper accounts revealing or questioning war policy incredibly ironic given that the government itself supplied reams of information to the press. Today, “embedded reporters” are stuck with units, resulting in their reports being screened for potentially compromising content and also having the (surely intended) result of connecting on a human level reporters with soldiers, eliciting a level of personal and political sympathy in reporting that might not otherwise occur from unattached reporters. Mainstream media routinely ignores incredible reporting of un-embedded reporters like Dahr Jamail, who have presented contrasting views of the war and life in Iraq very well worth reading.

    In fact, I would argue that we live in an age in which people’s lives are often probed on a deeply personal level, well beyond stars. We both seem to agree that this is troubling and unnecessary. Additionally, it’s been an era in which the media have been attacked–to me rather unfairly and hypocritically–by the government for exposing government malfeasance such as the illegal Valerie Plame outing, by attempting to prosecute government whistle-blowers contending that the government has illegally spied on millions of people’s calls, e-mails, and other electronic transmissions, and by blaming reports in papers such as the New York Times that the government was probing bank records to locate potential terrorists for potentially undermining government investigations when the Bush administration itself said many months before such reports were published that it was probing those same records. In sum, I’m generally wary of extending the argument about what the press would and would not reveal when fundamental, and I would argue necessary, reporting that has revealed downright unconstitutional and therefore illegal actions has been so roundly criticized by the government as undermining the war effort, and therefore is unpatriotic. The media have too often played ball, wittingly or not, with the slob Charles Gibson for example arguing that ABC did not cover the Valerie Plame outing scandal because “Middle America wouldn’t understand it.” That argument is easy for him and ABC to make when they hardly covered it in the first place, making it arcana for too many people.

    Sorry, a very long response to your very interesting comment. I’ve just lacked the opportunity to talk about such things in some time. I hope you enjoyed the win, a long time coming.

  3. Nice, Jason.

    BTW, until I got a recent alumni magazine, I wouldn’t have known that Valerie Plame was an alumni of my alma mater.

  4. Nice, Jason.

    BTW, until I got a recent alumni magazine, I wouldn’t have known that Valerie Plame was an alumni of my alma mater.

  5. Hey, Jason!

    Thanks for your recent comments on my MLBlog. I wrote a response to your comment; so, check it out, and of course, you are always welcome to visit “BY&L” anytime as look forward to your future comments and thoughts.

    I’ve been busy of late, so I haven’t had the time to list “posts” and “comments” as often as I would like. Hopefully, during this weekend and over the next few weeks I will be more active with my blogging activities.

    Well, the Bob Raissman article in Friday’s [May 2nd ] NY Daily News was very interesting. I did read it Friday morning, and while I do agree that Joe Girardi can be somewhat evasive and confrontational at times during his interviews; I also think that “some” reporters can be a little too aggressive when asking questions

    Joe Girardi is just trying to keep information about the Yankee players, and other important Yankees Organizational news, away [and secret] from the other teams.

    Jason, I agree with the statement you wrote in your above post, when you said, “People are well aware that there is only so much that the team will tell others in order not to divulge too much, to open their players to greater risks on the field, and to protect their interests”.

    It is a balancing act, between keeping the fans informed, and also making sure the other teams stay as “uninformed” as possible, regarding matters of the Yankees.

    I think Joe Girardi still has much to learn in dealing with the media. But, he is not Joe Torre in this arena. Torre was the master in his relations with the media; and, even though he would have taken a different approach in answering the Phil Hughes questions, I think he would “not” have revealed any more information than Girardi did in the press conference. Joe Torre always had the great gift of making everyone think he answered a question, but in the end, he really revealed “only” what he wanted to, and no more than that.

    So, with all that said, I would suggest that it works both ways when dealing with the media. I agree with Bob Raissman when he said at the end of his article, “…the questions will get tougher. If losing sets in, things are going to get a lot worse for the manager. And, if Girardi continues to be indirect and evasive, there are bound to be more confrontations”.

    That may be the case in future Joe Girardi press conference’s. But, on the other hand, if reporters expect Girardi to be more open, and less confrontational when answering questions, they should be more respectful of the answers Girardi does give. When he says, [as he did at the press conference described in the Raissman article], “That’s all I will say” [in response to a reporters question], well, the reporters should leave it at that, and move on to another question.

    At one point during this press conference, Girardi actually had to say, “I don’t mean to get irritated, but I’ve been asked the same question five times”. Now, who is being confrontational in that exchange?

    Also, I have to be critical of Bob Raissman for being disingenuous when describing the reporters who were at the press conference. In all fairness, if Raissman wants to portray Joe Girardi as being indirect, evasive, and confrontational; then, Raissman should “at least” identify the names of the reporters who asked the questions.

    Eight times in the article, Raissman mentions questions being asked of Girardi, but DOES NOT MENTION THE REPORTERS BY NAME !!!

    Raissman described the questioning as follows…

    “a reporter asked Girardi about the status of Phil Hughes”.

    “The same reporter then asked…”

    “Another scribe asked…”

    “The same scribe then said, that’s not what I asked you…”

    “The scribe again asked…”

    “The reporter said he wasn’t asking that…”

    “…a Yankees public relations executive scolded the reporter, and cut the session off…”

    “prompting the scribe…to remind the executive it wasn’t his job to tell him how to ‘ask my questions’…”

    This seems to have been a very animated [and, confrontational] press conference on both sides of the questioning and answering session.

    As it turned out, at the time of this press conference, Joe Girardi, and the Yankees, originally were informed that Phil Hughes had a strained oblique muscle – and, Girardi was basing is answers on this information. This was on Wednesday, April 30th …The Yankees found out the following day, [Thursday May, 1st], that the injury was much more serious, and that Phil Hughes actually has a stress fracture in the ninth rib on his right side, and will probably be on the DL until July.

    So, just another day in New York, with all the excitement of the Yankees, helping to make this baseball season that much more interesting.

    Only winning will make everybody happy again, and the press conferences will be a fun place to be.

    Take care, Jason!

    – Jimmy

  6. Hey, Jason!

    I just submitted a comment [at 10:06 a.m. – May 3, 2008], and for some reason the notice, “Your comment is awaiting moderation”, is listed under my comment, and will not allow the comment to be posted…

    Hopefully, you will get this second message that I am sending you, and can correct whatever is blocking my first comment from being posted.

    Thank you!

    – Jimmy

  7. Jason,

    Well, I think the problem was [and, is]: how I listed my name on my first comment…

    I just entered my name as: Jimmy

    On the second comment, I listed it as I have it set up on my “wordpress account”: jimmy27nyy

    Jason, hopefully, you did receive the first comment, and will be able to post it in this comments section. It was a “very long comment”, and I hope it did not get lost in all the confusion regarding the listing of my name.

    The good news is: before I submitted the comment, I did print out a copy of it. I had some problems “last night” trying to send a comment to you. So, just to be safe, I decided to print out the first comment that I wrote to you today….So, I do have the full text of what I wrote!

    My comments were about the very interesting Bob Raissman article, in the NY Daily News [Fri. May, 2nd], about Joe Girardi and the media…

    Anyway, thanks for your recent visit to my MLBlog. I did write a response to your comment; so, check it out when you get a chance. I always look forward to your comments and thoughts; and, of course, you’re always welcome to visit “BY&L” anytime!

    Take care, Jason. Hopefully, these comments will travel to “The Heartland”… and make a safe landing !!!

    Go Yankees !!! Another big win today !

    – Jimmy

  8. Jason,

    Thanks for adding my first comments about the Bob Raissman article on Joe Girardi…

    Today’s great pitching performance by Mike Mussina, leading the Yankees to the big 6-1 win against the Mariners, surely made Joe Girardi’s press conference [after the game] much more enjoyable for Girardi, and all the reporters asking the questions. Winning makes everything less stressful for all !

    Hopefully, the Yankees will win on Sunday to complete the sweep of Seattle, which will start a long winning streak for the “Bronx Bombers” !!!

    Go Yankees !!!

    Take care, Jason!

    – Jimmy

  9. Thanks Mike. Very interesting about Plame. I find it interesting how, after testifying before Congress and enduring various political and personal difficulties, she turned around and made a good deal of cash on her book–which had to be heavily edited because of her CIA background. From misery comes profit, I suppose.

    Hi Jimmy. I’m really sorry you had to have your comments approved again. This also happened with Joe from “Statistician Magician,” and it might be the case that if you don’t comment here for a certain period of time, your comments must be re-approved. I could be wrong, but that seems to be a common element. I’m not too willing to defend the media, particularly the NY baseball media. They certainly often have their own agendas and axes to grind, and treat their jobs as personal fiefdoms as much as providing a public service, no question. I think Girardi has done fine on the field, but needs to relax when dealing with the media. Also, he and upper management need to get on the same page on things, which would make Girardi’s job easier. I could be wrong, but I think that the team’s recent difficulties are probably fueling some of his testiness. I don’t see how they could not be. He’s been dealing with a lot. Not only would I love to see the Yankees rattle off a ton of wins and soon, I’d also be interested to see how improved play might lighten him a bit. That might not; he is an intense guy and competitor. But we all know that winning is usually a sure-fire tonic for troubles, so I believe you’re absolutely right in your comment.

    On today’s game, Mussina has been dynamite. I saw him in Chicago over a week ago, and he was great there as well. The top of the order going 10-19 was huge, scalding the ball off a very good young pitcher in Hernandez. I’m equally impressed with the core of the bullpen, and think that Cool Hand Nuke has been key to the turnaround. I too have been tied up with a lot lately, so I haven’t been around BY&L nearly enough. I’ll do my best to change that.

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