Sunday, June 04, 2006

What's Black and White and Red and Blue All Over?

Public relations experts do not advise large corporations to draw attention to their conflicts of interest. Nonetheless, it gets harder and harder for a day to go by without the NEW YORK Times having another goddam article on the BOSTON Red Sox. The nation's newspaper of record is bound and determined to make sure the world knows about its 17 percent stake in New England's baseball franchise.

Today's tribute to the Olde Two Townes Team was penned by Joseph Nocera, whose day job is to write an excellent business column for the paper. Writing in "Play", the Times' new and well-done sports magazine supplement, Nocera deemed the Sox baseball's best-run franchise, examining how its visionary leadership is tweaking Fenway Park to make it easier for fans to buy concessions and souvenirs there.

Aside from misidentifying Dan Shaughnessy as New England's premier sports columnist (no offense Dan, but 99 of 100 fans would name your colleague Bob Ryan for that post), Nocera committed no factual blunders. The Sox ARE well-run. They win games and make money, lots of money. The management trio of owner John Henry, president Larry Lucchino, and GM Theo Epstein may have their interpersonal difficulties, but they serve their customers well-then make pay through the nose for said service, which the fans happily do.

Had Nocera merely used the Sox as an example of a well-run sports team, this post would never have been written. No, the Sox had to be the "best" in baseball. Best is such a big word. The Sox are neither such consistent winners as the Atlanta Braves, nor as profitable as their rival New York Yankees, who make so much dough their luziry tax contributions spell the difference between red and black ink for several other loser franchises. Come to think of it, the Sox don't win as much as the Yanks, either.

Now I'm sure the following scenario has no basis in fact, but that's not going to stop many fans and potential Times' readers around the country from suspecting that if Nocera had selected the world champion WHITE Sox as baseball's signature business operation (it isn't), his bosses would've told him to try again, handing him a shuttle ticket to Logan. That suspicion is why conflicts of interest are bad for newspapers, why they should never, ever, own things they cover. The Times isn't the only offender in this regard, the Tribune corporation owns the Cubs, but the New York paper is the only one so arrogant as to own a team that's not in the city where it does business.

It's just about impossible to breathe and not have at least one conflict of interest. After 30 years in the newspaper business, I can confidently state they're no less ethical than other large human institutions, but no more ethical, either. Its part ownership of the Sox doesn't make the Times look evil, just clueless. But who wants to read a clueless newspaper?


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