The Astros and media access in the age of Trump

by John Boruk

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The day after Justin Verlander was drafted with the second overall pick in the 2004 MLB Draft, I was fortunate enough to be the first person to interview him on camera at Comerica Park in Detroit.

He was smart, articulate and extremely insightful – a reporter’s ideal interview.

Verlander is what a reporter would refer to as a go-to guy. If you’re looking for an intuitive, intellectual answer, then this is the athlete you would “go to” to find the response you’re looking for to add credibility to a story. 

As you would expect Verlander was in high demand after facing his former team Wednesday night.

Interestingly, the Astros ace pitcher made the conscious decision that he would not address the media if Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech was in attendance. The organization obliged Verlander’s request.  

Fenech fired off a picture of Astros clubhouse personnel blocking his entry into the locker room until Verlander had wrapped up his interview session. 

Source: Anthony Fenech/Detroit Free Press

In a tweet sent out the following day, Verlander explained his reasoning behind the decision to exclude Fenech in what he termed “unethical behavior.” 

The Astros defended their decision to block Fenech’s access through a statement released by Gene Dias, Astros vice president of communication, “This course of action was taken after taking into consideration the past history between Fenech and one of our players.

Without any knowledge of their past interactions, I can only speculate that this distrust between the player and beat reporter is the result of something that Fenech wrote or tweeted that was blatantly untruthful or an opinion absent of anything factual. In reading Fenech’s Free Press bio he seems to take great pride in the quantity of his work, more so than the quality.

Source: Free Press

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Proclaiming to be the “world record-holder” for the most live blogs in Freep.com history may be tongue-in-cheek, but in a short bio with limited space, it also suggests how this writer is part of today’s new-age media that prefers to produce a high amount of content that may not always be fact checked or resourced to the fullest.  

When Fenech was finally allowed to enter the Astros clubhouse, Verlander told him specifically that he would not be answering his questions. It’s become a byproduct of the strained relationships that now exist between the press and public figures – most notably the President of the United States and his constant indictment of “fake news” to a handful of news outlets.  

Quality, well-sourced journalism has been conveniently replaced by today’s Op-Ed anything goes style of writing. Opinion-based storytelling is now more valued than straight no-nonsense objective journalism as we live in a digital age of reporting where no one remembers who got what wrong from one minute to the next.

Why would news organizations bother expending any time and manpower towards truthfulness and accountability when readers only seem to be focused on written drivel that’s in alignment with their belief system?

Look at the New York Times and their executive decision to shift their reporting based merely on striking nerves with their readers and building narratives.

Which leads me back to Verlander, Fenech and the difference between a reporter’s access and the accessibility to athletes.

The Houston Astros were wrong – and in violation of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement – in banning Fenech from the clubhouse, but his access to the clubhouse doesn’t provide him accessibility to Verlander. He can ask the pitcher all the questions he want, Verlander is in no way obligated to answer any of them.

 In the case of former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch it becomes a laughable punchline – “I’m only here so I won’t get fined.”

A reporter’s first amendment, freedom of the press rights doesn’t grant well-thought out responses from the person they’re interviewing, and if they think it does, then let’s reverse the argument.

Reporters every day are selective as to what their storyline will be and who they interview to give credibility to that story. They conveniently pick and choose what direction they want the story to go and consequently which quotes and/or facts they want to include or exclude. 

Which is why we can’t blame athletes if they pick and choose who they want to open up to, or conversely refuse to speak with.

I found that out the hard way when former MLBer Jayson Werth refused to give me an interview in the clubhouse after the Phillies had just won the 2008 World Series after I had openly criticized him for a base running blunder earlier in the series. 

Personally, I thought it was short-sighted, but regardless that was his decision. Denial is part of life and you move on. 

For reporters who are professional enough to understand this, they’re mindful not to carry a chip on their shoulder in their day-to-day reporting, while avoiding writing a damning article as a result of being shunned or rejected – regardless of whether it’s valid or not.

Unfortunately, today’s political climate has proven, more than anything, that’s clearly no longer the standard.