This past Monday, on a day our nation paused to remember a man who preached acceptance and forgiveness, the St. Louis Cardinals completed their winter warmups with a news conference. But before the first question was lobbed, Cards first baseman Albert Pujols went after the media.
The monstrous slugger asked the team's media relations director to ban one television station from covering his question-answer session. The reporter and videographer from KTVI in St. Louis then sheepishly stood in the corner of the room, camera off and tails firmly between their legs. Call it a visit to the 'media dunce corner.'
Pujols had his reasons. Just before the massive and sport-changing Mitchell Report was released on the afternoon of December 13th, there were rumors cooking on MLB 'Hot Stove' websites and message boards all over the country. And one of those items caught fire...an online report that claimed one of the soon-to-be-outed steroids users was the Cardinals Dominican superstar. The temptation to run the story was simply too much for KTVI. Their sports department and station management aired the story that morning. All of St. Louis was reeling over the idea that their hero was a cheater.
But, according to what we think we know from the Mitchell Report, he didn't. That is the definition of a media flub, and unintentional bad press for Pujols. That night, KTVI ran an extended live report and refuted the early morning mistake. But Pujols, who is essentially a walking deity in St. Louis for all of the charity work he has done for the Gateway city, was livid. He immediately released a statement through his foundation, calling the report 'reckless.' Pujols added, "I have never had a problem with the media when they do their job correctly, whether it is positive or negative - just as long as they report truthfully."
It's important to note that Pujols, for all we know, is one of the good guys. Though he comes across as harsh depending on his 'media mood,' he has done wonders for Down Syndrome research in Missouri. His daughter Isabella has the genetic disorder and his family's work (and their Christian message) is quite inspiring. Pujols has used his fame and fortune for unselfish means and should be commended for that.
But he doesn't understand media. For as much as he's dealt with reporters, he's not familiar with the competitive and cut-throat nature of broadcasting. That report ran for a reason, because KTVI was trying to do their job. They took a chance, which happens often in today's 'saw it here first' media world, and they flat out blew it.
This is not to say that KTVI acted appropriately. They did not. They got the story from WNBC in New York City. The false report included several 'bombshell' names that weren't in the Mitchell Report. Pujols, Damon, Garciaparra, Pudge Rodriguez, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior among others. The problem? None of them were listed in the Mitchell Report released just hours later.
Running the mysterious online report, complete with anonymous sources, was a risk NOT worth taking. What's worse is that though they retracted their report, KTVI station management did not properly apologize for their mistake. In fact, they were arrogant in defending themselves. Then news director Kingsley Smith violated any sense of journalism ethics by airing the story, then used his affiliated network status to protect his decision.
Smith said being a FOX affiliate "allows us a little more latitude" to essentially air rumors. Smith said doing so provides a "certain sense of edginess and aggressiveness." Who says? Does FOX condone this sort of reporting? Doubt it. Yes Fox is 'edgy'...that's been their M.O. since the days 'Married With Children' first hit the air. But that doesn't mean you run rumors as truth in special news coverage.
Here's the kicker, Smith actually got a better job out of this. From media market #21 in St. Louis, to #4 in Philadelphia. Another FOX affiliate...so maybe Smith was right. That is a scary thought.
Here's Smith's rise to becoming the news director in Philly:
1. Work hard, for years at stations all across the country. (Click for a linkedin resume)
2. Land a top-notch job at a great market.
3. Approve of airing a weak and bogus report with no substantial sources. (Don't bother fact-checking...we're in a hurry!)
4. Dedicate as much air time to this report as possible.
5. When you discover the report is completely false and potentially damaging, refuse to properly apologize.
6. Defend your actions by saying your station's network affiliation allows you to bend/break/bust any ethical standards.
7. Parlay it into a much better job.
8. Laugh on the way to the bank, while also praying the Philly media doesn't pay too much attention.
Journalists and media professors across the country should be outraged by this. But there hasn't been much backlash.
KTVI (and Kingsley Smith) deserve to share the blame with WNBC for going with this report. The responsible media organizations should roll some heads.
But Pujols' latest move is also wrong.
Athletes should not have the ability to limit a specific media outlet's access. If he's limited to one, he should be limited to all. The KTVI sports staff can not be expected to compete with others in the market if they can't interview the team's superstar. Cardinals media relation director Brian Bartow needs to grow a backbone and work this out immediately; and not just for KTVI's sake or for positive public relations for the club. Athletes and coaches do this sort of thing constantly...denying one reporter or another depending on an 'unfair' article or for writing anything negative.
We need to look at the big picture here. The sports media is there to serve the public...to allow fans to be informed and entertained with the latest news and info regarding their favorite teams and players. By banning KTVI from his news conferences, Pujols is denying their viewers that opportunity. That carries with it some troubling consequences for KTVI.
Pujols believes he was damaged by the report...that he will somehow be linked to steroids. The only way that will happen is if he continues to act as a whining child.
Pujols publicly insists God is first and foremost in his life. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Pujols needs to practice what he preaches. Forgive and forget. The rest of us will do the same.