Should Journalists Face the Music?

A few years back I wrote a tough piece for the Times Magazine about a Blake Edwards’ show on Broadway called Victor/Victoria. Edwards had let me hang out with the production as long as I wanted. When I wrote the piece, it was tough on the show. The great Robin Wagner was the set designer. He and I had gotten to be friends and he called me the weekend the magazine came out. He said, “You have to come to the opening of the show, just come in the stage door the way you always do and see everyone.” “Oh no,” I said. “Don’t you understand, you wrote what you wanted to, that’s fine, now you have to come see the people you wrote this about. Be a man.”

But I didn’t do what Robin said because I was a 3-toed lizard.

This is apropos of the squabble between White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, in which Guillen called Mariotti a “fag” and was then ordered by Selig to have sensitivity training. One reason Guillen was upset with Mariotti is the guy didn’t come into the locker room to talk to the players and manager.

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey agrees with Guillen:

Let’s say I criticize Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski for something he did in a game. And let’s say I do it in the Sunday Tribune, which has a circulation of about 960,000.

Isn’t it reasonable for Pierzynski to have an opportunity to lash out at me in front of media and teammates in the clubhouse if I’ve treated him similarly in print? It seems pretty straightforward to me. It’s what I was taught to do. It’s what nearly all of the columnists in the country do. The honorable thing.

Look, it’s not always fun walking into a locker room. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it comes with the territory of being a columnist.

I want to offer some exceptions to Morrissey’s rule. A journalist should be able to criticize a ballplayer’s performance, or George Bush’s, without have to talk about it with him. “Showing up” to talk it over is menschy, but it brings up the issue of access and compromise. (Michael Kinsley used to say that profiles of important people should be written without meeting the person—otherwise the journalist just gets charmed and hornswoggled.)

But it’s all context. The locker room isn’t the White House. Journalists have real power over baseball teams, and theatrical runs. If they’re big enough to dish it out, they should be big enough to take it. Morrissey is right on this. And so was Robin Wagner.

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