When he wrote a line that described how the Jets old headquarters at Hofstra had barbed wire around its facility to evoke the image that the team wasn’t previously friendly to the outside world, the line was edited out. It was a negative characterization, he was told.
“I was disgusted that those things came out,” he said. (Mr. Matthews then pointed to a Times story from a few weeks ago—that being the sober New York Times, which refrains from name-calling—using the same description of the old headquarters.)
In February, he was assigned to write a column on Groundhog Day about the Mets. He said he wrote a “sarcastic” column about how the Mets seem to suffer from the same problem year after year. He said there was no name-calling. “Hank called me and said, ‘You know this can’t get into the paper,” said Mr. Matthews. “I said, ‘If it’s not getting in the paper, then I’m done writing columns. I know I still know how to write a column; I just don’t know how to do it for you.”
Mr. Matthews said he was told he had “the wrong tone.”
“They don’t want sarcasm in the paper,” he said. “What they want is straightforward analysis of why they’re having problems. You can’t have fun with it. You have to say the Mets need help at first base because Daniel Murphy is hitting .220.”
Mr. Matthews said that after the Mets column was killed, he started to get phased out of the paper’s sports coverage. He is no stranger to abandoning a paper when he thinks there’s some degree of censorship. In 2002, he left the New York Post after he claimed the paper wouldn’t run a column in which he was critical of the paper’s own gossip page after it had run a blind item that gave a big wink-wink that Mets catcher Mike Piazza was gay.
Sensing that his time at Newsday was done, he began negotiating with ESPN’s New York channel, which has poached sports journalists in the region like Daily News sports editor Leon Carter and Bergen Record columnist Ian O’Connor.
According to Mr. Matthews, Mr. Winnicki caught wind of those talks and asked why the Newsday columnist hadn’t informed him that he was considering leaving the paper. “I don’t want to work here anymore and I can’t imagine anyone who would,” Mr. Matthews said he told his editor. “I’ll enumerate the reasons. A, I’m getting more money; b, a freer contract; c, I don’t have to work for the Dolans; d, I can write what I want.”
Mr. Matthews joined ESPN’s site, which launched earlier this month. Though Mr. Matthews said he had no firsthand knowledge that the Dolans were involved in his dealings with the paper, he said the perception that they could have been is damaging enough.
And now that Mr. Matthews is free from the restrictions of the paper’s new sports page’s policy …
“These are the people who fired Marv Albert for being too critical of the Knicks,” said Mr. Matthews. “They have tarnished the paper. They’re running it into the ground the way they did with the Garden and the Wiz. They’ve turned it into shit.”