Mike Freeman Chums the Waters, and the Sports Sharks Are Biting

Soon after Mike Freeman, who covers football for The New York Times , posted his 2,000-word commentary on the “unprofessionalism” of his New York colleagues in a discussion forum of Sportspages.com, a popular Web site among sports journalists, his harsh appraisal became the talk of the business.

Mr. Freeman’s posting was scathing in parts, raising issues of racism and sexism and charging that some sportswriters spread rumors that competitors paid for scoops and that others downloaded porn in the press box at baseball games. In other parts, it included tales that sounded like nothing more than the sometimes unpalatable (but by no means novel) tactics of reporters employed by the highly competitive New York press.

But the reason that Mr. Freeman’s screed garnered attention at all was that he named names, coming down hardest on the beat reporters who cover the New York Jets: Rich Cimini of the Daily News, Bob Glauber of Newsday , Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post , Randy Lange of the Bergen Record and Barry Wilner of the Associated Press.

“In New York, writers have elevated the sport of nastiness to Olympic levels,” Mr. Freeman wrote as part of his critique, which was posted on Oct. 30, “fabricating stories about competitors to the team officials they cover, portraying black writers as lackeys for black athletes, and treating some women reporters as an inferior species. We are the varsity when it comes to self-abuse; the rest of the journalism community is a bunch of amateurs.”

If Mr. Freeman is right in his assertion that the New York sports press corps is characterized by “petty squabbles, jealous insecurities, and downright meanness,” his posting was like tossing chum into a shark tank.

The sharks bit.

“We consider this to be an inappropriate assault on Bob, his credibility and Newsday , and we complained to The Times ,” said Steve Ruinsky, Newsday ‘s assistant managing editor for sports. He wrote as much to Neil Amdur, Mr. Freeman’s editor at The Times , in defense of sportswriter Bob Glauber.

Among Mr. Freeman’s complaints was one accusing Mr. Glauber of sexism, as well as of being too cozy with Jets head coach Al Groh, and of being a “ringleader” in an effort to discredit a quote by Mr. Groh that Mr. Freeman had reported.

It was the sexism claim–that Mr. Glauber had “made sexist comments, on at least two occasions, to women sportswriters. I heard one of those remarks firsthand”–that most upset Mr. Glauber.

“I am not a sexist and I don’t make sexist comments. Mike Freeman’s accusations are wholly made up,” Mr. Glauber said. “I respect my wife, my two daughters and all human beings too much to demean anybody, and I am deeply offended by Mr. Freeman’s accusations, and I’m embarrassed for the entire press corps that one of our members would be so unfaithful to the truth.”

Mr. Glauber added, “I have spoken to a friend who is an attorney” (though Mr. Ruinsky said litigation isn’t being considered yet).

So far, Mr. Amdur has not responded to Mr. Ruinsky’s letter. However, Mr. Amdur told Off the Record that Mr. Freeman’s posting was not The Times ‘ responsibility.

“From our standpoint, we really looked upon it as something that was not between The New York Times and any other writers per se, but it was Mike’s own personal situation,” Mr. Amdur said.

And personal it was, indeed, at least for the subjects of the posting–some of whom were referred to anonymously, although sportswriters have said many of the subjects are easily identifiable. In some of the more scandalous bits, Mr. Freeman wrote: “A Newark Star Ledger football reporter spreads the vicious, and untrue, rumor that a competing journalist pays players cash for information. Two New York baseball writers during a game watch pornography on their computers. When a woman writer objects, they actually become angry at her, loudly chastising the reporter for complaining. A Daily News columnist regularly uses his Sunday writings to take cheap shots at other New York journalists.”

The bulk of Mr. Freeman’s essay is devoted to an incident at a Jets press conference last month. He called it “the most unprofessional scene in recent memory.” It took place at the Oct. 25 press conference with Mr. Groh at the Jets’ practice facility in Hempstead, L.I.; Mr. Freeman wrote that he was not there. The press conference followed the dramatic fourth-quarter Jets victory over the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 23, a Monday night.

In the stories that appeared in Tuesday’s papers, most reporters highlighted the half-time performance of Mr. Groh, in which he had angrily screamed at his team–down at that point 23-7–thrown a metal stool and kicked a laundry bin.

On Wednesday, the day of the press conference, Mr. Freeman had written a story about Mr. Groh with more details, including a quote from Mr. Groh during the half-time tirade, sourced to “one player,” in which the coach told his team: “The nation is watching a bunch of pathetic losers.”

Even by the standards of the N.F.L., this was seen as particularly harsh; it was widely reprinted in sports pages across the country. None of the other writers on the Jets beat had the quote. So, at Mr. Groh’s press conference the day Mr. Freeman’s story appeared, Rich Cimini, the Daily News ‘ Jets beat writer, asked the coach about the quote; Mr. Groh denied it, saying, “It’s a complete and total fabrication.” He did not dispute the rest of the account, though. The next day, several papers–including the Daily News , the New York Post , the Associated Press, and even Mr. Freeman’s Times –reported Mr. Groh’s denial.

Mr. Freeman, though, wrote that he felt like the regular beat writers were out to tear down his story retaliating, because he had reported a detail that they had missed. “The Jets writers have ripped me many times … but this rant took on a more sinister tone. The writers decided among themselves that the quote was inaccurate and as a group, also decided they were going to get Groh to deny it,” Mr. Freeman wrote.

He added, “Getting a head coach or player to deny a controversial remark after they see it in print is about as difficult as making a ham sandwich.”

Messrs. Cannizzaro, Lange and Wilner did not return calls for comment. But Mr. Cimini did and, not surprisingly, he doesn’t see things the same way. He said he was bothered that Mr. Freeman had never checked the “pathetic losers” remark himself with Mr. Groh. “He made it sound like we broke out the noisemakers and the party hats,” he said.

“I know if I had that damning a quote, I would have used it,” Mr. Cimini said. “I would have rather had Groh confirm the quote. That’s a better story for us.”

If Mr. Freeman was so upset about the “pathetic losers” story, Mr. Cimini said he wishes he had come to him personally. “My only disappointment is that I wish he had called me so we could talk man-to-man. We could have hashed it out.”

Mr. Freeman declined an interview with Off the Record to discuss his posting. By way of explanation, he wrote in an e-mail: “I must apologize, and I feel bad about doing this, but I had just better keep a low profile for now.”

Condé Nast cares. Si Newhouse’s beauty- and-fashion-magazine empire declared a company holiday on Nov. 7 for Election Day. While Condé Nast won’t stop for a run-of-the-mill midterm Congressional election or an odd-year Mayoral race, the company shuts down for Presidential elections.

“We feel that it’s one of the ways we can be sensitive to our staff and give them as much opportunity as possible to exercise their right to vote,” said a company spokeswoman.

With New Yorker staff members suddenly finding a lot of free time on their hands, research assistant Erin Overbey suggested that everyone pitch in for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. “I know this is mostly Nader territory,” Ms. Overbey wrote in a staff-wide e-mail, “so for those who find a Hillary/Gore plug a bit ‘square,’ I apologize.” She plugged on: “Hillary’s down in the polls & it looks like baby-faced ‘newt’ lazio might just pull a Pataki, so I thought I’d give out the hillary/gore [sic] campaign # for anyone interested in volunteering & helping them out.”

Just a few blocks away from the empty 4 Times Square, Jann Wenner’s staff (who at Rolling Stone , at least, have done a bit of politicking for the Gore-Lieberman ticket), was at work on Election Day. Still, they received a notice the day before that US Weekly and Men’s Journal would not get in the way of the democratic process. “Wenner Media encourages all employees to get out and vote. If you are unable to make the time to vote either before or after work, please talk to your supervisor to determine a mutually agreeable time during the work day to vote.”

Showing the least patriotic enthusiasm on Election Day was Time Inc., which had no formal plans for employees to take time off to vote. Besides, Tuesdays is the closing day for Entertainment Weekly , and the Time staff was busy putting out its mammoth election special.

Speaking of free time at Condé Nast, on Nov. 1 Mademoiselle announced that it had hired Geri Richter Campbell as its celebrity wrangler.

Why? Editor in chief Mandi Norwood explained in a press release: “Research we recently conducted confirmed that our subscribers and newsstand readers are fascinated by celebrities.” Quelle surprise!

A spokeswoman explained that the magazine recently held a round of focus groups, and they learned, of all things, that newsstand buyers are more likely to buy magazines with famous faces and bodies on the covers.

Who knew?

Dr. John Gray, who has turned a simple astrological turn of phrase into a lucrative cottage industry, knows a good plug when he sees one.

In the middle of a profile of Willie Nelson in the November issue of Details , the thrice-divorced country singer mentions that he’s still trying to figure out the differences between men and women. “For instruction,” wrote Rob Tannenbaum, “he takes comfort in a trusted holy text–yes, Willie Nelson has read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus . ‘It’s the best explanation I’ve heard,’ he says. ‘The only one that makes sense.'”

Notwithstanding the article’s intended sarcasm and dismissive tone, Mr. Gray was pleased to get the mention. So pleased, in fact, that he sent along a couple of his books, inscribed, for Mr. Nelson. Somehow, though, they ended up in the hands of the Details staff, not Mr. Nelson’s.

“I admire your work and love your music. Always grow in love and share your light,” Mr. Gray inscribed in his bestseller, Men Are from Mars .

With his more recent but slower-selling Practical Miracles for Mars & Venus: Nine Principles for Lasting Love, Increasing Success, and Vibrant Health in the 21st Century , Mr. Gray took a more personal tone: “Dear Willie, I hope you enjoy many of the techniques enclosed. I hope to meet you and share them personally [which Mr. Gray misspelled as “personalley” before scratching out the E ]. Best wishes, John Gray.”

Details is still siding with Mr. Nelson as its expert on love. “You could argue that there’s more about relationship wisdom in Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ [which Mr. Nelson wrote] than anything John Gray’s written,” said a staffer. Mike Freeman Chums the Waters, and the Sports Sharks Are Biting