Thursday, July 15, 2010

Boss had a love-hate relationship with media

George Steinbrenner had the most fascinating love-hate relationship with the media. His interactions with New York Yankees beat reporters offered amazing insight into how one person could be both a master manipulator and an ally.

It's not often that reporters will admit that they are being used by sources, even though that is often the case. But current and former Yankee beat reporters such as Jack Curry and writer-turned-broadcaster Michael Kay have marveled about Steinbrenner's ability to manipulate reporters to his advantage, pitting them against each other and using their desperation to please their editors' insatiable need for Steinbrenner scoops to plant misleading stories and sometimes outright lies in the newspapers. Reporters who stayed in Steinbrenner's good graces were rewarded, but those who called him out for feeding them BS were punished by unreturned phone calls from the Boss, the death knell for a Yankees beat reporter during Steinbrenner’s heyday.

But even his interactions with the press point to the grand contradiction that was George M. Steinbrenner. Tyler Kepner recalled that the Boss regularly returned his calls in the fallout of the worst journalistic crisis experienced by the New York Times: the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. Steinbrenner freely gave Kepner information as a sign of support and appreciation for the paper's fair coverage of him and his team. It was an incredible insight by Steinbrenner into the detrimental impact that the Blair scandal was having on the paper and his realization that he could help them through the crisis by ensuring they had valuable nuggets from the Boss.

Overall, it's quite clear that the Steinbrenner years were dreadful for reporters. If they were lucky to be on the receiving end of a call from the Boss, reporters could count on a major scoop that would sell thousands of additional papers. But if one of their competitors got that call, there was hell to pay from their actual bosses. In that sense, Steinbrenner had a control over the media that was unmatched by any other public figure.

Reporters seemed to be relieved that the Boss largely faded into the background in recent years, allowing them to compete on an even level by cultivating their own sources within the organization and sport without fear that Steinbrenner would tip the balance in favor of whomever his favorite reporter happened to be at the time. But I’m sure they also missed the roar of the Boss, who was always the best story in town.

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