Saturday, November 26, 2005

Come on, Mike Wise, get your facts straight

I think Mike Wise has been a pretty good columnist for the Washington Post in the year and a half or so since he joined the paper, but I found his column about the Nationals ownership situation really disappointing, both for the conclusion he reached and the unfair smear he engaged in along the way. Let me explain.

First of all, even though he did not formally (or informally, for that matter) credit it, I was glad to see Wise actually cited the information in my Washington Jewish Week article from July--by noting that "prominent Jewish leaders said [Fred] Malek has atoned for his role as a Nixon White House aide who counted the number of Jews working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
But then he proceeds to, unfairly in my opinion, wonder whether the "negative campaign" directed against his fellow prospective owner, Jeff Smulyan, could have been motivated by "Smulyan's Jewish faith." First of all, was there really a "negative campaign" directed against Smulyan? Tom Boswell wrote a couple negative columns about him in the Post, and Boz is certainly seems to be a supporter of the Malek group, but couldn't Boswell have initiated that campaign on his own? And since the Post basically sets the agenda in Washington when it comes to sports--since both the sports radio station here and the top local sportcaster, George Michael, often parrot the Post's lead and actually employ top Post columnists (with the Tony Kornheiser Show on WTEM and the Redskins Report and Full Court Press on Channel 4), one column in the Post goes very far. (By the way, I'm not blaming the Post on this by any means. It's not their writers' fault if someone wants to treat their opinions as gospel and pay them to appear on their stations. But it would occasionally be nice if those broadcasters--and to be fair, George Michael tries to some extent, much more than WTEM--form their own opinions on things. Ironically, it was a first when WTEM and Andy Pollin actually split with a prominent Post columnist and gave Smulyan a nice big wet kiss when he appeared on "The Sports Reporters" a couple of months ago.)

Didn't mean to get off on a tangent there. What I found unfair was Wise blaming this alleged negative campaign against Smulyan on Fred Malek's alleged anti-Semitism. This doesn't make any sense, whatever you may think of Fred Malek and his atonement or lack thereof for 30 year old mistakes. First of all, the third of the three frontrunners in the ownership group, the Lerner family, is Jewish! Was there a negative campaign against them? Of course not. In fact, Wise makes a reference to Ted Lerner being as reclusive as J.D. Salinger. Please. Ted Lerner was at a dinner supporting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum just a few weeks ago that I attended, and Ted Lerner's son, Mark Lerner (who will likely take over the team in a few years if Ted Lerner gets it) was at the Kennedy Center attending a Anti-Defamation League-sponsored National Symphony Orchestra concert just last week. That's not exactly Howard Hughes behavior.

Second, Malek's partner in his bid, Jeffrey Zients, and at least one other of his investors are Jewish. So they would rip Smulyan because he is Jewish? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, Mike.

But more annoying, perhaps, was Wise's endorsement of Smulyan's ownership bid. Yes, partly it was a joke--he said he was the only guy who returned his call--but he also said that Smulyan would be likely to bring in former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein as GM here. Leaving aside the merits of that move (I'm not sure how I feel on it), the Los Angeles papers reported a couple weeks ago that Epstein turned down the GM job in L.A. because, the word was, he has very strong ties to the Malek ownership group and would be GM here if Malek was able to buy the team. So Mike, if you want Theo, you should be rooting for Fred.

But the biggest problem with Smulyan, that Wise doesn't mention and Mark Plotkin of WTOP didn't mention in his endorsement of Smulyan last week, is not the out-of-town issue--which I think Smulyan has convinced me won't be an issue as far as possibly moving the team, although I still think someone who has lived in the D.C. area for a lengthy period of time (as the Lerners and many in the Malek group have) would be a better choice. The problem is that Smulyan has said--and I haven't seen anything to the contrary--that his business, Emmis Broadcasting, would actually own the team, not him. This is much more of a concern than the out-of-town issue, since the team's prospects and fortunes will be inextricably tied to the fortunes of Emmis Broadcasting. If Smulyan's business has a bad year, you can likely expect Smulyan to, in turn, cut payroll with the Nationals. I know Major League Baseball doesn't care, but I think the fans of the Washington Nationals will. If the team is owned by a corporation, that's a really bad deal. Tom Boswell has written about this. It's a shame Mike Wise didn't read his column about it.


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