Flawed Logic, Flawed Ethics

In today’s NYT, Murray Chass writes that the HOF Veterans Committee’s not choosing any candidate for enshrinement “demonstrates that the system is working well.” Noting that all players on the VC ballot had spent 15 years on the primary writer’s ballot without election, he asks, “Why should anyone think the committee is obliged to alter those results?” Why? Because the writers (that is, Chass’s colleagues) make oversights. That’s why the committee exists in the first place. But what’s truly amazing here is what Chass does not tell his readers: that he’s a (non-voting) member of the Veterans Committee. That seems like a pretty massive conflict of interest to leave unmentioned. Paging the Ethicist…..

4 comments… add one
  • I think it’s high time we just start ignoring Chass. His malignant columns from this past season should have clued us in: the guy is finished as both a writer and a baseball thinker (if he ever was one).

    SF March 6, 2005, 11:12 am
  • I disagree rather strongly with both of you here on several points.
    While do I agree that Chass should have disclosed his membership, the fact that he DIDN’T vote (as per the Times’ long-standing policy) effectively squelches that membership. Had he voted, the omission would be rather egregious, and I’ll allow that I don’t know whether he lobbied for any players without voting, but I think you’re making a mountain out of a milehill here.
    As to the quality of his writing, he was a pioneer in the coverage of the business and legal sides of the game, and it’s those things that earned him the Spink Award, the Baseball Hall of Fame’s highest honor for a writer. If more reporters were as intrepid as Chass, reportage of baseball’s real issues would be greatly improved. I happen to think he’s been doing some excellent work lately, particularly with regards to breaking the Giambi contract fiasco (removal of the steroid language).
    On a paper with the execrable Selena Roberts, in a town where Mike Lupica and the entire New York Post run rampant with examples of malignancy and worse, and in a country where Bill Plaschke, TJ Simers, Phil Rogers, Richard Griffn (OK, continent) and hundreds of other hacks polute our newspapers, Chass is one of the good guys. Ignore him at your peril.

    Jay Jaffe March 8, 2005, 1:03 pm
  • Jay:
    I’m not going to defend SF’s Chass-bashing, but I respectfully disagree with you here regarding what is, frankly, a gross ethics lapse. The idea that he can report about a committee on which he sits without disclosing that fact is simply not acceptable by the paper’s own ethics standards. Armed with this knowledge, readers might legitimately question his impartiality in defending the committee’s performance, whether he participated in its voting or not. To deny that information seems inexcusable. This kind of laxity is (at least theoretically) not acceptable in the “hard news” sections of the paper. Chass should not get a free pass simply because he’s an elder statesman. It’s precisely this kind of favoritism/double standardization that has caused the paper so many problems over the last year or two.

    YF March 8, 2005, 1:33 pm
  • Jay:
    Thanks for the thoughtful defense of Chass. I am an no position to disagree with you about the likes of Lupica and the other tabloid train wrecks who masquerade as sports journalists, but that’s the rub here. Is Chass a reporter or an opinion-maker? I can take (or rather, very easily cast off) the rantings of many of the other writers in this town (just as I can write off guys like Dan Shaughnessy in Boston) because they are editorialists, not news reporters. Chass’ strength, as you allude to, was his ability as a news journalist. It’s in this capacity that he strayed, and strayed horribly, this past season. His columns were filled not with newsworthy discoveries, but near-delusional rants, particularly nasty and uninformed ones at that, directed towards the Red Sox, their management and players. This year, especially, he blurred the lines (actually, he erased the lines) between being a newshound and an editorialist, and that blurring has caused great damage to his reputation, in my eyes. His worst stuff came out this past season at the Yankees’ most embarrassing moments. That’s probably not a coincidence.
    As for disclosure of his non-voting status on the committee, well, disclosure is disclosure, and I am with YF on this one. The fact that he did not vote doesn’t immunize him, in any way, from a charge of poor judgment. I am certainly NOT a journalist, nor have I ever been to journalism school, but doesn’t this simple disclosure (a non-newsorthy one at that) seem like a classroom example of how NOT to create the appearance of a conflict-of-interest? Isn’t that what should be the standard goal for a journalist, to keep a reader from detecting any conflict, to protect one’s integrity? It’s not that the non-vote actually causes a conflict in his reportage; it’s that the appearance of one can compromise his credibility. To me, this is an error of judgment, and a pretty serious and deliberate one.
    Lastly, if you want to see the wonderful work of a beat reporter who is in his prime, doing yeoman’s work at story-getting without bias, read Gordon Edes of the Globe any chance you can. Perhaps he’ll remind you of Chass in his prime, when he stuck to news, and before he started dotting his columns with petty insults.

    SF March 9, 2005, 7:18 am

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