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Did the Yankees censor blogs in the wake of the Rafael Soriano deal?

Jan 25, 2011, 5:01 PM EDT

Image (1) yankee%20stadium.jpg for post 4012

TYU has a new post up that raises an interesting ethical question about the Yankees and the blogs with which they’re affiliated:

When news of Rafael Soriano’s signing filtered onto Twitter on the evening of January 13th, many Yankees fans were aghast at the length of the deal and the fact that the club had sacrificed a draft pick to obtain an 8th inning man. A number of those fans used their platforms as bloggers to criticize the signing. In particular, Mike Axisa and Joe Pawlikowski expressed displeasure with the move over at River Avenue Blues (RAB), while Steve Goldman penned a critical column entitled, “What the Heck Are the Yankees Doing?” that ran at his Pinstripe Bible blog. What happened next reeks of censorship and raises questions about the degree of journalistic integrity required by a sports network that is owned by the team that it purports to cover.

TYU then lays out evidence suggesting that either the Yankees or the YES Network — wanting to head off ire from Yankees management — made Pinstripe Bible tone down its criticism of the Rafael Soriano signing and punished RAB by taking away its YES toolbar for a few days in the wake of its critical post.

My take: while there’s no true smoking gun here — neither the RAB guys nor Pinstripe Bible would comment for the post — the case that this was censorship is a fairly convincing one. Mostly because of the subtle changes noted — especially the headline of the Pinstripe Bible post — and because neither blog is the sort of place that would ratchet back its criticism the way TYU observed Pinstripe Bible to do on its own accord.* They’d do a later post saying, in effect, “we’ve had some time to let this soak in and maybe it isn’t as bad as we first thought …”  or something like that.

Why? Because they’re responsible blogs that handle such inevitable shifts in opinion with great transparency. The changes TYU observed between the initial and later posts are anything but transparent. Rather, it appears that dissension from the party line was noted, disapproved of and corrected by either YES or the Yankees.

This may very well be an isolated incident. I don’t know of any other time RAB or Pinstripe Bible has pulled punches, and I find them to be two of the top Yankees blogs going.  Indeed, if there was some heavy-handed editorial control here I presume it was borne of the unusual fact that Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine pulled the trigger on this deal, not Brian Cashman, and someone, somewhere in the Yankees or YES hierarchy was scared that they couldn’t handle the criticism.  In no way do I consider this a black mark on RABs or Pinstripe Bible’s ledger.

But it is the sort of thing that makes one wonder about the relationship between ballclubs and the media scene which they increasingly control through their ownership of RSNs and the power they exert over their online properties.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested that RAB changed its post. It did not. TYU merely observed that RAB lost its YES Network toolbar for a period after the Soriano post went live. The toolbar has since returned to RAB.

  1. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 25, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    I guess I don’t understand what the word “censorship” means in this context. Let me use a made up example:
    1. Craig, you post article that MSNBC does not like.
    2. MSNBC tells you that it does not like and to tone/take it down.
    3a. You tell MSNBC to go to blazes and look for another outlet for your blog
    or
    3b. You comply with MSNBC’s wishes.

    It happens all the time in the real world. You do what you boss/clients/partners want or leave and go your own way. Journalist’s integrity is an oxymoron in this case as these bloggers are in bed with the Yankees to begin with. If they don’t like it they can take their blogs elsewhere. The next thing you know someone with be complaining that the Yankee announcers aren’t evaluating the Red Sox fairly.

    • Moshe Mandel - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:25 PM

      That is fine, if it is transparent. But YES has given these blogs freedom to criticize Girardi, Cashman, etc. To then scale back that freedom based on the fact that ownership made this deal lacks integrity. Readers have come to expect unvarnished honesty from Goldman’s work.

      • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 25, 2011 at 7:12 PM

        If Goldman feels that he is letting is readers down then he should take his blog some place else.

      • JBerardi - Jan 25, 2011 at 9:36 PM

        “Readers have come to expect unvarnished honesty from Goldman’s work.”

        That’s really the weird part about this. Goldman is, if anything, critical of the Yankees to a fault. If this standard of censorship was applied to every Pinstriped Bible post, that blog would actually cease to exist.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    The definition of censorship is to control one’s speech. By that definition that’s what this is. You may call it acceptable censorship. You may call it expected censorship. But it is censorship.

    And in this case it is notable because it is not the sort of censorship that is typical or expected. Neither River Ave. Blues nor Pinstriped Bible has shied away from being critical of Yankees transactions in the past. They were critical here again, but were forced to change their content (in PSB’s case) or were deprived of the benefit of the YES toolbar (in RAB’s case). It was done to tone down criticism in a manner which has not been done before.

    Can YES and the Yankees do it? Of course they can. They can do whatever they want. But do not tell me that we cannot judge the behavior of an organization that unexpectedly controls what their affiliates say when they (a) have not done so previously; and (b) are doing it solely to limit criticism of the sorts of moves that normally are fair game for criticism by team blogs.

    • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 25, 2011 at 7:45 PM

      Craig, I did not tell you that “you cannot judge the behavior” of those involved. What I said is that these blogs are in bed with the Yankees to begin with. To expect some kind of independent and objective integrity from these kind of blogs in just plain silly. It is not like this is a matter of war and peace, it pure entertainment for the Yankee fans and amusement for Red Sox fans. It certainly wasn’t serious enough assault on their jornualistic integrity for the bloggers involved to take their blogs elsewhere. They realized that sometimes their meal ticket yanks their chains. They may not like it, but they don’t whine about it, they leak to another blogger to whine about it.

      I really only get upset with government censorship. As long as the bloggers are free to peddle their wares elsewhere, I don’t see the problem with that (although I could be wrong).

      • Craig Calcaterra - Jan 25, 2011 at 7:54 PM

        “To expect some kind of independent and objective integrity from these kind of blogs in just plain silly.”

        Not when they’ve been able to provide independent and objective work for years without interference until now. It’s silly, I would argue, for the Yankees to start yanking their chains now when they haven’t before. It makes the Yankees look dumb and insecure and makes it harder for the blogs to hold the trust of their readers. Which is a goal the Yankees have implicitly valued for years by virtue of not interfering.

        But I’ll agree: it’s not war and peace here, and yes, government censorship this is decidedly not. But our beat is baseball, and I still think this is worth pointing out. There is a pretty big inherent conflict in much of what passes for the sports media these days. Most of the time the conflicts are resolved pretty well and integrity reigns more than it does not. But when the integrity is compromised, it should be called out for what it is, regardless of whether the big media companies are likely to listen and regardless of whether the bloggers can simply pack up and move elsewhere.

      • JBerardi - Jan 25, 2011 at 9:46 PM

        “To expect some kind of independent and objective integrity from these kind of blogs in just plain silly.”

        Have you ever read the Pinstriped Bible, or much of Goldman’s work in general? Honest question.

      • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 26, 2011 at 12:03 AM

        JBerardi

        Yes, I have read some of Goldman’s work. He is very articulate Yankee blogger. Unfortunately like most true journalists, he has an editor in YES that has to yank his chain from time to time. Journalists have stories yanked by editors all the time and never like it. Some journalist blow a fuse over it and scream that it is a matter of integrity. Goldman to both his credit and professionalism didn’t. He accepted what his editor did and moved on.

        Move out of your van down by the river as it blocking the view from my mom’s basement window. God only knows what will happen when you run out of free government cheese.

      • mplsjoe - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:35 AM

        “I really only get upset with government censorship. As long as the bloggers are free to peddle their wares elsewhere, I don’t see the problem with that (although I could be wrong).”

        Time to start getting upset, I think. The next generation of censorship will come not from the government, which is pretty well hemmed in by the Constituiton, but by private companies and monopolies. When Comcast controlls all media, only Comcast-approved speech will be allowed. The kind of subtle censorship at issue here is a harbinger of things to come.

    • lordd99 - Jan 26, 2011 at 4:06 AM

      There is no doubt that the Pinstriped Bible (PB) was forced to change its copy. I saw the original story when Steve Goldman posted it, and then noticed it was gone the next morning, only to return later that afternoon with substantial edits that made it more friendly toward the Yankees signing of Soriano. It was obvious what happened. Someone, either at the Yankees, or at YES, forced a rewrite. I don’t blame Steve for changing the copy. PB exists under the YES banner, so he is obviously being compensated in some form by the Yankees. I have to say, I have always been impressed that the Yankees let Steve analyze their moves without any form of censorship. This is the first time I can ever remember this happening, so I certainly don’t think less of PB or Steve. He’s the editor of Baseball Prospectus and is one of the best advanced metrics baseball writers around. He is not a blogger in the traditional sense and I read his copy because of his professionalism. If anything, most fans probably think he’s a little too hard on the Yankees. Yet he must make a living, as we all must, so if in this case the Yankees forced a change, then so be it.

      I did not notice the incident at River Avenue Blues (RAB), which, like PB, I visit daily, and I certainly did not notice a change in their coverage of the Soriano signing. They were not supportive. They are still not supportive. I will say that not only are these two blogs among the best in the Yankee universe, they are among the best blogs for any team. Neither holds back in their criticism of the Yankees. RAB is still a more traditional, fan-interaction site, while PB is a little closer to a news site, with some top notch writing. Blogs, however, should not be confused with traditional media as they do not operate under normal journalistic standards.

      I wish every team had quality sites like PB and RAB. Sadly, most don’t. The real story, though, to me is the Yankees reaction. They have never censored any blogs existing under the YES banner in the past, at least as far as I know. Why would they start in this case?

      • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 26, 2011 at 8:59 AM

        Because the publisher, Hank Steinbrenner has very thin skin. He censored the blog because he can’t fire Cashman right now. This is actually a step up for Yankee ownership. Had it been his dad, he might of tried to settle it sicking a goon or two on him.

  3. bloggingleafscentral - Jan 25, 2011 at 7:22 PM

    A New York area team stifling journalists? Never…except for Chris Botta with the Islanders this year. Seems to be a trend towards teams controlling what we hear, because you know, we’re blind to what we see and stuff.

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