Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The power of the Frankmasons

"Wayne Knight is officially freaked out" award for March 1st; file it under "access killed the radio star"

Some time ago, I dedicated an award to the most expressive character of the film "JFK." To put it simply, these guys are right: I'm sort of fond of conspiracy theories.

Accelerating right down that alley is the story of an aggrieved man named Mike Vechery, who---if you'll pardon the (presumed) rhyme---accuses Frank Robinson, the Nats, Major League Baseball, and Nats radio partner WFED-AM of treachery.

First, an introductory note: Outside of an email I received from him, I have no idea who he is. He's certainly a realtor (from the looks of it, a pretty good one), and his radio broadcasts (used to?) air on WFED. If you believe his website, his show appeared to be exactly what we should hope for in local AM radio---and then some. While the show appeared to focus on real estate matters, his guest list---including the author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul," legendary high school basketball coach Morgan Wooten, a CIA whistleblower, an UnderArmour exec, and the Nats' media director---is truly impressive for a show airing on WFED's meager signal. (More at the website of WTOP, the Bonneville cluster's flagship station. Notice no audio link to his Feb. 27 show.)

I give this background neither to provide Mr. Vechery a plug (how could I, given the size and scope of this blog?) nor because I really have to duty to (it appears that he emailed most of the Nats bloggers out there, as well as---presumably---people with actual influence). Instead, I want to offer the caveat that, although his claims are certainly "out there," Mr. Vechery appears to be a very successful individual and is probably influenced a bit by emotion in his accusations.

Speaking of which, his website links to a .PDF press release, but thankfully Chris from Capitol Punishment already found the press release somewhere else. It's long, but let's see if we can attempt to get a grasp of what might have* happened.

1. Mr. Vechery is in Florida for Nats spring training. Interestingly, the WTOP website promotes his Feb. 27 show as having "reports" on Nats-related activities and personalities. Apparently, he's been given a press credential.
2. At Frank Robinson's Feb. 27 press conference, Vechery asks a question to Robinson about steroids/BALCO/etc. In recap, Vechery vaguely claims that while no ground rules were set for the press conference, this question was "off-limits."
3. The same day, Vechery purchases spring training signage and an ad in the Nats spring programs to advertise the radio show.
4. The next day, Vechery was removed from the morning press conference, stripped of his press credentials and notified his sponsorship agreement had been repudiated.
5. WFED terminated his radio contract.
6. WFED pulled the plug on his most recent Sunday show 20 minutes in.
7. According to a termination letter from a Bonneville exec, Vechery was terminated for representing himself as a WFED employee.
8. WFED offered to compensate Vechery for shows not aired.

Consequently, Mr. Vechery contends that "Frank Robinson became part of an expulsion plot by the Nationals, Major League Baseball(MLB),and Washington DC's WFED radio station, the station set to broadcast all Nationals baseball games."

In all honesty, it's the "expulsion plot" part---along with accusations of being "blackball[ed]" from his "valuable time slot"---that merits this the "Wayne Knight" status.

Look, it would be grossly out of place to discuss any legal claims Mr. Vechery may or may not have, so I won't even go there. I wish to go in a different direction.

Why, would you presume, Bonneville (or the Nats themselves) got so upset? If I had to guess, I would speculate that somehow Mr. Vechery converted "spectator/visitor-with-credentials" status (sort of quasi-spectator, or "spectator-with-privileges") into "quasi-journalist" status. In fact, I suspect Mr. Vechery admits as much in the press release:

As a native Washingtonian, baseball fan, journalist andbusinessman, I am appalled at these strong arm tactics. I was to providequality journalism on the Nationals at a quality time slot. The Nationalsappear to be Anti 1st Amendment, Anti Journalist(unless you work for the bigboys) and Anti Business.

The thought occurs to me that Mr. Vechery was attempting to be the radio analog of the "new journalism" of blogging and was cut down because commercial radio isn't an applicable medium.

There's a lot of talk about blogging these days---particularly political blogging, but sports blogging is a popular form, too, and not without comment and criticism (just check out the Ballpark Guys DC baseball forum). I like blogging because I like writing. Yet, let's not delude ourselves; I'm not a professional journalist (though I could have been, if that had remained my desire), and I'm not a sabermetrics expert. I'm just a guy with an opinion who aims (though not always succeeds) to add a little insight to the conversation. I know my place, I hope.

Last night, in fact, a Washington Post reporter called me. He had seen my entry regarding "MVP Baseball 2005" and wanted to know more about it from a Nats fan's perspective. I was happy to provide any thoughts I could and gratified to know that I'll be quoted in the story. He was aware of my blog, I think, and I, of course, invited him to check it out; however, that was not the point of his story, obviously, and I am not as ostentatious as to attempt to hijack a reporter's time by promoting my free, leisurely writing.

By comparison, it is my suspicion (and, without knowing more, just my suspicion) that Mr. Vechery crossed this line. And, without knowing more, I can't really blame WFED or the Nationals for asserting some control over media access. They're the ones who hire and pay the radio guys, of course. Commercial radio, unlike blogging, is not a free enterprise with only one resource limitation (time).

Coincidentally, this story reminds me of an anecdote recently from the public radio show "This American Life." A man was recounting the time he interrupted President Bush's (the first one's) press conference. Bush handled the situation with incredible deft and aplomb; instead of shouting down the guy or summoning his arrest, Bush engaged him in conversation, reminded him that the questions period had not begun, and promised him a question.

The man was in shock. He expected to be arrested. That is what he expected; he was protesting, after all. When it came time for questions, he had nothing to say in particular.

A time and a place, a time and a place. That should be our credo for those of us embarking in this "new," quasi-journalistic "journalism."


*This is an academic exercise only, at the most. If Mr. Vechery has indeed been aggrieved, he should really find a member of the print or television/radio media to champion his cause.

Comments:
What I think that shows is how beholden the media is to their teams for access. If you piss off the wrong person, your paper's or station's coverage can take a beating.

The Redskins and the Post are a perfect example. They've been feuding off and on for several years, and it escalated to deuling press releases when the post had the audacity to suggest that the new $90 obstructed view club seats were screwing over the fan.

The Skins made an effort to cut back the Post's access.

You're seeing that in the last few days, with the Times getting a number of scoops--the Lavereraneus Coles trade/non-trade and the interest in Samari Rolle. The Post has been left in the dust.

It may be that that's just better reporting, which is possible bc the Times' sports coverage is generally underrated, but it could also be the team getting back at a grudge.

Maybe this was an attempt by WFED to not piss the team off so soon? Maybe they're throwing him out as the sacrifical lamb?

But, I also think that the guy probably got a little too big for his britches, misinterpreting what the station was looking for for coverage from him in the first place. Who knows?

Or, more importantly, who cares? :P
 
Well, I guess I care. ;-) (Not too much, though; I was just looking for something new to write about.)

I think there's no doubt that media outlets are beholden to the teams they cover. There's little else to do---and little other interests to drum up---otherwise. I do think that the Nats, who have bought the time, and WFED, who has sold the time, both have a right to a reasonable scope of what may be covered and by whom (the latter is really more important, IMHO). So if this guy crossed the line, like I suspect he did, I think they'd be justified in being upset. Now, I think you could argue that voiding his sponsorship agreement and pulling his radio show might be a bit much, but I can only imagine what last Sunday's show (the one after all this happened) would have entailed.

Anyway . . . ;-)

From what I perceive, the Times is good in some areas for sports and bad in others (depth, substance of writing). And apparently they, like the Skins, have been taken for a ride on the Samari Rolle thing.
 
Vechery is clearly something of a flake but his allegations should be refuted in a better fashion than with anonymous countercharges posted to other sites.

WFED, Bonneville and/or the Nationals should make their case against him (if they have a real case) in public.

Beyond the Vechery issue, it does concern me that the credibility of the largest radio news operation in the Washington, D.C. market seems to be compromised by the Bonneville/Nationals deal.

WTOP & WFED should not be devoting news resources to play cheerleader for the Nationals. The Bonneville news operation should instead be covering the team much more objectively.
 
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