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 Pinstriped 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.
Pinstriped Bible is directly affiliated with the YES Network, as the site is designed to look like the YES homepage and is frequently featured on the YES front page. A few hours after being posted, Steve Goldman’s post was suddenly pulled, only to reappear a number of hours later with a new title (Soriano Strengthens the Pen, But Do Dominoes Fall?) and a softened stance. A visit to the page shows the altered title and article, but the URL still contains the original title. I have the original article saved (available upon request), and the primary differences are a few sentences added in support of the deal, as well as the moving of a positive paragraph to the beginning of the article. When asked about the incident, Goldman declined to comment.
River Avenue Blues has a slightly weaker affiliation with YES, as they simply have a YES toolbar at the top of their page, but they too are featured on the YES website and in commercials that run on the YES network. After seeing what had happened to Goldman’s post, I kept an eye on RAB to try and see if something similar occurred. Sure enough, a few hours after their criticism of the signing, I noticed that the YES toolbar had disappeared. When I asked the guys at RAB about it, they declined to comment, and continue to do so. I am not sure when it returned, but I did notice that it was still missing at least 4 days after the signing. It is now back in place.
So what happened? Being that the guys at RAB and Steve Goldman both declined to comment, I can only take a rough stab at it, but I think the answer is obvious from the facts. Remember, Brian Cashman had nothing to do with this signing, as he has confirmed that ownership was the brains behind the deal. So one of two things took place:
1) Ownership asked YES to block the criticism from being affiliated with YES in any way, and YES complied,
2) YES took preemptive action because they knew that ownership would be upset if they saw the criticism linked to from the YES website.
Regardless of which choice is true, the conclusion is equally disturbing. Because YES hosts Pinstriped Bible, they likely were able to directly censor Goldman, asking him to remove his post and edit it so as to mitigate the harshest points of criticism within it. As for RAB, because YES has limited control over the content of the site, their only choice was to pull their toolbar from the site until the displeasure over the deal settled a bit.
The question then becomes whether there is anything wrong with what YES did in this case. Some might argue that the team has no responsibility to provide a forum for criticism of the club and the moves that they choose to make. The problem with this argument is that YES has already chosen to provide that forum by affiliating with blogs in the first place. PB and RAB are critical of moves made by Brian Cashman all the time, yet no censorship of this sort has ever occurred before, to the best of my knowledge. It is unseemly to suddenly object to the content of the blogs now that they are critical of whomever in the organization was responsible for signing Soriano, particularly when similar criticism of other key members of the organization has gone uncensored in the past.
The Yankees like to tell us that the YES network provides unbiased, balanced coverage of the Yankees, pointing to the fact that they carry Mike Francesa’s show on their airwaves and allow their announcers to be critical of the club. Affiliating with blogs who do not wear Yankee-colored glasses is a laudable step in that direction, and suggests a true commitment to journalistic integrity. However, once a decision has been made to abide by journalistic standards rather than be a propaganda arm for the club, YES needs to stick to those standards rather than sacrificing their integrity so as to avoid upsetting the wrong people.