Righting a Wrong

The winter sports mayor of D.C.

I owe Ted Leonsis an apology. A big one.

It was a lengthy State of the Caps address he offered on line on Thursday, more than an hour long, and getting merely most of his reflections represented accurately here isn’t good enough for me, isn’t good enough for this blog. I am writing for and regularly engaging with a Capitals fanbase segments of which are perhaps as irate with this organization today as never before, and the reactions my file occasioned earlier today were distinctly heated; I have to accept responsibility that my error, in addition to undermining a fair reporting of yesterday, may have fomented some of that comment venom and ire.

I’d represented that the owner expressed a conviction that “There are 29 teams in the league that would trade positions with [the Caps].” That representation was devoid of an important context: Mr. Leonsis meant it with respect to the Capitals’ stable of quality young goaltenders: “There are 29 teams in the league that would trade positions with us right now to have three young, very, very talented players, all affordable, all with their best days ahead of them and so I’m really happy with how well-stocked we are at the toughest position in the game.” That’s what the owner said in full in his remarks, and that’s very different from the context I’d erroneously interpreted.

I relied on two media sources for covering the address — the video of the address itself on the Capitals’ web site and concurrently, in real-time, Twitter transcriptions of the owner’s remarks. I learned a valuable lesson from this experience: Go with one source and use the second, subsequently, as an independent verifier. Their concurrent use seemed wise to me at the time. Late today I’m thinking differently. One hundred and forty character transcriptions, flush even with opening and closing quote marks from a big news organization, aren’t necessarily inclusive of important context. Lesson learned.

* * * * *

Speaking of context, I’d have had the Capitals’ reaction to my error placed in a larger one as well.

Had it been my intention to author an unprincipled “hit job” on the owner — yellow journalism, Mike Vogel termed it — I needn’t have opened my file with acknowledgment of Mr. Leonsis’ swift denunciation of his hockey club the morning of May 5. I shared that context because I judged it important for drawing an important distinction between the owner’s May 5 remarks and those of yesterday. Moreover, OFB has I think a solid track record of avoiding baseless ad hominem attacks that are perhaps more the bailiwick of talk radio.

In truth I grew a bit uncomfortable with the tenor of some comments that accompanied today’s file. They didn’t violate OFB’s comment policy, but a few approached a line of personal attack I’m uncomfortable with. And with this in mind I felt compelled to speak up, in comment, in defense of our owner. I wrote:

“One can, as I have, spiritedly critique a sport’s team ultimate barometer performances, and its management, and still be grateful that it has the ownership group it does. In the big picture, Washington hockey fans are exceptionally lucky to have Mr. Leonsis as owner. And if you’ve read my blog since its start, you know that I believe him to be a night and day — franchise-saving, in fact — improvement over his predecessor. I didn’t agree with the PR strategy of yesterday, I worry that he’s “too nice” a guy for this business at times, but still it should be acknowledged: In this lifetime, Redskins fans will never know the access and accountability Caps fans have with their owner.”

That’s not the sort of prose one typically associates with a practitioner of yellow journalism, I don’t think. So Vogs’ characterization is disappointing to be sure, but the cold hard reality is that if I do a better job with blocking and tackling none of this family squabble likely ever arises.

The ‘family’ is in a summer squabble, the byproduct of accumulated frustration and disappointment. Sometimes we hurt those we most care about never ever intending to do so. We will have disagreements going forward, but from today I’m taking a renewed pledge to elevate the discourse, in my own files, and demanding even more from my valued readers. Ninety eight days out of 100 I think we both do it quite well. Today just wasn’t one of those days for me.

* * * * *

On about 500 occasions the past 5 years Mr. Leonsis has shared with me reflections, in email and in person, that I’ve come to regard as privileged, and ones that truthfully have consistently played a pivotal role in this blog’s development. Our owner is a visionary in new media in a broad sense, but he’s also taken an exceptionally personal interest in cultivating this and scores more blogs that cover his team. He’s given our new media community far more than access. And so this error of mine today is doubly disappointing; I’ve let down my readers, but also a valued mentor.

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17 Responses to Righting a Wrong

  1. Sam W. says:

    It takes a lot of guts to own up to a mistake, especially one which the maker acknowledges is profoundly disappointing to himself. Kudos to you for taking responsibility and for owning it. Respect is to be earned from brutal honesty and self-reflection in the face of embarrassing conjecture, and I have a feeling you’ve racked up some points in a lot of people’s books. Thanks for writing, and keep on doing it. Onward.

  2. TG says:

    Well done.

  3. Spank That Donkey says:

    You updated the post with a correction on the quote. Why do you feel it necessary to write a post apologizing for something you corrected, and all can see, after reading the post, and comments?

    That other ‘owner’ had his childish tizzy over the ‘devil horns’ caricature.. but that is not Leonsis style. However, I do get the drift that ‘access’ has become an issue? I hope not.

    Tell you what… the name of the game is integrity… even if politics in DC is all about access. It is a whole different ballgame on being a sports fan, and a blogger.

    Exercise your First Amendment, ‘early and often’, Chicago Style, (insert big grin emoticon).

  4. Pingback: Rock The Yellow « Kings Of Leonsis

  5. MadCap says:

    @Spank – what was the timing of the correction ? Just curious, because the initial response to “Gusty” pointing out the error was pretty dismissive (if you view the comments to the prior blog). I have a feeling that the “correction” and subsequent apology blog only came about because of the additional comments which began with “Priscilla” and beyond, and probably Vogs remarks which threw into questions credentials, etc.

  6. paul says:

    Congrats. You have done something rarely seen in this town.
    I feel your angst and admire your integrity. Family squabbles can be useful too.

  7. Steve says:

    way to take the high road…that indeed took some character to admit such a faux-pa. Keep up the good work.

  8. Steve says:

    @madcap – given that Vogel is employed by the Capitals, and to my recollection, has never written anything that could even be remotely considered critical of the organization, I find his stance on “journalistic integrity” to be somewhat balmy.

    Failure – which is what the Caps have experience the past three years, brings criticism, and not always fair criticism. And criticism is something this regime (GM As well as owner) has had a tough time dealing with, or accepting. Now, from his position of staff writer for the team, Mike Vogel launches charges of “yellow journalism”. C’mon Mike….What puckandbooks did was wrong, we get that, but I don’t think it reaches the level of yellow journalism.

    If the Caps are still playing, this never gets written, and none of this ever happens. They’re not, and the reason they’re not has to do with either the composition of key elements roster and/or deficiencies within the coaching staff. That is a fact that hasn’t changed from last year. Statements from the owner would give every indication that his strategy to address these shortcomings remains the same as it was last year, which is to do nothing. Given the failure of that approach last year, it seems like an odd tact to take yet again, but to all appearances, that would appear to be the course selected. Ted is getting called out on that. Leaders are people of action, not people who accept repeated failure, and then attempt to disguise it as something other than it is. If changes aren’t made, the results will remain consistent to what we’ve experienced to this point, because, if nothing changes, then nothing changes…

  9. MadCap says:

    @Steve – Vogel’s credentials as a “journalist” are to my mind irrelevant to the issue here. The point is that Vogel’s criticism appears to (at least in part) have been the impetus for the retraction/apology, not the fact that what was blogged was factually incorrect to begin with (check out the immediate response to “Gusty” — it is quite telling).

  10. Ray in MD says:

    Nice job, P & B. Hopefully Vogs will also take the high road.

  11. Steve says:

    @madcap – I see and get the point, and I acknowledged it. What appears to have overcome P&B was a case of (justifiable?)righteous indignation, and it momentarily compromised his journalistic integrity. The fact that his readers took him to task on it is far more damning than Vogel’s shot across the bow, given who signs his paychecks.

    Whether his retraction is the result of his Vogel’s picking up the mantle of journalistic integrity, or the fact his readers called him out, we may never know. He (P&B) had already arrived at his conclusion, and there is a wealth of evidence to support it, aside from the quote taken out of context. He went over the line on one piece of corroborating evidence – it was not the basis for the article. He was wrong in doing so. Got it. Immediately – his response to Gusty, he was not remorseful – got that too. But I’d think that Vogel, given he’s a paid employee of the Caps, may have used the back-channel to point out such a transgression – maybe he did, although I somehow doubt it.

    There’s understandably a good deal of angst around the Caps right now – another season that has fallen well short of expectations. We have been led to believe that failures like this would be a thing of the past. We were told we’d have a championship caliber team by now. We’ve been told a good many things, none of which has materialized to this point. A blogger, who started as a fan, steps up, and decides to hold ownership responsible steps out of line on a point, gets called on the carpet by a journalist working for the team, when he simply was trying to call attention to the same polly-anna, sunshine and puppy dogs nonsense being delivered to the fanbase in light of continued failures in the post-season. For the love of God, I sure hope no one uses this as a basis to exonorate ownership of the accountability they have to the fan base for the commitments they’ve made. That, in my mind, would be a far greater crime than anything P&B has ever written.

    Not excusing him, or what he did, but let’s not use that as a basis to invalidate the point he was making – that point is still as valid as ever.

  12. Mia says:

    I’m always a little “slow” to get to these things, but this post took a great deal of courage. It is greatly appreciated for many reasons by me. Others feel the same way has has been noted in several places.

    I am about as aware as anyone can be that we, The Washington Capitals Nation, are highly frustrated. The fans may forget that those on inside of the organization are just as frustrated as they, but for different reasons.

    I commented on Mike Vogal’s blog, so I am being as fair as I know how to make sure I also comment here. I enjoy all the great writing found on “Dump and Chase” and On Frozen Blog.

    I felt “Yellow Journalism” was not how I’d title my post if I were Mike, but it is his Blog and he too is human, like all of us and he felt he needed to express himself.

    I did agree with his main point without question. We are all in this together in one very important way – we are Washington Capitals fans. In my mind, that’s the most important point being reinforced with this particular situation and all the assorted pixels generated.

    The beauty part for me -if I agree with OFB, I can comment here. If I disagree, or have a different perspective, I can comment here. I am grateful for that and find sharing thoughts and opinions in the most balanced way possible helps all of us learn and understand our Washington Capitals even better.

    Thanks for the post and all work here at OFB. Here’s to hoping the entire Washington Capitals Nation (inside the org. and out)gets stronger and better as we grow together. (I know, I’m kind of cheese-ball sometimes, but I mean it).

    Sometimes we may comment or react in ways that come across poorly, are not well-worded or even that have a very hurtful tone. Not matter which side may or may not have done any of that, it’s a good sign that we’ve all had a chance to express, share perspectives, maybe we learned a little and hopefully get beyond it. I’m guilty of not always using the clearest of languange when blogging/commenting, so If I’ve done that again, I’m sorry, but I’ll do my part to try harder.

    GO CAPS!

  13. Tre Kronor says:

    Now that Ted’s quote has been accurately reported, let’s be clear that Ted is asserting that EVERY team besides the Caps (29) in the NHL would would trade positions with the Caps to secure its supposed goaltending and low salaried fortune consisting of one injury prone player (Varly), one goaltender that tired tremendously and gave up weak goals against the Lightning (Neuvirth) in only the second round and one strong AHL metminder (Holtby)? The entire league – really? This crazy assertion by Ted proves the original point – that the Caps’ management is so enamored with itself that it has lost its bearings – claiming implicitly that they are smarter and wiser than all the other teams’ front offices (except when it comes to winning when it counts). Let’s see how quickly this number gets below 29 as there is no credible way for anyone in a serious management position to tell paying fans that witness yearly playoff debacles that hese teams – absent proof – would trade their goaltender stables with the Caps’ – Penguins, Blackhawks, Canucks, Lightining, Bruins, Sabres, Predators, Red Wings, Sharks, Rangers, Hurrricanes, Canadiens, Kings, Ducks, Coyotes, Maple Leafs, Flames, Blue Jackets, Blues – and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. In short, it seems like the number would really be less than half the league’s teams at best. But – who cares about a Cup when you can claim that you have the best goaltenders on cheap contracts – and goaltenders that have yet to prove anything?

  14. JDK says:

    I applaud your forthright correction of the misquotation in question. That said, it was a mistake and nothing more and should be viewed in the context of a more than stellar record. The heart of your critique holds just as true and, as Caps fans, this should be our principle concern. The sad part is that one year ago many of us realized we would be arguing over this same stuff this summer but figured we would at least have a new coach. Instead, we will have to endure yet another failed playoff run under Bruce next season and be right back where we are this very moment. Next season will be a wasted season. All the fan outreach in the world won’t change that.

  15. jwh37 says:

    I bet there’s not a single team that would change coaches with the Caps.

  16. Geo says:

    I posted on Ted’s blog that a written transcript (maybe a couple days after the video posting) might be beneficial and help ensure accuracy out there in bloggerdom (I’m sure many fan sites were paraphrasing from the video or relying on unofficial transcripts by others). I mean, if he’s doing it with the idea that other media will pick it up, it seems like a wise thing to do.

    As far as goalies go, while Neuvy was fine, I kept thinking that Holtby would never have put up with that kind of traffic crap in his crease and might’ve been (even at 21) more inclined to holler at his teammates to step it up a notch.

    I still think there were one or two times in the Tampa series that a goalie change (whether “deserved” or not) mid-game might’ve changed momentum. Since BB gave up on Theodore so quickly the last two years, it surprised me to some extent that Bruce was unwilling this time around.

    I have no doubt that other teams want our young goalies and players like M.Jo at the trading deadline but I agree with folks here that I seriously doubt that EVERY other team or even most other teams would switch goalies with us.

  17. Spank That Donkey says:

    Has an NHL team ever traded a coach? If only we could…

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