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.
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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.
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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.