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Sports Media Musings: Watney vs. Felger vs. Haggerty

Heidi Watney and Jason Varitek. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

There are days when covering the local media is rather tedious. After all, there are only so many CHB columns, ESPN slip-ups, Grantland opinions, ‘radio war’ coverage, among other incidents to write about.

Then there are days like Oct. 12, 2011.

Before we get to yesterday’s sh*! show, I need to say how much I wish I was a fly on the wall in the Globe’s sports editor, Joe Sullivan, office the night before Bob Hohler’s in-depth, mostly off-the-record, evisceration of the 2011 BoSox was published. 

I can picture Sullivan with his staff much like the Commodore informing Jimmy, “We’re going to take back Atlantic City,” in “Boardwalk Empire.” (Don’t get the reference? Watch the show, and thank me later.)

What ensued the following day was high comedy. It began at the start of the mid-day shows on both WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub. WEEI’s “Mut & Merloni” program predictably started their four hours off by attacking the players; meanwhile, “The Sports Hub’s” show, “Gresh & Zo”, went after Red Sox ownership.

Tensions reached an apex while Scott Zolak tended to an interview with Coach Bill Belichick, leaving Andy Gresh to accost the Sox ownership group in a LONG rant.

Gresh’s rant reminded me of a WWFE  heel doing a dragged out shoot. There were pauses, there was overreaction, and there was Gresh — apparently so irate — standing in an empty CBS Scene.

Gresh alluded to the “Non-Pink Hat” fans getting screwed. Then a texter messaged, “Where is Zolak? I can’t take this..” to which Gresh replied that said-messenger was “buying into” the propaganda.

(That, or — he was just tired of Gresh’s soliloquy. One or the other.)

Even with Mike Giardi’s piece — released later in the day — the overall ire seemed to turn to a flippant aura. The subject matter changed to mostly how crappy you feel after you eat fried chicken.

Then Michael Felger happened.

Felger believes the source for Hohler’s story came from the top. Consequently, in an attempt to prove why Red Sox ownership was out of line in leaking Terry Francona’s marriage and alleged pill addiction for reasons in the Sox demise, Felger tried calling out other people in the organization and their personal issues.

Co-host Tony Massarotti demanded to know how John Henry’s three divorces have collectively impacted the team. Felger, as usual, took it one step further — calling into question Jason Varitek’s failed marriage and the rumor NESN sideline reporter, Heidi Watney, and the Red Sox captain had an affair.

I’m a Felger guy, as many of you know, and I generally like his acerbic tone. But, both journalistically speaking and from a general personal values belief system, it’s fair to say Felger’s comments were not appropriate.

One could argue Felger was saying what many believe: Watney is a more of a puppet, a la Greg Dickerson, than a team sideline reporter and rumors percolating about possible transgressions between her and Tek were definitely prevalent at one point.

The former I have no problem with. Watney does have to maintain relationships, but the transparent conflict of interest between the NESN employee and the Red Sox hampers her ability to be a hardened journalist.

Hell, the relationship between the Red Sox and The Boston Globe hindered any of their reporters from disseminating information until after ESPN Boston and The Boston Herald broke the beer drinking story.

Watney could have pulled an Abraham/Cafardo and got a different byline to write the story while ‘contributing’ to the investigative piece, but even that isn’t likely. Instead all of these reporters are at the mercy of talk radio hosts….

Felger has a massive platform and should not have brought up the Watney-Varitek rumors. He isn’t Deadspin. This was media on media crime that wasn’t really necessary.

Watney, to her credit, fired back via Twitter:

@HeidiWatney Felger is completely off base on just about everything he is saying. Ridiculous and irresponsible

Watney also went on to note Felger isn’t in the clubhouse and only reports on rumors. I thought that would be it, but then fellow CSNNE employee, Joe Haggerty, came in with a flying elbow in Felger’s defense.

Looking forward to the first lesson in journalistic integrity from @HeidiWatney. She did write the definitive book on it, right?

It was on. Watney didn’t back down from a three-way dance..

@HackswithHaggs I don’t report gossip/rumors Joe… how’s that for integrity.

Haggerty came back for seconds, noting her lack of reporting during the collapse..

@HeidiWatney Given what was going inside clubhouse at Fenway while NESN cranked out happy calliope music, not sure exactly what U report on

And that was that. A bloodbath. Watney made an appearance on the “Toucher & Rich” show basically telling the hosts how disappointed she was over all of the ‘mudslinging’ going around both inside the Red Sox organization and also between media personalities.

Haggerty’s defense of Felger seemed a bit off. I think it is fair to question her reporting, and that is all Haggerty did. But there are two separate issues here, and Watney has a right to be perturbed over the affair insinuation.

Either way, I’m sure CSNNE will be talking to both personalities about the incident. As far as Watney goes, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear rumors of her going national (maybe to the MLB Network) start to fire up.

Through all of this, I think the Globe’s Eric Wilbur (who had a great column yesterday)  put it best:

@GlobeEricWilbur:Players vs. coaches and management, now media vs. media. Welcome to your Red Sox offseason.

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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