City Paper is not for tourists
Last week, in just his second outing as a sports radio host, Vinny Cerrato accused the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora of tattling to NFL officials about possible tampering violations. The Redskins’ executive vice president for football operations said La Canfora was hoping to get the league to hand down sanctions and “hurt” the team.
Also last week, the team’s senior vice president and executive producer of media, Larry Michael, went on his new cable show—Redskins Nation—to repeat Cerrato’s snitching accusations and to rail that La Canfora has a “hateful spirit” toward the team.
On Redskins Nation, Michael had already created a humorless recurring feature to slam La Canfora’s work habits called “The Sourcerer.” Now he was wondering aloud and without irony if the team should ban the reporter from Redskins Park lest he “leak information from this building to the opposition.” Michael, who is also the team’s play-by-play announcer, told fans they, too, should be scared by La Canfora’s spying.
Anybody wondering why Cerrato—the highest-ranking Redskins official not named Dan Snyder—would want a radio show, or why Michael would add a TV hosting gig to his responsibilities, got those answers with the two-pronged attack against La Canfora.
Even as the Skins were becoming the feel-good story of the entire league, Cerrato and Michael, a pair of bigwigs in the Redskins front office, were using the team’s surge, along with Snyder’s newest radio station and TV show, to try to settle scores with a writer.
La Canfora and his boss, sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, declined to comment on the feud, though Garcia-Ruiz posted a memo on washingtonpost.com saying basically the Redskins were confusing reporting with snitching—La Canfora had merely asked the NFL whether there might be a conflict between Cerrato’s on-air pontificating and his behind-the-scenes personnel responsibilities.
Was Cerrato and Michael’s multimedia anti-media blitz, given the timing, bizarre and petty?
Sure and surer, respectively.
Was it surprising? Nah—this is what the Redskins do.
Under Snyder, the whole point of buying into different media is to find new ways to attack the infidels. La Canfora is only the latest to get called out by team management.
“When the Skins get upset with the coverage, from my experience, they can try to go after you,” says Nunyo Demasio, a former Post beat reporter.
Demasio knows: Cerrato and the Skins officials went after him in nearly identical fashion a couple of years ago.
You can look it up.
A few years back, Snyder installed “Redskins Unfiltered,” a news service in the Pravda mold run by the team out of its Web site.
Cerrato utilized Unfiltered during its early days to blast Demasio. The biggest blast came after Demasio had repeated what turned out to be a false rumor that defensive back Ryan Clark had been cut. Cerrato, with help from other top Redskins officials, used the error to make a larger attack on him and the paper.
“This guessing game to decide who will be cut has consequences, especially when [the Post] goes with information from uninformed sources,” Cerrato was quoted in an Unfiltered article, which the New York Times later reported was written by Karl Swanson, the team’s executive vice president for communications.
And in 2005, Snyder became the first NFL owner to buy a fan message board when he took over Extremeskins.com, the biggest board in the burgundy-and-gold universe.
At the time, the team was peeved at the Post’s coverage of such things as the “obstructed view” seating Snyder had installed at FedExField.
The Redskins had pulled a block of season tickets from the Post around the time that one of the obstructed-view-seats stories ran, so Snyder was getting hammered for what looked like an attempt to use his team’s tickets to manage local reporting.
Snyder, whose interview history is spare enough to make Sarah Palin seem like an open book, served as the guest in the first “chat” posted on Extremeskins after he took it over. The day before the chat appeared on his Web site, the Post ran a story on Snyder having cut down trees on protected lands along the banks of the Potomac River.
He used his new bully pulpit to go after the newspaper. Snyder blasted “corporations that had amassed tickets” only to get involved in “mass scalping rings.”
“I would encourage the local media to follow the example of the national outlets like USA Today which refuses to use unidentified sources. Most obviously have personal agendas,” Snyder also posted. “It’s a shame that with newspapers in a mass circulation decline the public has to pay the price of unethical behavior as the papers try to attract readers to stop the slide in readership and circulation.”
Swanson also had a chat on the site that went after Demasio for using “650 unidentified sources” in his Redskins stories. He directed chatters to a thread called “The Nunyo Files,” which was a clearinghouse for attacks on Demasio from Extremeskins members.
No slight is too insignificant.
In January 2006, the Post ran a series called “Waiting to XL: The lighter side of the Redskins’ quest for a fourth Super Bowl title,” a small collection of tales written by Eli Saslow leading up to a Skins playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks.
Among the observations in Saslow’s offering was a report that the team lunch featured burritos from Baja Fresh, a “fast-food burrito joint popular among broke college kids” whose average dish “weighed in at 1,100 calories.”
The Skins had just ramped up use of video reports as part of Redskins Unfiltered. Michael, the team’s broadcaster, took a crew with him to the team’s dining room and filmed a long and totally humorless piece in which one Redskins employee after another insisted that players only were fed healthy stuff and that Baja Fresh was not “fast food.”
So, as the Redskins were about to make their first playoff appearance since the return of Joe Gibbs, Michael was consumed with making mountains out of media molehills.Yet for all its use as an anti-media medium, the most newsworthy chapter in the history of the Unfiltered news service to this date came when Michael posted video of contact drills at early-summer “organized team activity” workouts in 2005.
Turns out such drills violated the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
An NFL Players Association official saw Michael’s video and reported what was going on to the league. The NFL punished the team, without any call from La Canfora or any other Post reporter, by revoking the Redskins’ right to hold any more voluntary workouts during the 2005 offseason. The Skins yanked the video off the team Web site as the penalty was announced.