Despite the dual impediments of gender and a Harvard education, Washington Post writer Jennifer Frey has cast herself as a throwback to an era when sports reporters were itinerants, forever on the road boozing with players in between composing elegies to their feats. And it’s not just a pose. Frey is a certified prodigy who can do it all: X’s and O’s, empathetic profiles, and hard takedowns when the situation requires it. She was highly touted when she came to the Post from the New York Times in 1995, and she did not disappoint, adding grit to a sports page that was historically characterized by fussiness.
Her colleagues say she plays even harder than she works and is prone to bragging about her Runyonesque ability to lay low those who try to outdrink the only girl at the table. Frey’s editors didn’t seem to mind that her lifestyle kept the water cooler in the sports department bubbling: She would go anywhere, any time, to cover almost anything.
But Frey had to take a rare day off during the Yankees-Indians divisional playoff series when she was reportedly called back to the Post for a four-hour meeting with her bosses and their attorneys. They wanted to know why Michael Freeman, a Times sports reporter and another rising star in sports journalism, had filed a restraining order against her. In doing so, Freeman claimed that Frey had made good on a promise to make his life a living hell after he had shown the temerity to end a six-week relationship back in 1992. He was at the Washington Post at the time, and she was finishing up a tour at the Philadelphia Daily News. They both moved to the Times soon after.
What had been a fairly generic potboiler of newsroom romance and backstabbing bubbled over recently when Freeman reportedly heard secondhand that while Frey was covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament, she allegedly suggested to a colleague that he had once raped a woman. (Frey’s attorney says she said nothing of the kind.) According to sources close to Freeman, he filed the order for protection and a criminal complaint for harassment after meeting with two detectives in his home city of Hoboken, N.J., on Oct. 3. Freeman reportedly briefed the cops on what he claimed to be all the manifestations of Frey’s fatal attraction to him: hundreds of harassing and drunken phone calls, two death threats, and a not-so-whispered campaign to discredit him among his colleagues. (Freeman’s attorney did not return a phone call, nor did a Times spokesperson.)
The order granting Freeman protection reportedly states: “Defendant is prohibited against future acts of domestic violence. Defendant is barred from the following location: [Freeman’s home address]. Defendant is prohibited from any oral, written, personal or other form of contact or communication with victim [that would be Freeman]. Defendant is prohibited from making or causing anyone else to make harassing communications to victim. Defendant is prohibited from stalking or threatening to harm victim.”
Whew. And they say that today’s newspapers lack drama. The story first surfaced in the Dish column of the New York Daily News last week. Frey recently retained Bruce Sanford of the Baker & Hostetler law firm to spin on her behalf. (Full disclosure: Sanford has also represented Washington City Paper.) Sanford agrees it’s a very salacious and interesting story. He just doesn’t think it’s true.
“Mike Freeman began making calls to her employers and the general counsel of the Post, making various false accusations a few weeks ago. And he obtained a restraining order solely on the basis of unilateral, one-sided statements. The court never heard Jennifer Frey’s side of the story,” Sanford says.
Sources close to Freeman say Frey was notified of the proceeding in New Jersey, but Sanford says she received no such notice and has retained an attorney in New Jersey to have the order vacated. He also says that Frey has had ample opportunities to do Freeman professional harm and has done exactly the opposite. In one instance, says Sanford, Frey alerted an editor at the Times to damaging rumors about Freeman when both Frey and Freeman worked there.
“Since their brief relationship in 1992, they have worked together very professionally. He doesn’t have any proof that she made harassing phone calls,” says Sanford.
So she didn’t make those calls?
“To the best of her recollection, she did call him several times at home in 1992. Most of the time she got his answering machine. She doesn’t know exactly when it stopped, but she has never engaged in this campaign of harassing phone calls that he describes. It’s perplexing, because she got over this relationship a long time ago,” Sanford said in a phone interview. “He ought to get over it as well.”
That’s exactly what he’d like to do, sources suggest, except they say Frey keeps popping up like that kid in the hockey mask. “If I were the jury, it would take me less than one second to figure out who was telling the truth here,” says one colleague who has worked alongside both writers. “As far as I can tell, Mike is one of the greatest guys around, unless he is one those quiet ax-murderers. She is a woman with a lot of issues…some real problems. And why would Mike do this if what he says isn’t true? My sense is that after five years, he had just had it and he decided to do something about it.”
Freeman has to know there can be no personal or professional upside for a man filing a restraining order against a woman. Suggestions from Frey partisans that Freeman is attempting to sabotage her because she might be coming back to the Times seem off the mark: She has a great situation at the Post, where she has told more than one colleague that she has sports editor George Solomon “in the palm of my hand.” (Solomon returned a call but said he had no comment.) The Post is clearly uncomfortable that an unseemly cloud has moved in over one of its brighter stars. She is, as one sportswriter puts it, “an editor’s dream.”
“Listen, this is a woman who will fly from L.A. to Miami to Seattle to Washington and not complain about it,” says the sportswriter. “Of course editors love her…but should she really be out there running around covering the playoffs when she has this…hanging over her head? I don’t think so.”
“What if one of the players she is covering is arrested tonight and charged with harassing a woman? Is she really in a position to write that story?” the writer wonders.
Another colleague suggests that Frey is transgressive in ways that aren’t good for the profession: “I don’t think that she should be assailed for drinking, or cursing, or sleeping around. There shouldn’t be a double standard….There are a lot of male sportswriters who have been doing those things for years, and nobody has said a word. But I think she has crossed the line, because she parties with the players she covers.”
The spotlight found Frey early on, when she was a Harvard intern for the Detroit Free Press, and pitcher Jack Morris told her lockerside that the only time he wanted to talk to a woman naked was when he had been on top of her. She has made good time since then, rising through an internship at the Miami Herald and jobs at the Philadelphia Daily News, the Times, and finally the Post. But Frey’s willingness to surrender a degree of professional distance was in evidence back when she was covering the Mets for the Times. The sportswriter was pulled over for reportedly going many miles per hour over the speed limit on her way to the Mets’ training camp in Florida. The passenger was Bobby Bonilla, who was late for an exhibition game, and the car was his. No ticket was issued. It may be just a coincidence, but Bonilla has received fawning treatment from Frey over the past few years, regardless of the uniform he has been wearing or the paper Frey has been working for. Frey’s attorney Sanford sees nothing unseemly in the incident or her relationship with Bonilla.
“It is very commonplace for sports reporters to drive athletes around. That’s when they talk to them and do their reporting,” he says. If Frey can report and pilot a speeding car, she is one hell of a talent. Sports columnist Tony Kornheiser, for one, says she’s the real deal.
“Check the bylines and check the datelines,” says Kornheiser. “She has been more places and done more stories than anybody around here, including me. I love her to death. I think her work is terrific. I think that she is really smart and funny and brightand her work reflects all of those things. She works hard.” And plays hard? “That’s not my department.”
Sanford says that regardless of Freeman and Frey’s complicated history, it did not have to come to this. “Why would he file for a restraining order and call her employers after an overheard conversation that was incorrectly reported back to him? He is taking the word of an eavesdropper….She never said anything like that about him, and all he had to do was call her up and ask what the truth was.”
Freeman probably didn’t think that giving his old pal Jennifer a call was the way to put an end to the matter.
Franchise Merger Kornheiser is having serious conversations with ESPN about a nationally syndicated radio show that would originate in Washington. “ESPN is a big brand name in sports, so I would be crazy not to speak with them,” Kornheiser says in a phone interview. Kornheiser already does radio locally with WTEM, but the additional burden of a national show could spread him mighty thin. “I hope to do everything. The Washington Post is what I do for a living. I just couldn’t work at a better place for better people. I am a fat, old, bald white guy, and working at a newspaper is what I do. The other stuff is great, but anything else I do would have to be within that framework,” says Kornheiser, whose Sunday Style humor columns were nominated for a Pulitzer last year. David Carr
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