There’s nothing new about Tony Kornheiser hammering Mike Wise on his ESPN 980 radio show. Local browser histories groan under the weight of blog posts about their on-air jousts (e.g.: 1, 2, 3, 4), with the most recent chapters concerning Wise’s coverage of Gilbert Arenas‘ fall.
At issue are two questions:
1) How good was Gilbert Arenas’ birthday party, anyway?
2) Was Gilbert Arenas Mike Wise’s source for his account of the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton confrontation?
The first point seems a bit trite, but Kornheiser, who competes against Wise’s show on WJFK-FM, has been prosecuting it with characteristic passion, using it to make the point over and again that Wise is a carpetbagger with no sense of perspective about D.C. sports history. His evidence? Passages such as this one, in Wise’s Jan. 6 open letter to Arenas.
Remember three years ago? The hottest ticket in town was that black American Express envelope, the one that contained an invitation to your 25th birthday party at Love, the club where Sean Combs and other hip-hop glitterati attended. Diddy came to Northeast for you.
Kornheiser has ever since battled the notion that Arenas’ party was of any import. From his Jan. 19 show (though you could have heard something like this most other days this week):
Kornheiser: Now to begin today’s show, I had a lot of time to think last night as I lay around being ill all day yesterday and probably still to some degree today. So I thought about what really mattered most. And what really mattered most to me was the appreciation that Gilbert Arenas had that party, and that famous rappers came to town, and, and, that created a buzz in Washington that has never before and never again will be seen or felt like that particular party at that club, whenever that was. Kevin, you were here.
Kevin Stanfield: Yeah I was here. I didn’t get the invite. I was crushed, too, man, because I told you I was at Allen Iverson‘s party, at that point, that was the biggest thing that ever happened in Washington.
Kornheiser: Much bigger than the burning of the White House many years ago.”
The second one is a bit more serious, at least as intra-journalist spats go. Wise’s Jan. 7 article “Wizards’ Arenas suspended indefinitely as new details emerge in gun incident” provided a remarkably complete account of the Joke That Ate the Wizards. “Two of the five people in the room” ran them down for Wise.
On his Jan. 7 show, Kornheiser read extensively from Wise’s piece and, on reading that Wise’s sources had told him “Arenas had originally not disclosed Crittenton’s action to protect the little-used guard from prosecution and had told Crittenton he would assume full responsibility for the actions of both players that day,” said:
“That shines a very nice light on Gilbert Arenas. If two of the people in that room, if there were five, and two of them are being quoted on background and anonymity, one of them is Gilbert Arenas, because this story is very, very complimentary to Gilbert Arenas.”
Word-problem skills would seem to indicate Kornheiser is correct. Following Wise’s narrative, the spotlight shines ever brighter on Arenas.
“Walking into the locker room two days after the dispute on the team plane, according to two witnesses, Arenas laid out the guns in Crittenton’s locker. Two other teammates eventually sauntered in and, while Arenas was writing the note in front of Crittenton’s cubicle, in walked Crittenton, according to their account.”
That’s six people: Arenas, the two witnesses, the two other teammates, and Crittenton. But since Crittenton contests the account and we’ve already heard that there were five people present, unless one of the people in the room left, one of the two witnesses speaking to Wise has to be Arenas.
Not the case, says Wise. “If I relied on Gilbert Arenas for all my information I’m not a very good reporter,” Wise says. He says Arenas wasn’t one of the witnesses quoted. I take him through my math, subjecting him to a reading of the diagrams I’ve made of the room. In this particular grassy knoll, there appears to be a third saunterer.
“That was a screwup,” Wise says after my third attempt to explain my reasoning. There were only ever five people in the room. No one left.
And here’s why I believe him.
Look at this sentence: “Walking into the locker room two days after the dispute on the team plane, according to two witnesses, Arenas laid out the guns in Crittenton’s locker.”
“Walking into the locker room” modifies “Arenas” (“according to two witnesses” is a parenthetical). But Wise says Arenas was in the room before the two witnesses. The next sentence begins “Two other teammates eventually sauntered in.” So the correct sequence of people entering the room should be:
- Witness 1
- Witness 2
- Witness 3
If the “Walking in…” sentence is one of those “small but unremitting” errors bedeviling Wise’s employer, then there are three people who could have talked to Wise, excluding Arenas.
Moreover, the prosecutors’ description of the incident closely follows Wise’s. “I can tell you the Post and myself feel very vindicated with my reporting after we read the prosecutor’s report,” Wise says.
This does not clear up the matter of the party.
“I wish I could tell you it was one of the greatest things that happened in D.C.,” Wise says. “I wasn’t there. I heard it was a great event.”
“If Tony would like to participate in journalism again,” Wise adds, “I’d love to have the discussion with him.”
Photograph of Wise by Darrow Montgomery