CSN Chicago & MLB Network: White Sox Promotion over White Sox News

Comcast SportsNet Chicago often acts as a White Sox Public Relations Network; sometimes doing promotion in the vein of MLB Network and Major League Baseball. A few weeks ago, I called out Comcast SportsNet Chicago for their overt Blackhawks cheerleading. Hate to keep poking the bear here, but

1.) they are literally the only game in town right now. CSN Chicago is the only all local sports network. This is a Chicago sports media blog so naturally I have to cover the monopolist. It remains to be seen whether or not the Chicago market could support another all sports local television station. Maybe it could?

2.) most people still think CSN Chicago is an independent news outlet like NBC 5 or ABC 7. Their name has a lot to do with that. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

You see it in the way Chuck Garfien and company cover the Chicago White Sox. Garfien’s homerism is pretty obvious. As for Hawk Harrelson, he’s just a cartoon character these days. He’s so over-the-top with his partisanship that he’s crossed over into becoming a lampoon of himself. There’s no point in criticizing him as an on-air personality because myself and many others have belabored that point already.

From the CSN Chicago Wikipedia:

CSN Chicago was created in 2004. It is jointly owned by Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal (20%), the family of J. Joseph Ricketts (owner of the Cubs, 20%), Jerry Reinsdorf (owner of the both the Bulls and the White Sox, giving him a 40% stake), and Rocky Wirtz (owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, 20%). The channel airs a majority of games for those four teams.  Although WCIU-TV and WGN-TV carry many Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls games, CSN Chicago was created so the teams mentioned could have editorial control over their broadcasts.

Let’s repeat that line because it’s very important:

CSN Chicago was created so the teams mentioned could have editorial control over their broadcasts.

And that’s Wikipedia, the most vanilla and unbiased website possible, saying that. There used to be this crazy idea that the media were the “fourth estate,” acting as a check on the people and industries that they cover. Media professionals were expected to be unbiased; and to keep the individuals that they were reporting on honest.

MLB sources in Seattle told me that Dan Hayes was wearing the University of Texas college football jersey of Adam Dunn in the press areas while covering the White Sox versus Mariners. This was very disappointing to hear because Hayes has excellent journalistic credentials on his resume. Wearing the Dunn jersey is worse than WMAQ’s Natalie Martinez wearing a Blackhawks sweater while doing her puff piece on Hawks fans. She was only tossing softballs in the “entertainment news” arena while Hayes was analyzing hardball on the sports news side. Hayes is a bonafide sports journalist, Martinez is not, so she deserves a bit of a pass when compared to him.

It reminds me of what Mark Giangreco said during his acceptance speech at the Ring Lardner awards two months ago. It was clearly the highlight of the evening:

“I think with leagues and teams controlling their product to a point where they have their own television studios, their own cameras, their own reporters, their own websites, pumping out video, a lot of it is propaganda. I think it’s our duty to take a few shots across the bow just to keep ‘em honest.”

“And I’ve added a good time doing it,” he added.

This posting is a shot at the White Sox, and yes, I’m having a good time writing it.

The difference between consuming CSN Chicago, MLB Network and say Giangreco’s WLS for your White Sox news is the controlling financial interests of the station. WLS is independent from the team or the league. When you tune into MLB Network (or NFL Network or NBA TV for that matter) you know news is prioritized second; marketing comes first. And if you tune into MLBN’s signature show “Quick Pitch” you get Heidi Watney, a former Miss California with past alleged romantic ties to two Boston Red Sox players. Masshole Sports (yes, I love that name too) chronicle the details of all three Boston Red Sox personalities that Watney had affairs with. The Boston Herald (linked in Masshole Sports) even caught her in the act twice.

So if I'm watching MLBN and Watney says something about the Boston Red Sox, I'm giving that statement zero credibility. Whatever she says about the Rays or the Yankees even, I disregard as propaganda. Heidi also appeared in the music video for the Dropkick Murphy’s profanity laced drinking ode “Going Out in Style.” She’s in the bar scene throwing back shots of a “clear liquid."

Can you imagine what Rocky Wirtz would do if his sideline reporter appeared in a video filled with drunkenness and curse words? Oh wait, I think I can. (Even though Wirtz built/maintains his empire through alcohol distribution)

Watney is a NESN alum, like Kathryn Tappen of NHL Network, who’s married to a former New Jersey Devils player currently in their minor league system. Tappen is a New Jersey native who went to Rutgers, and NHLN runs a promo in which Tappen openly conveys her New Jersey fandom. Therefore, I give no credence at all to her "reports" on the Devils or any of the Devils' rivals.  NESN takes the practice of converting pageant winners and bikini models into “reporters” seriously; and if some jersey-chasing gets in the way of journalistic ethics…I guess they’re cool with that. NESN, like CSN Chicago, prioritizes the lucrative game broadcasting rights over journalistic standards.

Both NHLN and MLBN are in bed with the leagues they cover. Yes, literally. However, you already know that upon tuning into these networks which are owned directly by the league. CSN Chicago, on the other hand, doesn’t come all the way clean about being in bed with the White Sox. They market themselves as being "just obsessed as you are" or "the fan's best friend," so they don't hide their homerism. However, they still claim to be an agency that gives you White Sox news first. Even when they get beat on a story, they still claim that "breaking news" is not "official" until they have reported. Exactly like ESPN does on a national level.

The Chicago Tribune first reported on May 1st, and this was quickly picked up by South Side Sox, how Gavin Floyd’s elbow injury could be much worse than initially reported. There was possible damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, and Floyd was seeking multiple medical opinions. The next day, CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes reported the Floyd situation. Garfien backed him up on Twitter saying that White Sox GM Rick Hahn confirmed it directly to Hayes. There’s no shame in getting beat on a story, it happens to every reporter; all the time actually. However, ESPN and CSN Chicago are front-runners, the former nationally and the latter locally. They’re both more a marketers than news providers. Both are very sensitive and protective of their primero status.

On April 16th, Shi Davidi of SportsNet.ca in Toronto first reported how Jake Peavy was nearly dealt to Toronto. Peavy is quoted in that article saying he was ready to go anywhere, and he didn’t care about having a no-trade clause. The next day the Tribune confirmed the existence of Peavy’s no trade clause. Then six weeks later Garfien has an exclusive with Peavy for the CSN special “Inside Look.” Notice the title of Garfien’s June 4th Sox Drawer blog post. It reflects the way both Garfien and CSN sold the interview; as if they were now somehow breaking news about the possibility of a Peavy trade.

Gotcha, we knew that. Back in mid-April. Again, this was very disappointing because Garfien did some really excellent work in his Cambodia series. It was very important television that gave us tremendous insights into the third world.

For ESPN 1000, WMVP AM,  ESPN Chicago reporters comprise a very large majority of their interview guests. If you're a journalist who's an expert on a certain topic, good luck ever getting on one of their shows. 99/100 they'll use someone from ESPN Chicago instead. Also, the ESPN Mothership almost never links out and credits other outlets for breaking new stories either. They’re quite hyper about this, so you know they must have abhorred every second that Bill Simmons cited Yahoo as the source on NBA trade news during draft night.

Likewise, there’s a sign in the green room for CSN Chicago’s talk show Sun Times Live (yes, I know it has a different name, but ever since the Chicago Tribune pulled out of its sponsorship, the show went from being Tribune Live to Sun-Times Live so we’ll just call it that) which states: “don’t mention ESPN.”

Of course, CSN Chicago has bigger problems right now than biased reporting and false advertising. The White Sox are just about the third worst team in baseball, and local apathy for the sport is worse than anyone can remember. With the Blackhawks championship gravy train now over, CSN Chicago must settle in to a down period where ratings will suffer as next to nobody in Chicago cares about the two awful teams playing beyond terrible baseball right now.

Or as Sports Business Journal put it:

They (CSN Chicago) had ridden the wave of excitement surrounding the Hawks all the way to Stanley Cup victory and subsequent celebration. Along the way CSNC scored some great ratings too.

But now, heading into the dog days of summer, CSNC will be heavily reliant on ratings for its live broadcasts of Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox games to attract audiences. And if the ratings for recent games are any indication of what’s to come, ratings-wise, it’s going to be a bleak rest of the summer for CSNC.

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net. (“Quasi-endorsed” by Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly) He’s also an author who also contributes regularly to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker

Banks has appeared on the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. The NFL, NBA expert does a weekly spot for 95.7 The Fan. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks), like him on Facebook

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