The National Hockey League thinks Details should spend some time in the penalty box.

Stung by charges in Details‘s May issue that at least three of the league’s best-known Russian players are in cahoots with the mob, the NHL is “exploring” a lawsuit against Details, according to a league spokesperson. Such a suit, if filed, would apparently be the first of its kind in the NHL’s 80-year history.

Bernadette Mansur, the NHL’s vice president of corporate communications, told the Voice last week: “We are exploring all legal avenues, and we are exploring a possible lawsuit.” Mansur said the league was “disappointed and disturbed” by the Details article, which, she claimed, contained “blatant inaccuracies.”

The story, entitled “Power Play,” was written by Details contributing editor Robert I. Friedman, a former staff writer for the Voice and New York.

Friedman called his article “unassailable, from a factual point of view.” Details editor Michael Caruso said: “We stand by the story 100 per cent. Instead of attacking our article, they ought to be investigating the pervasive and very serious problem the article documents.” Caruso, who also used to work at the Voice, added that Details has not received any formal communication from the NHL since the story was published.

Charges that individual players have been extorted by Russian mobsters have been skating around since the early ’90s. The Details piece, however, is probably the first in a national magazine to claim that “the FBI worries that the NHL is now so compromised by Russian gangsters that the integrity of the game itself may be in jeopardy.”

The NHL labels this notion “ludicrous.” The league took the unusual step of soliciting a statement from the FBI and distributing it to reporters. The statement says that the FBI “is aware of isolated incidents” of players being extorted, but that they “appear to have occurred at random.” The bureau also said that it is “unaware of any instances where National Hockey League games have been ‘fixed’ or even where attempts have been made to ‘fix’ a National Hockey League game.”

Tellingly, the FBI statement says nothing about Details‘s allegations that some hockey players have close relationships with known mobsters. To take a compelling local example: Detroit Red Wings defenseman Slava Fetisov was apparently the official president of a company called Slavic, Inc, based in Brooklyn. Details says the FBI considers Slavic, Inc. a front company, controlled by convicted mobster Vyacheslav Ivankov (who famously kicked some video cameras in front of a Brooklyn courthouse a few years back).

“According to the FBI,” the article says, Slavic, Inc. “was a giant laundromat for dirty cash operating out of a storefront on Neptune Avenue in Brooklyn, as well as a front to obtain fraudulent visas for mobsters and criminal associates.” When Friedman confronted Fetisov with official New York State papers that Fetisov had apparently signed, showing him to be Slavic, Inc.’s president, the hockey player abruptly terminated the interview.

Asked to respond to this seemingly incriminating material, Mansur told the Voice: “I’m not going to get into the content of the article.”

What arguably most infuriates the NHL is the notion that they did not cooperate with a Congressional investigation into Russian mob infiltration. “The implication is that the NHL stonewalled a Congressional committee, which is very hard to do,” said Mansur, who claims the league’s head of security helped Congress however it could. She added that whatever problems came up in the investigation have been adequately handled by the league.

Friedman countered that it was a Congressional investigator who told the magazine of the NHL’s lack of cooperation. Caruso claimed that a professional athlete in any other major league who was regularly consorting with known mobsters would be ejected, and summed up by saying: “The NHL has dealt with the problem of Russian mob infiltration about as well as they’ve dealt with the problem of fighting.”

USA Lastyear

Back in November, 1997, Press Clips ran an item about mainstream media’s failure to pick up on charges by several former and current minority General Motors dealers that GM discriminated against them in several ways. These charges were originally published in Gannett’s Westchester papers by a reporter named Demetrius Patterson. The minority dealers claim that they are given only those dealerships that are most likely to fail, and that GM makes it more difficult for customers in heavily minority areas to get loans from GM’s financing division. At least two dealers have pending lawsuits against GM–one in Alabama and one in New York–and the alleged discrimination has triggered protests from Jesse Jackson and others.

That item provoked an angry letter–which the Voice published–from Mary Henige, GM’s director of communications. Henige said the company was “astonished” at the Voice story. She claimed the “hearsay accusations about General Motors made in the column are unfair, inaccurate, and disparage General Motors and its minority dealer program.”

This past Friday, however, USA Today published a front-page business section story, reporting that GM “has begun an internal investigation of its minority dealership program.” In fact, a GM spokeswoman told the Voice on Monday that the internal inquiry was begun “several months” ago. She acknowledged that the “whole program” of GM’s minority dealerships is under investigation, including the allegations of racial discrimination.

USA Today is the first–and to date only–national mainstream publication to air the accusations of GM’s racial discrimination against its own dealers. (In addition to the Voice and the Gannett Westchester papers, the left-wing newsletter CounterPunch, the Philadelphia weekly Tribune, and Detroit’s weekly Metro Times have also published articles about them.) Two knowledgeable sources say that Nightline correspondent Dave Marash is now working on a broadcast on this topic, designed to air this spring.

Why, though, did it take USA Today–the flagship Gannett paper–until mid-April to publish a story that the Gannett Westchester paper had run, with far more intricate detail, six months earlier?

USA Today editor David Mazzarella says only: “I’m not going to get into a discussion of why we run or do not run stories that other Gannett newspapers run. All I can say is we had a story, we felt we had an angle for it, and we ran it on Friday.”

  • How ingrained–and how petty–is the rivalry between television and the so-called prestige print media? Last Friday, CBS News reporter Scott Pelley went on the air discussing a 24-page motion he’d seen, filed by special prosecutor Ken Starr, requesting permission to interview two Secret Service agents and a Secret Service attorney. Starr seeks to determine what they knew about the president “having sexual relations with someone other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.” The Associated Press recognized this as a scoop, and ran a version crediting CBS. But as of Monday, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times had not even mentioned CBS’s story….
  • Even without having finished all the articles, I already think this year’s special Europe issue of The New Yorker is far superior to last year’s. Yeah, his views may be skewed enough to provoke long letters to the New York Review of Books, but I’ll take Fintan O’Toole on the subject of Northern Ireland over every regular New Yorker political writer, any week you please….
  • In one of those self-consciously whimsical pieces, Sunday’s Times published an account of the auditions for a new MTV VJ slot. Tryouts endured “hours of hot-seat questioning about music,” the paper said. “‘What is the real name of Ice-T?’ asked the morning radio personalities Dr. Dre and Ed Lover. ‘O’Shea Jackson,’ answered one particularly astute contestant, Ducci.” Not that astute–O’Shea Jackson is the real name of Ice Cube….

  • Nothing gets the tabloids going at each other with more pit-bull bile than a good scrap over George Steinbrenner. The falling 500-pound Yankee Stadium joint unleashed more newspaper words and debate about the Stadium last week than any single event in the ’97 mayoral race. On Thursday, the News‘s Jim Dwyer seethed at his rival tab: “Pages 1 through 7 of the New York Post were turned over yesterday to the joint propaganda department of Mayor Giuliani and George Steinbrenner.” On Sunday, the Post fought back, quoting City Hall ripping into a News report as “flat wrong.” On Monday, though, both papers seemed to warm to City Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s plan to take the question of municipal stadium-financing to a citywide referendum–and you’ve got to give the edge as the week began to the Post’s Jack Newfield, for nailing the exclusive interview, just before Vallone left for Israel. The late editions of all the other papers–including the Times–had to quote from a Vallone publicist.

    Research: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

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