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Murray Chass Reveals His Struggles at the New York Times

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Murray Chass took the opportunity of Jorge Posada’s recent troubles with the Yankees to discuss his own problems with the New York Times. It’s a rare peak inside a newspaper that has kept its internal troubles largely out of the public eye while it, like all other newspapers, struggles through a difficult era in the business.

For nearly 40 years, Chass was one of the best — arguably the best — writers and reporters on baseball in the country. In 2003, he was award the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor the Baseball Writers Association of America can give. It was richly deserved.

Let me say now that I don’t like Chass. I find him rude and abrasive, and every time I have contacted him on a professional matter I found him to be difficult and truculent.

But if I’d had a vote in the Spink Award, I would have voted for him. I’ve never ceased to read him, even when I think he’s wrong — and when you’ve written as long as Chass had, you’re simply going to be wrong about some things.

Chass, who left the Times three years ago, has been writing an online column that he stubbornly refuses to call a blog. He maintains that it’s simply an online version of the traditional column that he wrote for the Times. Good for him.

Two days ago, on May 18, read the headline in the New York Post last December:

New York Times sports editor Tom Jolly will see his controversial eight-year reign come to an end next month when he moves upstairs to a new job.”

While executive editor Bill Keller, said the Post, “sought to portray the new job of night news editor as a promotion, some insiders said it was a lateral move at best into a new job that is still not widely understood as the publisher merges its print and digital news operations. Many on the sports desk, however, may be inclined to say good riddance.”

Well, anyway, it’s an occasion to explore a new opportunity.

The main point, though, that Chass raises and which nobody else in the New York sports media really has — because, after all, if the New York Times doesn’t report on something like this, who does? — is the lingering bad taste over the way the Times rushed to judgment on the Duke case, which, as the Post relates, “Jolly has since said he regretted the way the Times handled the Duke story at the time.” Selena Roberts, a Times columnist from 2002-2007, was quoted by the Post as saying “There’s probably very mixed reaction to [Jolly] among the staff.” Since Roberts was responsible for much of the erroneous coverage of the Duke case, one wonders how the “staff” reacted to her departure, particularly when she was picked up and given a plum position with Sports Illustrated.

The real story of Jolly, Roberts, and the Times‘ disgraceful of the Duke lacrosse incident has never been told in proper detail, but I suspect that it’s a gleam in Murray Chass’s eye (Chass wrote a bit about this when he reviewed Roberts’ book on Alex Rodriguez in 2009) and that there are some former New York Times sports people who are sleeping uneasily that Chass is still out there.

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