The Media Column: Coverage of Robert Kraft saga exposes everyone's biases

Alex Reimer
February 26, 2019 - 12:21 pm
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On “Felger & Mazz” Monday, a caller told a sophomoric joke about Robert Kraft allegedly soliciting prostitution. He was dropped within seconds, and the hosts who have spent years accusing other media members of being in the bag for the home team scrambled to move onto the Bruins’ acquisition of winger Marcus Johansson. 

Business partnerships trump cynicism. 

The coverage of Kraft’s case has exposed all of the biases, contractual or otherwise, that pervade our sports media. The charges scale in severity depending on whom you’re reading and listening to, with writers and hosts fitting Kraft’s prostitution bust into their preconceived narratives.

On Barstool Sports, this is another reason to Defend. The. Wall. Within hours of the Jupiter police department’s initial press conference, company founder Dave Portnoy had already printed up “#FreeKraft” t-shirts. On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that night, Portnoy suggested the Patriots’ owner was set up.

“They can’t beat (the Patriots) on the field, they’ve had six championships in a row, and this misdemeanor suddenly comes up,” Portnoy told Carlson. “I wouldn’t put it past Roger Goodell to say, ‘I can’t beat him fair and square, so this is, I believe they have a word for it, called ‘entrapment,’ so we are going to lure him into the spa, and next thing you know, again he’s getting dragged in.’”

If Portnoy was kidding, Carlson –– and presumably his nearly 3 million devotees watching in nursing homes and the Callahan household –– didn’t seem to pick up on the joke.

On the other end of the spectrum, progressive columnists in other East Coast cities are painting Kraft as complicit in the reported international human trafficking operation. Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where police say Kraft visited twice in roughly 18 hours on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20, is one of five massage parlors ensnared in this alleged trafficking ring that stretches from China to Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Though law enforcement officials haven’t indicated Kraft or any of the other nearly 200 “johns” knew about the trafficking, some are disingenuously arguing it doesn’t make a difference. 

“NFL must ban Robert Kraft if sex trafficking allegations are true,” reads the headline to Jane McManus’ column on the topic in the New York Daily News. The word “misdemeanor” doesn’t appear in the story once. 

“(This is) exploitation, and it doesn’t require that the situation be explained to Kraft when he walks in the massage parlor door,” she writes. “When people take part in illegal activities, they are taking a risk that they might be lied to, or that the women they meet may not be participating in sex acts of their free will.”

According to that logic, anybody who illegally purchases marijuana is complicit in the international drug trade, and thus shoulders responsibility for its atrocities. But I have a feeling McManus doesn’t take that point of view when players are arrested for marijuana possession.

Bloggers who live in Brooklyn seem anxious to pile on Kraft, due to his $6.6 billion net worth and friendship with President Trump. While I sympathize with those feelings, it’s important to keep in mind when reading Deadspin’s breathless coverage of the episode or a CNN columnist tying Kraft to R. Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein. 

The human trafficking element of this story is what’s propelled it to the front of the news, rather than confiding it to gossip pages and talk radio. But there are even some questions about the veracity of those claims. Journalist Elizabeth Nolan Brown published a piece on Reason.com poking holes in law enforcement’s initial bombastic proclamations, pointing out nobody has been tagged yet with trafficking-related charges. Police say some of the victims aren’t cooperating and now claim they were “free to leave at any time.” Also, why did officials allow the alleged gruesome trafficking operation to continue under surveillance for four months?

But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Brown’s framing as well. For starters, she’s an avowed libertarian writing for a libertarian publication that's hellbent on promoting legalized prostitution. Under the “Sex Work” section of Reason’s website, visitors can listen to a podcast titled, “Sex-Trafficking Hysteria Is Eroding Privacy in Hotels, Airplanes, and More.”

Also, as former prostitute Nikki Bell tells the Globe’s Kevin Cullen –– I know, I know –– many women working in the seedy field are abused and/or addicted to drugs. They may not be slaves, but they are trapped.

For the last four days, Kraft has been whatever people have wanted to him to be. To Glenn Ordway, one of the most powerful men in professional sports has fallen victim to a grandstanding detective. The Globe’s Adrian Walker, meanwhile, says it’s “unthinkable” to ever imagine Kraft standing in his box at Gillette Stadium again. He's one of several Globe columnists who have taken a hard stand against Kraft, whom the now-John Henry-owned paper has never been shy about criticizing. 

And on 98.5, they’re talking Bruins.

The motives are easy to figure out. 

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Schefty should stay in his lane: Adam Schefter is the best nugget-trader in the business. But he should probably stay in his sandbox. 

On Friday, the ubiquitous NFL Insider said on “SportsCenter” he heard Kraft isn’t the biggest name on the list of those being charged. Schefter curiously downplayed his big scoop hours later on OMF; however, sparring with Glenn over semantics. Ordway said Schefter had “tweeted” his rumor, whereas he just said it on TV, and others tweeted it on his behalf. 

It was an odd point of contention, and Schefter hasn’t offered any follow up. Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg said Monday Scheffer’s report was wrong.

At this point, it looks like somebody from the NFL or Patriots may have fed Schefter the erroneous nugget in a possible futile effort to divert attention away from Kraft. Or maybe, he just said it carelessly. 

Schefter never speaks out of line when it comes to talking about the league’s owners and coaches. He should apply the same standards when discussing news stories that matter outside of the gridiron. 

Anti-Patriots takers get more laughable: Could anybody besides marC James truly muster any outrage at Bart Scott, who said he thinks the Patriots should lose all of their draft picks following the charges against Kraft?

No, I didn’t think so.

New Sox analyst Carlos Pena understands modern baseball: Credit to the “@RedSoxStats” account for pointing out that Pena dropped an informative note during the Red Sox-Yankees telecast over the weekend. "Sabermetrically speaking, you always want your best hitter batting second, maybe that's not up your alley but it's precisely why Betts is going to bat second,” he said.

As we know, analytics rule baseball. It will be nice to have somebody in the booth who understands them. Here’s to more coming soon. 

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