The Media Column: With tapes ruled improper, hysterical coverage of Robert Kraft case now looks downright foolish

Alex Reimer
May 15, 2019 - 3:28 pm
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At the onset of the Robert Kraft case, most journalists took the authorities at their word. It was a big mistake, leading to misrepresentations and rather incredible exaggerations. Within days of the charges being announced, the New York Times came out with an investigative piece about the sex trade in Florida, featuring Kraft as a central player.

“‘The Monsters Are the Men’: Inside a Thriving Sex Trafficking Trade in Florida,” the headline reads.

Kraft is mentioned at least seven times in the article, which uses a harrowing quote from conservative Martin County Sheriff William Snyder as its hook. “I would never consider (the women) prostitutes — it was really a rescue operation,” he said in February. “The monsters are the men.”

At the time, Snyder was implicating Kraft in a supposed international human-trafficking operation, in which he said helpless women were shuffled from Florida’s Treasure Coast to Shanghai. Though police never said Kraft or any of the johns possessed knowledge of the alleged sex slavery, it was hard to not wonder how ignorant they could be, considering the day spas’ desolate conditions –– as described by law enforcement.

"The women were not just employees," the Times writes. "They were living in the day spa, sleeping on massage tables and cooking meals on hot plates in the back. Some of them had had their passports confiscated."

There was a hint of xenophobia to some of the early coverage as well, with news outlets appearing to imply the Asian women who worked at these spas were inherently suspicious.

In one of its first articles about the case, the Daily Beast quotes the owner of a business next to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft went twice in roughly 18 hours, who says its employees couldn’t speak English –– as if that is an indication of wrongdoing.

“The women are all Chinese. None of them speak English. Sometimes, I would see people outside try to talk to them, and they wouldn’t understand,’” Vivian Pham said.

Just last month, the Boston Globe published a piece about vigilante “dog-walking moms” in Wayland who have taken it upon themselves to shut down Asian-owned massage parlors in their neighborhood, despite admittedly no evidence or investigative chops.

“We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just a bunch of moms sitting in this kitchen,” one of the moms says in the piece. 

The moms succeeded in shutting two spas down. Police filed no charges against either business and identified zero sex trafficking victims. The moms admit they’ll never know if their suspicions had been right.

That is one example of what can happen when stories get inaccurately reported. It’s apparent Kraft walked into a strip-mall day spa and solicited prostitution on back-to-back days. That is a crime, and Kraft’s involvement has rightfully exposed the evils of the illegal prostitution industry. Through numerous interviews with sex industry survivors and activists, we have learned few of these women are there willingly, with many of them repaying debts or stuck with no other options.

Kraft is not a saint; he is not an oppressed civil rights leader who successfully stood up to the powerful surveillance state. He is a very rich man who will seemingly be able to shed his misdemeanor due to a technicality. A judge ruled the overzealous police didn’t respect privacy when they surreptitiously filmed customers at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, running videotape even when female customers were receiving regular massages.

But wealth doesn’t mean you can’t fall victim to smears. That’s what happened to Kraft at the onset of the case, when police were declaring this was an extraordinary human-trafficking operation, with armed men and $20 million in profits connected back to China

Most of these grandiose proclamations never came to fruition, however. Prosecutors admitted in court no human trafficking charges will be filed, and police were relegated to defending their use of surveillance by invoking the “boxer shorts rule,” saying they didn’t spy on anybody who wore their underwear during the massages.

Amazingly, the most humiliating videotape revelation in this case didn't involve Kraft –– at least not yet. 

Snyder, who serves as the sheriff in a neighboring county of Jupiter and the Orchids of Asia, predicted the videotapes of the johns, including Kraft, would be released. A judge ordered this week Kraft’s tapes will be sealed, echoing orders from the judge presiding over the case involving the two women who allegedly serviced the billionaire –– both of whom are middle-aged and licensed masseuses –– and the judge who’s overseeing the prostitution cases in Snyder’s county.

WEEI.com called the Martin County’s Sheriff office this week, but was told Sheriff Snyder doesn’t speak about ongoing cases. That must be a recently enacted policy, since Sheriff Snyder was on TV more than Michael Avenatti when the case started, and even penned an op-ed in the Globe.

Some, such as Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown and our own Glenn Ordway and Gerry Callahan, expressed doubt about this case from the get-go. But Reason is an unabashed libertarian playground and Callahan and Ordway are unabashed Patriots toadies. The biases were difficult to overlook.

But in this instance, the doubters were right. Kraft seemingly solicited prostitution. It is a misdemeanor crime, and one that 40-percent of Americans think should be legal, anyway. 

You can win a presidential election with just 46-percent of the vote, from what I hear.

The calls for Kraft to step down as Patriots’ owner, whether surfaced by Adrian Walker or Jane McManus, seem downright silly now. Goodell will likely still punish him, but the penalty is not expected to be draconian. 

Put it this way: Kraft could face more leniency from the league for his day spa sojourns than Tom Brady for playing with deflating footballs. And few will care or notice. We have used up our outrage on false pretenses. 

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Stephen A. butters up Terry Rozier: Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman successfully goaded Terry Rozier to rip Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens while referring to himself in the third-person on "First Take" Tuesday. Job well done.

But at the end of the interview, we saw the price Stephen A. might have paid to elicit that kind of candor from Rozier. Smith gave Rozier a full-fledged endorsement heading into free agency, saying he thinks the backup guard is worthy of a lot more than he received this season. 

“I can say two things: he could be starting for at least a third, if not half of the teams in the league, and he’s worth a helluva lot more than the $3 million he got paid this year. Let’s be very, very clear,” Smith said.

Here’s hoping Rozier tipped Smith even more than what Kraft gave the women at Orchids of Asia.

Jackie Mac explains trouble with Access Journalism: Jackie MacMullan’s entire interview with the New Yorker is must-read, but her insight into the troubles with today’s climate of sports journalism is especially poignant.

Since reporters are around players far less than they once were, access is at a premium. As a result, so-called Insiders try to curry favor, sacrificing their impartiality.

“We just submitted our All-N.B.A. ballots. I left LeBron off my ballot,” MacMullan says. “The thing that I admire most about LeBron James is how he empowered players. To me, that will be his legacy, and it’s a great one. But, for my thinking, this year, he took that player empowerment and abused it. He opened a grenade, threw it in the locker room, and walked out. He literally and figuratively separated himself from the team when things went bad, as if to say, “This isn’t on me.” He showed up for a game with a glass of wine! To my mind, there has to be consequences for that. But the media, in general, because he’s so difficult to get access to—what people will do to curry favor with him makes me nauseous.

“I talked to a lot of writers who voted for All-N.B.A., and was like, “Did you leave him on or off?” There’s no right or wrong answer. I’m not suggesting he’s not one of the greatest basketball players—of course he is. But that’s not what this award is. It’s for the top fifteen players that season. And for a guy who said, “I’m not even going to play defense until the playoffs,” I’m just not going to vote for that guy. I was talking to some of my colleagues, and others, too, and more than one of them said, “I can’t afford to leave him off. I need the King.” What has that gotten you? And where are your journalistic sensibilities? This is the biggest thing I worry about with our business.”

Red Sox in the wrong on White House gag order: The Red Sox told Washington Post reporter David Nakamura last week he wasn’t allowed into their postgame clubhouse to ask more White House questions. Nakamura peppered players with questions about the trip before the game, and was planning to do the same afterwards. 

But the Red Sox told him he was only allowed to ask questions about the game. That was a mistake. Yes, the motivation behind Nakamura’s piece was transparent, with anecdotes about Latin players talking amongst themselves and Andrew Benintendi of Ohio giving American Flag shorts to Mitch Moreland of Alabama. But reporters have a right to ask uncomfortable or even leading questions. Curtailing access is almost always the wrong answer. 

Related: The Media Column: From Brad Marchand to Bill Belichick, why do sportswriters cheer on rude behavior towards their colleagues?