MLB Acts as Stalinist Thoughtpolice, Shut Down Podcast

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When it comes to the media relations policies of Major League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs, I tend to think of a famous statement usually attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller. It’s about the compliance of German intellectuals during the Nazi rise to power and the establishment’s successive elimination of chosen demographics.

They came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up

Ed Nickow from Chicago Sports in Haiku, summed up what went down:

Earlier this year, MLB Advanced Media sent a cease and desist letter demanding that Cubscast stop podcasting, take down their website, and transfer the domain name to MLB.

By Paul M. Banks

Basically, this is censorship and message control that would make the old Soviet Union proud.

And now, because a fan-produced podcast uses the Cubs name and colors (yes, they complained that the Cubscast website used a blue and red theme) we have lost one of the best, and most entertaining, fan podcasts.

Here’s how Lou put it in his letter to Cubscast listeners:

Of all the things an organization with such great resources as Major League Baseball can do, this seems like a low note and a waste of talent to me. I love baseball, but I wish they would move quickly to embrace fan involvement, fan communities, and technology. Other leagues such as the NBA are setting the bar high, and baseball has some serious catching up to do. Watching a great sport like baseball is one thing, but being connected to other fans makes watching and experiencing a season a thousand times better.

It’s a frightening scenario, and that’s why I must speak up now and defense my Chicago Now brothers. Even more chilling, and hitting closer to home was this sentence:

“my fellow ChicagoNow blogger Julie DiCaro has complained, many teams (including the Cubs) really haven’t figured out how to treat bloggers when it comes to access.”

It’s true of course, but it’s like referring to the Pacific Ocean as a “body of water.” Actually, the Cubs already “came for me,” in a different sort of way.

Here’s my Cubs PR Department horror story.

First read this piece which I originally published on the Washington Times Communities. When you see my comment about Zambrano bear in mind that two weeks after I wrote it, he had his childish hissy fit in the Crosstown series.

The game night I wrote it, I was only granted a “limited access” credential, and I was allowed to enter the conference room, where the Cubs brought out manager Lou Piniella and Ryan Dempster. Every other media member was granted access to the clubhouse and the opportunity to converse with other players. I was not.

Still, I bit my lip, accepted my second-class citizen status and crafted a very fair and even-handed piece.

My reward? The thoughtpolice in the Cubs Media Relations treated my piece like a Muslim fundamentalist thinks of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” (Ok, bit of an exaggeration obviously, but they weren’t pleased) They sent a letter to my editor at the Times. And then denied every other credential request my publication made on behalf of me that summer. The letter said:

“This is definitely not the type of  article I would’ve expected after we spoke during Spring Training and the beginning of the regular season. I can completely see how the Brewers could see this more as a blog than an article.”

1.) Since when do you or any other franchise only credential “maid to order” media?

2.) Since when do you take your cue from the Milwaukee Brewers? What are you in 7th grade? “Everyone else is doing it…I need to fit in.”

3.) How on Earth was that a piece a “blog?” It’s exactly like the type of feature story you’d see in a newspaper. I actually thought it was way too fawning for a story about a $150 million ballclub that spent most of the season long out of contention. And gave me substandard access.

I’ll be the first to admit a lot of what I write wouldn’t be taught in any Medill journalism class any time soon, but when it comes to content generated from attending the game, I’m all business all the time. Anything I produce as a direct result of being credentialed will be professional enough for the AP!

And I’m not going to let a two-bit PR flak tell me otherwise. I have a similar horror story from the White Sox which I’ll possibly share at another time. Because I know another incident like this is going to happen soon. Maybe they’ll come for you next?

For now, it’s painfully obvious that MLB is stuck in the 1950s when it comes to understanding the scope and reach of media.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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