Last week, long-time Browns beat writer Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer inadvertently posted an unflattering message about Browns owner Randy Lerner on Twitter.
“He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world,” Grossi said. The tweet was later deleted.
As it turns out, Lerner may remain sufficiently relevant to influence the work assignments at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. According to CleveScene.com, Grossi has been removed from the beat.
Last week, the newspaper addressed the issue at its website, Cleveland.com: “Last night, Plain Dealer Browns beat reporter Tony Grossi made an inadvertent, inappropriate post to Twitter concerning Browns owner Randy Lerner. Grossi has reached out to Lerner to apologize. The Plain Dealer also apologizes.”
Grossi also addressed the situation in a video podcast: “Last night there was a comment attributed to me on my Twitter account. It was inadvertent, it was inappropriate, and I do apologize for it. I’ve reached out to Randy Lerner to apologize to him for it and we’ll just leave it at that. It was inappropriate and not meant to be tweeted, but it was inappropriate nonetheless.”
Though no one has explained specifically how it happened that the tweet was posted on Grossi’s page, it appears this is the latest example of someone not understanding how to properly use the “direct message” function. Grossi apparently intended to express his opinion privately to one of his Twitter followers, but he accidentally posted it onto his primary Twitter profile, which can be viewed publicly.
And while we know nothing about any other issues or circumstances between Grossi and his bosses, the reaction seems more than a little harsh. Though the not-intended-for-publication message raises potential questions about Grossi’s objectivity when it comes to Lerner, it’s not as if Lerner is actively involved in the management of the team. In many respects, Lerner is an absentee landlord, with little or no interest in doing the things that so many other NFL owners love to do.
But while Lerner takes a hands-off approach to the Browns, he has shown a willingness to respond to indignities with aggressive action. In 2008, the Browns ended a preseason partnership with WOIO-TV after the station broadcast a portion of a 911 call made by Lerner’s sister when her daughter drowned.
“The recent coverage of the Lerner family tragedy is but the latest, albeit the most shocking and insensitive example of this destructive behavior,” Browns vice president Michael Keenan wrote in a letter to WOIO terminating the contract for “irresponsible journalism.”
It’s currently unknown whether Lerner or the Browns requested, suggested, or demanded that Grossi be reassigned. Regardless of how this all came to be, Grossi’s only wrongdoing, in our view, was his failure to properly navigate the Twitter application on his smartphone.
Besides, the substance of Grossi’s comments don’t come off to us as objectively offensive or inappropriate. He referred to Lerner as “pathetic” and called Lerner an “irrelevant billionaire.” (I’ve been called much worse than an “irrelevant billionaire,” and I aspire to be much less.)
If it turns out that Lerner indeed pushed the Plain Dealer to dump Grossi from the beat for his accidental expression of a private opinion he’s entitled to have, it definitely will be evidence, in our opinion, of a pathetic act by the billionaire owner of a largely irrelevant team.