Plain Dealer addresses Grossi reassignment, admits meeting with the Browns

Getty Images

It’s official.  In Saturday’s edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “reader representative” Ted Diadiun addressed at length the decision to remove long-time Browns writer Tony Grossi from the team’s beat.  Diadiun’s article is well-written, superficially persuasive, and apparently effective, given the number of emails we’ve received from folks who believe based on Diadiun’s article that the newspaper did the right thing.

But it doesn’t change our opinion that the Plain Dealer cowered to the Browns.  In fact, it strengthens it.

When scrutinizing an employment decision, inconsistencies in the reasons and rationalizations from the employer become extremely important.  The thinking is that, if the employer can’t tell a unified story in support of a supposedly legitimate decision, it’s possible that the employer is trying to conceal potentially illegitimate motives.  Circumstantial evidence also takes on a critical role, since the employer rarely will admit to ordering the Code Red.  Or, perhaps for these purposes, a Code Orange.

And that’s really the ultimate question.  Did the Browns order a Code Orange on Grossi?  Or, more accurately, did the Plain Dealer reassign Grossi because it believed the Browns wanted Grossi out?

Let’s consider the facts, the circumstances, and the inconsistencies.

First, the facts.  Grossi posted on his Twitter page a message that he had intended to keep private.  In the message, Grossi called Browns owner Randy Lerner a “pathetic figure” and “the most irrelevant billionaire in the world.”  (Of all the billionaires in the world, technically one of them must be the most irrelevant.)  Grossi immediately deleted the tweet once he realized his mistake.  By then, however, his words had been copied and repeated across the Internet, and it was impossible to unring the bell.

Grossi apologized publicly, the Plain Dealer apologized publicly, and Plain Dealer publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger sent a written apology to the Browns and to Lerner.

Though not addressed in Diadiun’s column, the Browns responded with silence.  Apart from declining to comment in response to inquiries from PFT, the Browns and Lerner refused to take calls from Grossi, and possibly from other officials of the Plain Dealer.  Indeed, Diadiun admits that “[n]one of the editors involved talked with anyone connected with the team” before making the decision to reassign Grossi.

Diadiun omits reference to the key question of whether the Plain Dealer tried to have such discussions.

Second, the circumstances.  Most significantly, Diadiun admits that Egger personally met with Lerner and team president Mike Holmgren on Wednesday, after the decision was made to reassign Grossi.  The fact that a meeting occurred invites speculation that the Browns cared — or at a minimum that the Plain Dealer believed the Browns cared — about the manner in which this situation was handled.

Third, the inconsistencies.  On Thursday, Plain Dealer managing editor Thom Fladung told 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland that the “determining factor” for the decision was the following standard:  “Don’t do something that affects your value as a journalist or the value of your newspaper or affects the perception of your value and the perception of that newspaper’s value.”  Fladung also said that Grossi’s opinions would have been permissible if he had posted them not on his Twitter page, but in the pages of the Plain Dealer.  “Let’s say Tony had written that Randy Lerner’s lack of involvement with the Browns and their resulting disappointing records over the years has made him irrelevant as an owner, that’s defensible,” Fladung said.  “That’s absolutely defensible.”

But Diadiun’s item contains a contradictory quote from Plain Dealer editor Adam Simmons, who thinks that Grossi’s role as a beat writer precluded him from making the statements about Lerner in any context.  “If it had been a columnist who wrote that, we might cringe, but that role is different,” Simmons said. “They’re paid to offer up opinions, however prickly. But we’re not asking them to go out and cover a team in a fair and balanced and objective way, like we are with a reporter.”  (Presumably, Simmons also believes that a columnist could have offered those opinions on his Twitter page, since opinions are fair game for a columnist.)

Complicating matters is Diadiun’s attempt to reconcile the action against Grossi with his First Amendment rights.  Rather that relying on the simple — and accurate — notion that employees of a private, for-profit enterprise have no First Amendment rights, Diadiun draws a clumsy line between personal and professional social media.  “Anyone who works at the paper has the right to say, write or Tweet anything they wish,” Diadiun writes.  “But they do not have a corresponding right to say it in the newspaper or on the website or on their newspaper Twitter account.  If they do, the editors who are in charge of maintaining the credibility of the newspaper have the right to change their assignment.”

So Fladung says that Grossi could have said what he said in the paper, Simmons says that Grossi couldn’t have said what he said anywhere unless he was a columnist, and Diadiun says that Grossi could have said what he said on his own, personal Twitter page.  And no one says it’s impermissible for Grossi to secretly possess those views, even if those views (as Diadiun writes) undermine his credibility.  Under the newspaper’s view of journalistic ethics, it only becomes a problem when those views are disclosed — which actually should make Grossi even more credible, since he has openly acknowledged his bias.

The end result is a stew of mixed messages, which invites speculation that the real reason for the move was to maintain a good relationship with the Browns.  Though there continues to be — and likely never will be — any evidence that the Browns told the Plain Dealer what the Browns wanted the Plain Dealer to do, some of the loudest and clearest messages can be sent through silence.

When Grossi or others from the Plain Dealer tried to call Lerner and/or Holmgren and they refused to speak, what should a reasonable person conclude?  Moreover, why would a meeting with Lerner and Holmgren even be needed if the Plain Dealer didn’t care about the team’s response to the situation?  If this decision was solely about journalistic standards and the integrity and credibility of Grossi’s coverage in the eyes of the audience given his personal views regarding Lerner, there was no reason to go to Berea and kiss rings and/or smooch butts.

That’s the fundamental disconnect.  The Plain Dealer wants us to believe it engaged in a textbook exercise in ethics while at the same time doing things like writing letters of apology to Lerner and publicly calling Grossi’s words about Lerner insulting and personally meeting with Lerner and Holmgren.

Though the Browns may not have intended to order a Code Orange, we believe that the Plain Dealer believed that it needed to remove Grossi from the beat in order to remain in the good graces of the Browns.  And we’d have far more (or, as the case may be, any) respect for this decision if the Plain Dealer would simply admit that which upon inspection of the facts, the circumstances, and the inconsistencies seems obvious.

44 responses to “Plain Dealer addresses Grossi reassignment, admits meeting with the Browns

  1. Maybe the Plain Dealer should worry more about covering a real sports team, rather than the Browns. Of course in Cleveland you don’t have many options for that… maybe they could just switch coverage to the Steelers.

  2. Apparently a very effective move by the Plain Dealer. The rest of the journalists appear to be walking on shells. There is a huge spike in positive local press toward the Browns and the hiring of Brad Childress, even though the national outlook on the matter is somewhat bleak.

  3. Maybe now art model can get in the HOF now that this clown is out and should lose his HOF vote. And Cleveland, get over the fact that Art left town. Your city didn’t step up and build a new stadium until after Art left. Bark at that orange heads.

  4. I’m not surprised by the response to Grossi being taken off the beat by the PD. Because of that tweet, the PD had to do something and probably a suspension was the thing that was warranted and not a complete removal from the beat.

    What I am surprised about is that hardly anyone who is a Browns fan is upset by this. Most of the criticism I have found is coming from media outside of Cleveland. Grossi has had the reputation of being terrible at his job the last four years or so. Always negative and never insightful. Most other Browns fans that I’ve spoke to are actually okay with having some new blood in the beat. No one wants to see anyone lose their job, but the Plain Dealer’s coverage of the Browns has been terrible and a lot of that stems from Grossi’s ineptitude as a beat reporter. I think the Plain Dealer will be better off by this decision regardless of the ramifcations of the reason that took him off the beat and whether or not the Browns had anything to do with the decision.

  5. This whole scenario tends to make the paper look week and able to be manipulated. There is also the implication that Grossi was correct when he called Learner pathetic(but also vindictive), if any influence was used on the paper.

  6. So if you work for the Plain Dealer, be careful what you say about the Browns and their ownership, or you may need to worry about your future prospects?

    Hardly ideal circumstances. Also, this compromises every article the paper carries from now on. How can readers trust them to be objective if they clearly kow tow to the Browns organisation?

  7. Excellent column, Mike. As an attorney who specializes in this area, your argument is not just persuasive; it’s authoritative.

    In a free society, it is always preferable to err on the side of liberty. Grossi’s tweet may have been uncouth, but it is clear that it wasn’t a case of misconduct; because if it were, the Plain Dealer would have cited the company policy that Grossi violated, chapter and verse.

    Instead, it appears that the Plain dealer removed Grossi from the beat for purely political reasons. In journalism, standing up for free speech is paramount. After this episode, the inference for every reporter in Cleveland is that if you insult someone who is rich and powerful, it could mean your job. For a newspaper, that is absolutely the worst possible message to send to reporters; but that’s exactly what the Plain Dealer just did.


  8. But it doesn’t change our opinion that the Plain Dealer cowered to the Browns. In fact, it strengthens it.

    …and this is what happens when lawyers try to masquerade as journalists.

  9. Good, hopefully he’ll loses his HOF vote as I think he’s the idiot who still believes Art Modell does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping the editors at the PlainDealer go to everyplace the hack interviews and gives the company multiple reasons why they should not hire this guy.

    Amazing that one guy with a grudge could wipe out the contributions of an NFL Legend who did what he had to do for his business. BTW, isn’t city of cleveland currently in a finanancial dispute with the new owner of the browns?? Is that why grossi is mad at the irrrelevant billionaire? Bottom line is cleveland missed football for what 2 years and they had a new stadium and all of their Browns history remains in the city of cleveland. Sorry but there’s no comparison to what happened with the colts because of Art Modell’s compassion for the fans of cleveland!

    First reason to smile about a NFL story since last Sunday!

  10. Lerner is an inept owner and a truely pathetic person. He also is the owner of the leagues most irerelevent team.
    Look at the teams winning history.
    The Cleveland Plain Dealer is now the country’s most irrelevent “newspaper” for cowering to such an irrelevent, pathetic owner of the leagues most pathetic, irrelevent team.

    Would someone care to reassign me?
    I’m sure there are thousands of Cleveland citizens that wish they could be “reassigned” to a different city so they can become fans of a real team

  11. Hey jamaltimore, Modell went to your town was given a fat stadium deal filled with all kinds of extras financially and he STILL lost money and had to sell the team. He also yanked one of the original old school franchises out of a town that couldn’t possibly have been more supportive of his team over the years. What he did was akin to taking the Yankees out of New York or the Bears out of Chicago or the Packers out of Green Bay and the only Hall he deserves after that is the Hall of Shame. And Ravens fans who were Colts fans before that should be ashamed too after all the whining they did after the Colts bolted to Indy.

  12. Interesting article and apparently there are editors who dont know their own policies. (Might be a good time to pull everyone together for a plolicy review, Fladung – that is if you know them yourself).

    Ted – Looks like you got hung out to dry by the higher ups who dont know the policies of what is permisible in what type of format..

    Hopefully you are not one of the employees walking on eggshells at the PD. Must be a tough place to work right now.

  13. I can’t believe Grossi is getting any sympathy – he sucked at his job and his comments warranted getting fired let alone reassigned.

    If any one of us did something comparable in our jobs to jeopardize our working relationships or drag our companies through the mud we’d all be fired before the end of the day.

    Quit trying to finagle your words to defend Tony Grossi who sucked at his job anyway.

    Believe me, the ONLY thing good about Tony Grossi was keeping that lowlife blood sucker Fart Modell out of the Hall of Fame.

  14. None of it really matters – Grossi will be fine…I really don’t care, and have no personal attachment like a lot of people to Grossi it seems. Mary Kay does a fine job – and didn’t and likely won’t make such a mistake.

  15. Seems like Cleveland needs a break.
    Maybe Boston will trade John Tomase for future considerations.

  16. Dont forget Indians offered to let Modell use progressive field ( Jacobs field back then ) til a new stadium was built , but that wasn’t enough for art !! Greedy bastard

  17. First there was Watergate.
    Then there was Iran-Contra.
    Now there’s the Grossi reassignment (not fired). How will the Republic survive???

  18. Patriots fans will be eternally grateful to the Browns for firing Bill Belichick. I’ll bet his coaching record doesn’t look quite so bad in view of those who followed him. And, remember, he took over a new, expansion team and even got them to the playoffs.
    The fans wanted him fired because he had the audacity to sit Bernie Kozar and replace him with Vinny Testaverde. How did that decision work out? Hint: Kozar never played another game. Testaverde had a 20-year NFL career. We can’t thank you enough for your role in bringing New England the greatest coach in the salary cap era of the NFL.

  19. Everybody wins in this situation.

    The truth is that Grossi has been gradually losing traction with the Browns for years and over the past several the insider information, the strength of a beat writer, has been coming from the national not local media.

    So a new reporter has an opportunity to build trust and mutual respect and get some real ‘off the record’ information worth reporting.

    Also, its apparent from the comments of the readers that Grossi is far from universally embraced. He is a writer, not a columist. So the large number of people with negative vibes on his writing is not good for him, the PD, or the team.

    For Grossi, its a chance to rekindle a journalistic career that has gone stale. Most Northeast Ohio readers are not familar with the teams he will be covering on his new beat. And the Afghani Soccer League, Indian Amatuer Cricket League, and Bulgarian Women’s Wrestling Federation all need more public exposure.

    Go get ’em Tony Tiger!

  20. Holmgren wants the media to act like a bunch of lapdogs giving him unconditional love. His statement “you’re either with us or your not” doesn’t leave any room for objectivity.

  21. If it helps Brown’s fans, your team did win a Superbowl once. They were just called the Baltimore Ravens when they did it…

  22. Grossi gets re-assigned for telling the truth. Somewhat ironic given that the paper claims to be “plain dealing”.

  23. “What I am surprised about is that hardly anyone who is a Browns fan is upset by this. Most of the criticism I have found is coming from media outside of Cleveland. Grossi has had the reputation of being terrible at his job the last four years or so. Always negative and never insightful. Most other Browns fans that I’ve spoke to are actually okay with having some new blood in the beat. No one wants to see anyone lose their job, but the Plain Dealer’s coverage of the Browns has been terrible and a lot of that stems from Grossi’s ineptitude as a beat reporter. I think the Plain Dealer will be better off by this decision regardless of the ramifcations of the reason that took him off the beat and whether or not the Browns had anything to do with the decision.”

    Absolutely correct. Living here, not even the people that despise Holmgren and Lerner can muster up the energy to bemoan Grossi’s departure (and they’ll use almost anything as ammo). He’d plainly been suffering in his role for years, bitter, petty… the PD probably did the guy a favor by moving him to a new assignment.

  24. “Pat patriot Einstein, belichick didn’t take over an expansion team. Another well informed new englander. Just incredible!”

    Not to mention that Belichick resigned, not fired, which happened when the team was in Baltimore, not Cleveland, and Kosar (with an “s”) went on to play in 18 more games between the Cowboys and Dolphins.

    Other than that, it was all correct.

  25. Lol @ raven fans that think modell gets into the hof now. The guy was a train wreck. He was exposed ONCE by grossi and no one will ever vote for him again.

  26. Stop campaigning for that guy. He made a huge mistake and he needs to be accountable for it. Doesn’t matter if he meant for it to be public or not……because it IS public now. There are no do-overs. And it should be failry obvious why the Browns wouldn’t want to deal with him anymore.

    Media isn’t special.

  27. This is not the first time in his career that Grossi has been reassigned off the Browns beat. He was kicked off years ago for a column he wrote about ownership. In fact, I was surprised years later that he was covering the team again. They’ll probably bring him back in a few years…

  28. Oh, please.

    When a reporter attacks a person in charge of an organization publicly – and without any documentation – how can a reader expect that the reporter is giving him/her a fair assessment when he covers the persons business?

    This is basic journalism, and is not superficial – it goes directly to the issue of whether the organization the person is working for has journalistic integrity.

    Futhermore, Grossi has established for years that at best he is an average reporter. His articles on the Browns do not bring any insight to the reader that has not already been brought up in dozens of media places. He long ago grew bored with his job, and has been mailing it in for years.

    As one poster to the PD noted – he has a business, and if one of his people that dealt with one of his biggest customers went on the Internet and personally insulted the Owner of the business with no collaborating information – he sure as heck would re-assign the employee.

    I am tired of this “Tony Grossi made a mistake, so what” argument. A society can only exist if it has standards, and among those standards is to adhere to common decency when discussing others publicly. America is no longer a civil country – people have little, if any, respect for the rights of their neighbors, their institutions, or their government. And the story above argues that this lack of civility should continue.

    Friedrich Nietzsche one said (correctly) that the difference between freedom and anarchy is self-discipline. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has the right to impose discipline on those that work for it. Mr. Grossi is becoming some sort of martyr, when in fact he has proven himself to be a bumbling reporter that thinks little of others (see the sarcastic, condescending remarks he has been making for years as he answers readers questions about the Browns once a week). There is a pattern of poor professional behavior and poor productivity – but just like we have in an America that is falling apart – we have to read articles on why uncivil behavior is acceptable. Yet nowhere do we read why Mr. Lerner had to have his reputation sullied around the world, and what rights he has.

    And for heavens sake – MR. GROSSI WAS NOT FIRED!

  29. timpiker says: Jan 29, 2012 1:28 PM

    If any one of us did something comparable in our jobs to jeopardize our working relationships or drag our companies through the mud we’d all be fired before the end of the day.


    But are you a journalist, tim? That argument doesn’t work because of that distinction, which is fundamental.

    I hope I don’t have to explain that any further.

  30. Hey thatobnoxiousguy-

    You can talk a lot of things about the Browns but you can’t say anything bad about their winning history. Yes- the franchise has been irrelevant for the past 25 years, But they have a rich a winning history. Wiki it. but things do change. Just ask the Aints, um I mean Saints, the Patriots (they used to be woeful) even the Lions are starting to turn around.

  31. As a Ravens fan I would like to apologize for a couple of tools making the Art Modell/Grossi Hall of Fame issue on this thread.

    Look I am very happy that we have a football team but that is the extent of our relationship with Art. After he sold the Ravens to Maryland native Steve Biscotti there is no real need for any of us to take up his cause. Glad he got us team but his part was basically a business transaction.
    And as for 12 years of seeing those horse thieves in Indy telling us to get over it , that the NFL is a business and the owner is allowed to take the team records, logo.

    Well business is business and I couldn’t care whether he is in the Hall or not .

    He can get in right after Bob Irsay.

  32. Removing Grossi was wrong and rotten. It’s not just Brown’s fans who should be upset – it’s fans of sports journalism everywhere – and fans of journalism.

    When the subject of the story is allowed to dictate what journalists can say and cannot say … it’s no longer an independent paper. It’s a propaganda rag that contains no truth.

    It’s sad to see Browns fans supporting the gutting of the fifth estate.

  33. This is just another case of the watchdog working for the watched. If the Dealer didn’t fold, this owner would’ve simply replaced it with one that would produce the ‘corporate’ desires.

    Sounds a lot like how Washington D.C. operates. If you critize, your press credentials are stricken and you are relegated to non-journalist, or hack status.

  34. @shadylamp: You might as well throw my Packers in that group as well. The late 70s, complete 80s and half the 90s were not the greatest times for our franchise either.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!