Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner
According to Forbes, The Cleveland Plain Dealer removed Tony Grossi from covering the Cleveland Browns following this tweet: "He's a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world." The pathetic, irrelevant figure Grossi was referring to was Browns owner Randy Lerner.
Let's be clear: Grossi was reassigned within the Plain Dealer's sports department; he was not fired.
Grossi—a sports reporter, not columnist (this distinction is important to the Plain Dealer and we'll circle back to it later)—has covered the Browns for approximately two decades.
Grossi started covering the Browns when the Golden Girls were taping shows and Johnny Carson was the host of the Tonight Show. Yeah, around the time Grossi was covering Clay Matthews—not that one, his dad—Amy Fisher was shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco and FOX had just added Wednesday night broadcasting. They go back—way back.
One tweet puts all of that history to bed.
A few days after reassigning Grossi, the Plain Dealer published an article from "reader representative" Ted Diadiun that outlined the decision to reassign Grossi.
Diadiun's article was the Plain Dealer's attempt to show an objective, well-reasoned decision to reassign Grossi. Diadiun's effort failed.
The Plain Dealer's treatment of Grossi was cowardly and showed a lack of integrity on behalf of the publication.
Should Tony Grossi Have Been Reassigned?
Immediately following his derogatory tweet, Grossi deleted the tweet and apologized for his actions. The Plain Dealer also issued an apology for Grossi's tweet. Even Terrance C.Z. Egger, the Plain Dealer's publisher, got on his knees and drafted an apology to the Browns and to Lerner.
Those apologies should've been the end of the tweet fallout. But the Plain Dealer, in an obvious attempt to appease Lerner and the Browns, punished Grossi by removing him from covering the Browns. If the move had nothing to do with the Browns and Lerner, then you have to wonder why the publication immediately called over to the Browns to let them know of the reassignment.
The controlling factor for the decision to remove Grossi from the Browns beat is because his tweet now calls his ability to remain impartial into question. Remember, he's a reporter—who is supposed to remain objective to who or what is reported on—and not a columnist—who is free to, and encouraged to have an opinion on a topic.
There's another way—besides his 140 character tweet—to tell if Grossi's ability to remain impartial has been compromised.
If there is an issue relating to the neutrality of his reporting, there is a colossal amount of his work available to review—20 years worth, in fact. And after such a review, if there is a legitimate argument that he has not been and cannot be impartial as a reporter, then reassign him.
Because as it stands now, Grossi's tweet doesn't hint that he will be impartial while covering the Browns. It simply shows how he feels about the Browns' owner.
To reassign Grossi because he doesn't like the owner of the Browns is simply ridiculous. In fact, maybe we shouldn't be focusing on just his tweet, but should be asking for more information. I, for one, would like to know why he feels the way he does. And I'd like him to have more than 140 characters to inform us of his position on Lerner.
But that's not how these situations are handled.
History instructs us that those in the media can, and will, be fired or suspended for expressing their personal opinions.
Sports Illustrated Reporter Tom Bowles was fired for cheering in the press box at the Daytona 500. Race car driver Trevor Bayne was making history by becoming the youngest driver to win the 500 and Bowles had the nerve to clap. Now Bowles is out of a job.
And let's not forget when ESPN Pardon the Interruption co-host Tony Kornheiser was suspended for commenting on Hannah Storm's racy outfit. Kornheiser's comments were inappropriate and ESPN made the right call suspending him, not reassigning him off of the show. By the way, here's Storm's outfit.
And we all know about Don Imus and his remarks regarding the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Imus's comment—calling the women "nappy-headed ho's"—led to MSNBC removing the Imus in the Morning show from their simulcast and CBS firing Imus altogether. FOX has since picked Imus' show up.
So where does Grossi's tweet fit in with all of this? He's more along the lines of the Kornheiser comments and significantly less like the Imus bigotry.
Either way, he didn't deserve to be demoted. Because for a guy who's covered the Browns since Tiger Woods was 16 years old, that's exactly what the Plain Dealer's decision was to Grossi. And the Plain Dealer—or any other publication for that matter—is fooling itself if it thinks that their reporters don't have opinions about the focuses of their beats.