Sun-Times Takes Unprofessional Approach In Mariotti Divorce

Adam MillerCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2008

I was sitting down to breakfast this morning with my oatmeal and orange juice while fishing for today’s Chicago Sun-Times like I would on any other ordinary day.

Then I saw something not so ordinary. In big bold print, I saw “Welcome back, Pete” at the top of the paper, taking my attention away from a man at the Democratic National Convention on the front page who was in tears after Barack Obama officially received the democratic nomination.

I read the type below the headline, curious why the Sun-Times was welcoming back Pete.

“Sports fan Pete Gaines had enough of Jay Mariotti and quit reading the paper. When he heard Mariotti was gone, he quickly came back. You can too. For home delivery call 888-84-Times.”

Clearly the Sun-Times were using Mariotti’s departure as a chance to bring in more subscriptions. It’s no secret that he is perhaps the most hated sports figure in the state of Illinois, including Steve Bartman.

Mariotti quit the paper Tuesday night after signing a contract extension nearly two months ago. He said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that it was because he figured out the internet is bringing down newspapers and he wanted to jump off the ship before he sunk going so far as to call the Sun-Times the Titanic.

 The real reason he quit, according to Sun-Times web editor Roman Modrowski, is that it was about Obama.

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Rick Telander had first pick of the topics to write about and he chose to write about O’Bama’s comments regarding Cubs fans. Mariotti also wanted to write about the presidential hopeful’s interview with Stewart Scott, but was told no, which apparently angered him as he threw a tantrum and quit.

The Sun-Times has been relatively quiet, refusing to comment in the Chicago Tribune, but didn’t hold back this morning, devoting two whole pages to Mariotti leaving.

The spread included reader responses and a column from columnist Chris De Luca that reads like the newspaper version of “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz, quoting Mariotti’s favorite targets, Ozzie Guillen and Hawk Harrelson while De Luca spews his own venom.

His column ends with a quote from Sun-Times Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke.

“We wish Jay well and will miss him – not personally of course – but in the sense that he is no longer here, at least for a few days,” Cooke said.

On the left-hand corner of the spread, you see, “For home delivery of the Jay-free Sun-Times, call 888-84-Times.” The ad is a desperate call for subscriptions, as the Sun-Times continue to lose money, and a celebration.

You may hate Mariotti for his arrogance, cowardly behavior, constantly negative columns, or any other reason. But imagine having a job where you can’t get along with your boss or any of your colleagues, yet they keep you because they think you’re still worth something to the company.

Finally, there’s something the company does that really ticks you off as you decide to quit. Your company throws a party that you’re finally gone and they invite anyone off the street, posting big signs outside the door with everything they don’t like about you.

It certainly wouldn’t reflect well on the company, would it? Does it sound unprofessional?

This is exactly what the Sun-Times are doing with Mariotti. It would be very easy to devote about 400 words with a statement, acknowledging that he quit the paper and wish him good luck in the future.

Instead, it was an overall bash-fest of the controversial columnist. Mariotti wasn’t exactly the epitome of professionalism either, but it would’ve brought some closure if the paper just took the high road in this little saga and moved on.

If the Sun-Times wanted to bring some attention to the paper, it certainly succeeded, but it lost a lot of my respect in doing so. That might not mean much compared to thousands of ignorant Sun-Times readers who probably had a big smile at the breakfast table after reading De Luca’s column.

However, I was always taught the role of the newspaper is to inform its consumers on the news, not make news itself.

When former Tribune sports-writer Sam Smith left the paper, you didn’t see the paper celebrating his retirement. Then again, his colleagues respected him.

Take a step back from whatever hatred you have for Mariotti and look at a few things. You may disagree with nearly everything he says, but people in Chicago have an addiction to reading or talking about him.

In other words, he’s doing what a columnist is supposed to do by sparking conversation.

If he was a bad writer, you wouldn’t care enough about him to complain that he “sucks,” he wouldn’t be a regular on Around the Horn, and he probably wouldn’t have kept that column for so long, earning a six-figure salary as the Sun-Times fires people by the week.

I blame the Sun-Times for Mariotti’s problems almost as much as I blame Mariotti for them. The paper was too complicit in allowing the former columnist to have his way.

Despite a pretty obvious feud with Telander that Mariotti enflamed and made it a battle in the public rather than behind closed doors, he was awarded with a contract extension until May 2011. Many of his colleagues complained that Mariotti never went into clubhouses that he criticized.

This is a legitimate complaint, but the Sun-Times should have done more to get Mariotti into the locker room so he could get the quotes that he pulls from other writers in his column. Nobody said a peep except for Telander about his notorious reputation for avoiding Chicago White Sox games altogether.

There are many columnists who write about their city’s team without going to games, specifically the ones who have obligations to ESPN or Sports Illustrated. Who knows how long it’s been since Michael Wilbon has seen the Washington Nationals in person or the last time Woody Paige has been inside the Pepsi Center.

The reason it flies with them is because most columnists are nowhere near as controversial as Mariotti and don’t have coaches or managers who call them out as Guillen did a few years ago.

However, for the amount of bashing that Mariotti did with the White Sox, or any other Chicago franchise for that matter, the Sun-Times should have put their foot down and forced him to at the very least set up a few interviews once in awhile.

Who knows how long the Sun-Times editors will celebrate their divorce with Mariotti. Hopefully not long. The Cubs and Sox are having one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory and I’d rather see the paper devote a spread with its cashed-strapped companies to one of those teams than on a former columnist.