April 2027, 2000
The Whartongate Affair
by Howard Altman
Binyamin Appelbaum is finding out just how ferocious a media tsunami can be.
The biggest of the season blew across his desk last week when a seemingly benign story about a visiting baseball manager speaking at Wharton exploded into a screaming headline superstorm.
Of course, the visiting manager was the Mets Bobby Valentine, whose speeches are as benign as twisters. And now Appelbaum, executive editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian, finds himself in the middle of a major New York sports controversy, both as a journalist and a subject.
Its been a hell of a week for the 21-year-old junior from Newton, MA.
"It has been a pretty interesting experience ," Appelbaum says. "I was glad that we did a solid job of a story that demanded quite a bit from us."
This latest turbulence began April 12 at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, at a lecture given by Valentine. DP reporter Laura Spadanuta covered the event, noting in the April 13 edition that "more than 100 students many sporting Mets hats and jerseys" heard Valentine answer questions about "the business of baseball." The lecture was sponsored by the Wharton Wide World of Sports Club, founded by freshmen Jared Prushansky and Nilloy Phukan.
To the world beyond Wharton, the lecture was not even a blip on the Doppler 10,000. Until a few days later, after another Penn student, Brad Rosenberg calling himself brad34 posted a message on the Mets Web site saying that Valentine had blasted Mets management and some players. Brads message turned out to be a confab of fact, fiction and opinion which he later publicly retracted and apologized for.
But the New York media grabbed hold of the story, some running with it even before checking it out with Valentine or brad34. And what started out as calm seas became a major storm front.
Which brings us back again to the desk of Binyamin Appelbaum.
Before checking the veracity of Rosenbergs posting, Mets general manager Steve Phillips was on a plane to Pittsburgh, where he held an emergency session with Valentine. Phillips flight gave the story legs that wouldnt die.
The trip, and the resulting torrent of media mishegoss, could have been saved with a call to Appelbaum. His newspaper taped the event. Or at least the first half, until the tape recorder stopped working. His reporter, Spadanuta, had handwritten notes about the other half. Combined, the notes enabled the Daily Pennsylvanian to tell the world the closest version of what Valentine really said. Which, in its full context, shows that Valentine was candid and on target, not so much belittling his players, as brad34 posted, but wishing that management did not trade away some of his (and the fans) favorites, like Masato Yoshii.
This time, anyway, Valentine uttered little if anything to get him fired, which was the speculation fueling the NY media frenzy.
(The folks at UTV13, Penns television station, reportedly have a videotape of the entire speech, but are not giving it out to anyone. I tried to ask why, but station general manager Eric Gordon didnt return a phone call and a page.)
The DP, on the other hand, published portions of the transcripts of that speech, "contain[ing] previously unpublished remarks about Mets outfielder Rickey Henderson, Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker and the politics of baseball in New York City."
Not surprisingly, Appelbaum has been a very popular fellow among the New York press corps.
"It has been very interesting for me in a couple of ways," says Appelbaum, who wants to pursue a career in the bidness, perhaps as a newspaper columnist. "I learned that things move very, very quickly. Time to sit and think is not usually available to you."
Time in general has been a precious commodity of late, says Appelbaum, who is just a week and a half away from midterms.
The Valentine yap flap, dubbed Whartongate by the New York headline writers, "has been pretty distracting," he says. "Its getting in the way of my schoolwork."
Still, what better way to get an education in newspapering?
Appelbaum says he also learned that "reporters come to this process with conclusions already in mind. Some concluded that the media was unfair to Bobby and asked me why we were unfair to Bobby in that we withheld the transcript. We dont publish on weekends and were unaware that there was any demand for it until Saturday. We published them at our earliest opportunity."
Conversely, Appelbaum says that some reporters "felt we were crusaders for the truth and were quick to champion us. Almost all of them came to the process with a perspective."
Appelbaum adds that perhaps the biggest lesson came from being interviewed.
"To be interviewed is a revelation," he says, adding that not all of the professional writers quoted him correctly.
"Newsday gets an F for accuracy as far as I am concerned," says Appelbaum. "They both quoted me as saying things to which I only responded yes [and in] another case simply stitched together two quotes without indicating ellipses. That is a failure of reporting as far as I am concerned."
Newsday sports media columnist Steve Zipay, who wrote the piece Appelbaum criticized, stands by his story.
"I dont think Binyamin was misquoted," says Zipay from his home. "I think the Daily Pennsylvanian did a good job in printing the transcripts."
Despite the stress, Binyamin Appelbaum a lifelong Red Sox fan is clearly enjoying some of his moment in the spotlight.
"Any time a New York baseball team is in pain or its fans are in pain, I am not shedding any tears," he says.