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Mitch Marner, his Agent, the Star reporter and Twitter: one tangled web

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On the heels of the Matthews contract, the Star ran a story with some pretty hot quotes from Mitch Marner’s agent. Then it got interesting.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers

It all started with a story in the Toronto Star. Dave Feschuk seized the moment of the Matthews signing and spoke to Mitch Marner’s agent:

The quotes in that article landed with a nice big splash in the acid bath that is the discourse around all these contracts and the Leafs in general these days.

And then this morning Darren Ferris went on a radio show on TSN 1050 to discuss the story.

He clarified that he and Marner had requested that they not negotiate during the season, and that Kyle Dubas was fine with that. He said they “last ended on a positive note” and “they aren’t far off [on numbers]”.

He then said that some of the quotes in the Star article were, “taken out of context and it was more from the summer and early goings.” He goes on to describe that in normal negotiations the team starts out low and you move from there.

The host then reads aloud from the article, hitting the parts where Ferris is quoted talking about lowball offers and how Mitch Marner’s ELC was a favour to the team because it contained only $850,000 in signing bonuses, while Auston Matthews’ was a max deal with full bonuses.

Ferris replies that, “That was from the summer ... that that discussion happened. Since then it’s all been positive dialogue.”

A lot of people took that to mean that Feschuk included quotes that were from an interview that happened in the summer with newer quotes in his article. If you did not listen to the radio broadcast, you could take that as exactly what he said without any ambiguity from many of the Tweets about it. It’s a legitimate read of his words too.

This Tweet is a very accurate report:

And yet people read that and came to the conclusion that Ferris was saying that the Star report was misleading in mixing together quotes from the summer with quotes from last night.

My first response was to think Ferris meant just that — before I’d listened to the radio hit. My take was that Ferris couldn’t be just having morning-after remorse over his words to the Star and trying to cover his tracks, because all the Star would have to do is publish the transcript of the interview to counter him. I thought the Star had mixed in older quotes with newer ones, which is fine, but should be identified as such.

It’s a testimony to the deep cultural distrust of the so-called mainstream media today that I thought that was the explanation. That trust in sports media gets worn down by things media companies and columnists and reporters do. But a lot of the mistrust is undeserved and exaggerated and stirred up by people with something to gain from an uninformed populous. A writer at the Star has editors to answer to, and they actually have rules to follow.

Now, I know Leafs fans don’t like Feschuk because he’s said things they find offensive, or he did things in pursuit of a story that are actually, to be frank, totally normal journalistic practice, or he writes for a paper where someone else wrote a political column they don’t like. It’s not necessary to like him to recognize he is unlikely to make things up or to intentionally mislead. But he’s on the other team, the 100 Hockey Men™ team or the Toronto Star team or the MSM team, so therefore, it’s all his fault. Or maybe you think agents are all liars and spindoctors, and Ferris was in the wrong from the get go.

You can go back and re-listen to Ferris having read that clarification from Feschuk and totally get that read from Ferris’s words. Just as you can go back and re-read the Star article and realize that Ferris could have been trying to say with his lowball quote that that was how the negotiations were going at first. It might just be the case that Ferris is a careless speaker, and he sounded like it on the radio.

But the Star chose that photo (which has to be the only case of Mitch Marner glaring at Auston Matthews in recorded history) for this story. The Star was intentionally making a splash with that story, and the quotes read like they’re written in fire.

No one was trying very hard to get a knife edge of clarity out of what Ferris said, and what he was implying with his words in that Star article or on the radio. Maybe that was Ferris’s job to do before he opened his mouth. And maybe he’s not careless so much as carefully vague. Who knows?

On the radio hit, Ferris goes on to jovially talk about how he doesn’t want to negotiate via the media. Uh huh.

So to sum up: The Star did a story with accurate quotes where they didn’t help out the ambiguity of their interview subject’s word choice with any clarification. Ferris piled vague on vague, and absolutely everyone who got this story from ordinary people taking bits of that radio hit out of context (in the actual true sense of that phrase) got the wrong idea in one way or another.

The Star article and the radio hit were cut up into Twitter-sized pieces and passed around for interpretation. In other words, everyone got “radioed” to use the term that the TSN Insiders like to apply, not just to that phenomenon, but to accurate reporting of their words. What percentage of people actually read the article and listened to the radio hit?

The thing about people talking to other people, which is what this post is and that radio hit and the Star story, is that there’s the talker and then there’s the listener. The listener brings all of their own biases and beliefs, mistakes in interpretation, bad hearing and faulty memories to every conversation. And yes, that includes the journalist writing the story. That’s why they have editors and editorial standards and rules and procedures. Journalists are not perfectly objective, emotionless, opinion-free purveyors of cold facts. But they do have lines they colour inside of.

When the next layer down gets added, when someone tells you about a story they read, or worse, just chops up very small bits to tweet them out, you are getting your perspective on their perspective on a journalist’s perspective on what someone said.

What was said becomes unreal on purpose, and the point is the acid bath of conversation — the more fire, the better. I don’t blame social media for this, or the people using it. I’m not sure this is any different from the way we all behaved gathered around the town well in the year 1243 to gripe about the feudal lord and what a dick he is.

But Ferris can hardly claim innocence of this reality. And I wonder what the hell he’s thinking.

Kyle Dubas, in the post-Muzzin-trade conference call formally thanked all the people with the LA Kings he was dealing with and praised their professionalism. He did it again with Auston Matthews’ agent just yesterday. He sounds like someone who was brought up to value politeness, but also like a man who wants to do business in a business-like way. (This is me giving you my perspective.)

Ferris is certainly positioning himself as a different sort of character. And no matter what he meant to say to the Star or was trying to clarify on the radio, he’s splashed in the acid bath all last night and this morning, and it doesn’t look to me like he fell in by mistake.