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On Chris Botta and the New York Islanders

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Scott Gordon gets fired. Chris Botta criticizes that decision. The team pulls his credentials for doing so. Somewhere in there, the logic fails.
Scott Gordon gets fired. Chris Botta criticizes that decision. The team pulls his credentials for doing so. Somewhere in there, the logic fails.

A bit of a warning up front on this one. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Minnesota Wild as a team or as a franchise. This is a Wild blog, and the majority of the conversation here will be about the Wild. However, when a story comes up about the ever changing world of the media that warrants comment, you can bet your house I am going to comment on it. This is one of those instances. If you are only here for Wild coverage, please check out the posts below. Thank you.

For those who are behind on the story, a quick recap. NHL and Islanders blogger Chris Botta of NHL Fanhouse on AOL, and his own blog at Islanders Point Blank, was recently told he would no longer be granted a media credential or the access it comes with. Puck Daddy did a piece on it earlier today, and Botta was on Fan660 in New York today to talk about the situation.

We only have Botta's side at the moment, but judging from the message that usually comes out of the NHL and its member franchises, whatever message comes out is likely to be sanitized and non-helpful. The only side we are going to get the full, honest story from is going to be Botta. If something changes, we'll let you know, but for now, we bring you the story with what we have.

What we have heard from NHL franchises and the NHL is that bloggers who behave in a professional manner and have ties to legitimate news making organizations are more likely to be credentialed than not. The Wild have extended us an invitation to be part of their press corps, and we are grateful for that. The NHL and several of the teams credential more and more blogs every year. It is the way things are, and it is the way things will be. It is a story we have all read.

Chris Botta is the National NHL wirter for NHLFanhouse on AOL. It is a legitimate, news making organization. The Islanders blog, Islander Point Blank, that Botta writes was originally a creation supported financially by the Islanders themselves. To say now that it is an illegitimate source is disingenuous.

What does this tell us? It tells us that the Islanders are not concerned with the sites as much as the individual writing them and the message being delivered. There are situations where that is a logical function. If I write something stupid attacking the Wild or their players in a way that is completely unprofessional, they should pull my credentials. However, does that mean they should pull Nathan's and those for the site as a whole? Not a chance.

The fact is, the Islanders confirmed that when they told Botta that NHLFanHouse and IPB could continue to cover the team, as long as they sent someone other than Botta. It is a personal beef, not a professional one.

In a radio interview today, Botta said that he was critical of the team's GM Garth Snow about the firing of their head coach, Scott Gordon. So was 99.9% of the hockey world. It makes no sense to fire a coach for not winning when the team you have only meets the cap floor because you have a massive buyout on the cap. The team is so poorly put together by the GM, how is a coach to win with them?

A stupid contract given to a fragile goalie doesn't help matters either. The Islanders have struggled for years have many years of NHL dominance. They have stadium issues, and an owner than wants tax money for a new building. A team that has little to no media coverage with even less interest from the fans. It is a team in chaos. Who wouldn't be critical of this team?

To be certain, this is not a main-stream versus alt-media story on the face of things. It is, however, another MSM vs alt-media story underneath.If Katie Strang offered the same criticism, would she have her credential pulled? That is the burning question, and one I truly hope someone gets the chance to ask the Islanders. This smacks of censorship. Why? Because it is censorship. They didn't like what he wrote and said, despite the fact that he was not vulgar about anything.

They just plain didn't like it. Poor babies. Grow up a bit, will you, please? You run the biggest sideshow in the National Hockey League. Expecting there to be nothing but sunshine and rainbows suggests only that you have absolutely no idea what it is you are doing. Banning a blogger from covering the team only paints you in an even more negative light than you were in before.

According to Puck Daddy, the Professional Hockey Writers Association is involved, a fact confirmed by Botta today. This sums up the situation quite nicely:

The ensuing controversy speaks to the unique nature of Botta's relationship with the team; and, as the NHL and the Professional Hockey Writers Association get involved in the dispute, to the rights of the media when it offers less-than-flattering coverage of teams and executives.

Botta worked for the team. He left the team on good terms, and even wrote a blog funded by the team. That ended due to some criticism from Botta, and now he has been completely banned from covering them due to new criticism. It is childish and petty, and it is ridiculous that it is allowed to be this way.

He is, by all definitions, a journalist. Journalists have the right to write whatever they want. As long as it is presented in a professional manner, there is no reason to try to limit that right. Is it a first amendment issue? No. This is not the government telling him he cannot write what he wants to. This a professional issue. A business does not like what a reporter is saying about them, and so they ban that reporter.

This would never happen if Russo wrote something critical of the Wild, nor if he wrote something critical of the Islanders. It comes back to a personal matter, and it comes down to a newsprint versus LCD issue. The Islanders could never in a million years ban Stang from the arena. The story would be huge, and Newsday would likely sue over it.

Truth be told, the GM, Garth Snow, is upset that he was called out for running this team into the ground, and then blaming Gordon for doing so. It is a ridiculous show, a facade, to think that any coach could win with the team they are handed by Snow. The team is flat out terrible. When a team spends less than any other in the NHL and only avoids being penalized by the league by having a gargantuan buyout on the cap, it is the GM who is at fault, not the coach.

The wrong guy got fired, plain and simple, and Botta is feeling the wrath of a bitter man with no one left to blame.

The support for Botta has been fast and wide spread. No one understands this decision because it makes no sense. The mighty Bob McKenzie commented on Twitter:

It's ludicrous that a well-established hockey writer, and that's what Chris Botta now is, has had his credential pulled by NYI. Ludicrous.

If NYI think restricting Botta's access will decrease level of criticism, it will actually increase it exponentially league wide.Like now.

Indeed, sir. Indeed.

Russo has chimed in as well:

Never fails on Long Island. #nyislanders prove to be laughing stock off the ice, too. They yank credential of @ChrisBottaNHL. Embarrassing

Add a fourth ring to the circus, Mr. Snow. You are the Ring Master of this particular big top. Eliminating those who criticize you does not make the criticism less true, and it does not quiet the chorus. Your organization is a complete joke, sir, and you are the reason for that. Not Chris Botta.

It is unclear what happens next. The NHL has contacted the Islanders, as has the national PHWA. Neither organization can force the Islanders to do anything. Credentials are given at the will of the team, not the league, and there is no rights violation here. It is, however, tacky, petty, and childish.

It is beneath the behavior of a General Manager of a professional sports franchise to behave this way, and he needs to be berated by the media, both main stream and alternative, until he realizes his mistake or until the owner of the franchise cans the guy who deserved it in the first place.

Until that happens, I hope Mr. Botta will continue to do his job, and provide his readers with the information they need and want. He is one of the best in the business, and has led the charge on credentialing bloggers. To see him treated in this manner in infuriating. Having little power to affect change, however, I can only offer my support in the struggle.

Keep fighting, Mr. Botta. You are in the right, and the whole media world knows it.