Post Season Fallout
The '01 World Series has been history for months. But word is only now starting to trickle down to water coolers in the non-sports departments of the Arizona Republic about a story the paper published right before the series and its remarkable resemblance to a piece that appeared two days earlier in the New York Times.
On October 24 -- three days before the start of the series -- NYT sports reporter Jack Curry cranked out a piece on Buck Showalter, about the sad irony of having managed both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, and now -- with both in the series -- managing neither.
Days later, the Republic ran a similar piece by sports reporter Richard Obert. Yeah, the Showalter thing was an obvious story idea, but the resemblance between Curry and Obert's pieces is pretty remarkable. Definitely something for the cut-paste-and-polish journalism archives that have overflowed with the ease of Internet reporting.
Consider the following.
From Curry: "Showalter also spent five years constructing the Arizona Diamondbacks from nothing to almost everything before being bounced by the owner who had entrusted him with every responsibility short of chlorinating the pool at Bank One Ballpark."
From Obert: "With the help of free agents, Showalter built the Diamondbacks, having his hand in just about everything but cleaning the outfield swimming pool."
From Curry: "Still, Showalter displayed a sense of humor Monday in an exchange with Karl Ravech on Baseball Tonight on ESPN.
"'I left one team and they win a World Series; I left another team and they're in the World Series,' Showalter told Ravech. 'If I don't come back here, you're a shoo-in for an Emmy.'"
From Obert: "In a recent Baseball Tonight segment on ESPN -- his current employer -- Showalter told Karl Ravech, 'If I don't come back here, you're a shoo-in for an Emmy.'"
Here's a section near the end of Curry's piece:
"One joke about Showalter's status is circulating. It states that a team should hire Showalter now, then quickly sever the relationship because the team would be guaranteed to reach the World Series a year later.
"'Stuff like that is cruel,' Showalter said, 'but I'm sure it's going around.'"
And here's the beginning of Obert's piece:
"There's a joke circulating in baseball: Hire Buck Showalter to manage your team, sever ties, then watch your team go to the World Series the next season. Showalter knows it's going around. And, although it's cruel, he disguises the pain."
Spike wanted an explanation. Please.
Mum's the word among almost all interested parties. Curry directed Spike to his editor, who never called back. Republic Reader Advocate Richard de Uriarte did call back to say he was unaware of the situation until Spike called, which prompted him to ask Sports Editor Dave Lumia what was up. "Dave says there was an issue a few months ago that has been addressed," de Uriarte says, adding that a call to Lumia was in order. Lumia declined comment, saying it's an "internal" matter.
So internal that the paper's ombudsman didn't know. So internal that Spike's usual stable of Republic spies hadn't heard a word.
Ultimately, the only person who was willing to talk about Richard Obert's story was Richard Obert himself. He called back right away.
Obert, a 20-year veteran of the Republic sports department, says he was suspended for a week and demoted to the prep sports beat after the incident. "It was mentioned that I could have been fired," he adds. (Republic insiders say Obert's salvation likely had little to do with the issue at hand and more to do with fears over not being able to replace a fired employee because of a hiring freeze.)
"Nothing was intentional," Obert insists. He acknowledges that he did read Curry's story as part of his research into Showalter, and yeah, he admits, some of it did creep into his own story, but it was "subconscious." (Maybe he and Curry are psychically linked.)
"The only thing that I probably screwed up on was the swimming pool [line]. . . . That was totally stupid on my part," Obert says.
But the other similarities? Coincidence, he insists. Obert prides himself on his skills as an enterprise feature writer and says he'd already come up with the story idea about Showalter and the intro with the jokes after watching Baseball Tonight. Then he read Jack Curry's story and noticed Curry used the same jokes.
"I didn't feel like I was plagiarizing by taking that out of his story when I already had that in my head," Obert says.
Okay. But what about the similarities in the writing?
Again, coincidence. "It wasn't like I didn't do my work. . . . All that reporting is mine. All those quotes are mine," Obert says. And it's true: His Showalter quotes weren't lifted from Curry, and he did additional reporting.
Again, though, the writing? "The tone of the story, maybe it was similar," he says.
As for Curry, Obert says, "If I hurt his feelings, I feel really bad. . . . I wasn't trying to steal at all."
Obert says he's been depressed.
"I work hard, if not harder than anybody else at that paper, and I put my heart and soul into my work. I have had two divorces over my work. . . . I don't just mail it in and say, 'Okay, I can just go off the Internet and do my work.'"
He continues, "It hurt. I went through a lot of depression. This stuff has never happened to me, and for this to happen, it just really knocked me, it just really knocked me flat."
All things considered, the future looks pretty bright for Obert. They stuck him on the high school beat until they can trust him again, he says. Guess that day came pretty quickly -- or the Republic sports desk was shorthanded over New Year's, considering Obert's Fiesta Bowl byline count. -- Amy Silverman
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It's Election Year, and you know what that means: The rodents are jumping off Governor Jane Dee Hull's ship up there on the Ninth Floor of the capitol building. By the end of the Legislative session, it should be awfully lonely up there. . . . One of the latest defections comes from Maria Baier, who, in her years as Hull's natural resources adviser, gained a reputation for infuriating tree huggers and making developers drool. Baier was hired last month by the Trust for Public Land, as its first Conservation Finance and Marketing Director in Arizona. Poor Maria. Her career path has led her to increasingly humdrum jobs, considering she got her start -- back when she was Maria Khan, girl reporter for ASU's State Press -- as an "assistant" to Hunter S. Thompson. (Legend has it Khan was sent on a routine assignment to cover a Thompson speech for the State Press -- and never returned.) Now she's an old married lady, working for a quasi-environmental group that brokers land deals. Spike wonders if she still has the tattoo. -- Amy Silverman
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