Some wondered whether the New York Daily News announced on Thursday that Manish Mehta had left the Jets beat in order to get ahead of a Washington Post story expected to be published on Friday. Regardless of the motivation for the timing, the Washington Post published its story on Friday.
The article from Ben Strauss makes it clear that Mehta no longer is employed by the Daily News. It’s unclear whether he resigned or was fired.
The story explores various allegations that went unreported at the time. For example, former Jets guard Matt Slauson contends that Mehta twisted quotes to fit the narrative that unnamed Jets players were ripping former Jets quarterback Tim Tebow.
“It was sloppy reporting and I had to pay for it and get up in front of the team to explain it,” Slauson told Strauss.
Then there’s this. Strauss reports that, in 2011, Jenny Vrentas (now of SI.com, then of the Newark Star-Ledger) “asked Mehta not to encroach” as she conducted a one-on-one interview with a player in the Jets locker room. Later that day, Mehta reportedly yelled “F–k you!” multiple times at Vrentas.
“While this incident happened nearly 10 years ago, it’s still a clear, and unpleasant, memory,” Vrentas told Strauss via email. (Mehta denied cursing at Vrentas.)
Kimberly Martin, who previously covered the Jets for Newsday and now works at ESPN, said this to Strauss, regarding Mehta: “A lot of people enabled this guy. And a lot of people shrugged off questionable behavior.”
The catalyst for Mehta’s departure isn’t specified, but it appears that the snowball began to roll when the Jets terminated his access, and that it continued when the Daily News assigned now-former Daily News employee Charles McDonald to assist with the newspaper’s apparent perpetration of the ruse that Mehta still covered the team.
According to Strauss, Mehta demanded that McDonald hold his phone up to the computer during video press conferences conducted by the Jets; Mehta then tweeted quotes in real time. That practice stopped after the Jets complained.
McDonald, who presumably tolerated the indignity of covering the Jets beat without getting credit for covering the Jets beat while he looked for another job, reportedly blocked Mehta’s phone number after “McDonald didn’t attend a news conference with the Jets’ owner and Mehta began calling and texting about his whereabouts.”
As to the decision to strip Mehta of his credentials, Strauss explains that the Jets hired a law firm that created a dossier of incidents involving Mehta. For example, the investigation revealed that Mehta allegedly “approached the 11-year-old son of Jets General Manager Joe Douglas at a baseball game and, later, threatened Douglas with bad coverage if he didn’t grant an interview.”
Mehta defended himself in a statement to the Post, insisting that he has “behaved professionally and ethically throughout my career.”
“I’ve respected my peers and colleagues, though I’ve had disagreements with some of them in the past, as is common in a competitive environment,” Mehta told the Post. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities ahead.”
Although, if these allegations are accurate, Mehta gave the Jets good reason to rescind his credentials and, eventually, the Daily News good reason to end the relationship, there’s an element of this story that should be a little alarming to those who independently cover sports teams and leagues. If Mehta had been praising the Jets, the Jets never would have lit the fuse that eventually resulted in Mehta leaving the Daily News. It was his criticism of the Jets that caused the Jets to target him.
None of this excuses his alleged misconduct. But the chain of dropping dominoes that ended with Mehta out of a job got started because he wrote things that the entity he covered didn’t like. The Jets have potentially pulled pro sports onto a slippery slope, one that may encourage other teams and leagues that have become spoiled by the non-controversial remarks of the reporters they directly employ to go on the offensive whenever an independent reporter becomes a little too independent for their liking.
Again, in this case, it’s hard to say the Jets were in the wrong. It will be interesting to see whether the next case of a team or a league targeting a media member who dares to consistently criticize will be supported by cold, hard facts — or whether it will in any way be embellished, exaggerated, and/or fabricated.