Real Salt Lake Bans Critical Newspaper Columnist From Coverage

Jake Elman

It's no secret at this point that whether we like it or not, we live in a time of political correctness and the naive hope that everyone will do things that upset no one. While in the past we could agree to disagree, times have changed to the point where as soon as that dose of reality hits, heads are going to roll big time.

In this case, Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer committed one of the most heinous crimes in the media industry: banning a writer for critical coverage.

Salt Lake Tribune sports columnist Gordon Monson, a veteran member of the paper, had his credentials removed prior to Saturday's game against the New England Revolution due to negative coverage of Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen last season. Real Salt Lake believed there to be a conflict of interest with Monson being allowed to cover games due to him co-hosting because he co-hosts an afternoon sports talk radio show on 1280 The Zone with Spence Checketts, who is the son of former RSL owner David Checketts.


Tribune editor Terry Orme said the following in a statement released Saturday.

"Real Salt Lake's move to control how The Tribune covers the team by denying news media access to one of our sports columnists is unacceptable. RSL management and ownership does not get to pick and choose reporters. Because they have excluded a Tribune staffer from game coverage, for the time being we will cover the team without the media credentials provided by RSL."

Indeed, Saturday's game was not covered by the Tribune in the form of sending any staff members to physically attend the match with the Revolution. Rather, in defense of Monson and freedom of speech, a game story was written just by watching the game on television.

After the story began to generate some publicity, Real Salt Lake's Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll released the following statement.


Interestingly enough, many of Monson's readers seem to be supportive not of his "unfair" removal from Real Salt Lake coverage, but of the fact that he actually was banned in the first place. Here are a couple of choice tweets from Tribune readers.



Dan Courtemanche, Major League Soccer's vice president for communications, released the mandatory "we are looking into things" statement as well.

"Major League Soccer takes media access seriously. We are certainly looking into the matter. We've discussed it with the club and The Salt Lake Tribune. We will have more to say in the coming days."

What it comes down to with the ban is simple: Real Salt Lake is worried that giving credentials to a member of the press who works with the son of the team's former owner will result in negative coverage, but isn't negative coverage a part of being in the media? Granted, it's one thing to be negative of the way that maybe a baseball manager is handling his rotation or a football coach deciding to not make adjustments early on in a game where the opposing quarterback is tearing the defense up.

However, given the things that Monson wrote in print regarding the ownership, maybe, just maybe, the ban is justified.

Take this article from last August, for example, where Monson argues that Hansen is running Real Salt Lake into the ground.

"Dell Loy Hansen is trashing a Bugatti. He's trashing Real Salt Lake..... God knows why. Actually, God's not the only one. People inside the organization say Hansen is tearing his franchise to shreds because, as a real estate mogul and a relative novice to the sports-ownership world, he wants to do it his way. And his way is the only way.... Because the man with the deep pockets wants to run the club the way he wants to run it, not the way it should be run, not the way it's best run. His ego is behind the wheel."

What better word is there to describe that small snippet than brutal? If you look at that post from an unbiased point of view, though, you'll see that Monson does make fair points about moves that should have been made and how the loss of winning tradition didn't seem to arise because of bad luck. Was Monson a bit too harsh about Hansen? Yes, of course, but he was able to back his points up in a way that shows he's not in it just to tear the owner to shreds, but to explain why Real Salt Lake was falling from grace.

When you're an editor, there's not much more you can ask for from a writer -- especially if that article brings in clicks. Here's where the true problem arises, though: Is Real Salt Lake truly banning Monson because there's a conflict of interest, or are they making it known that negative coverage of the owner -- as well as the team -- will not be tolerated? If it's the latter, then there's a real problem brewing in the Beehive State.

As for the game itself, Real Salt Lake and the Revolution battled to a scoreless draw, a result that left head coach Jeff Cassar quite unhappy.

"We have to hit the target no matter what. We have to make the goalkeepers work. We can't let them off the hook on not hitting the net on certain things. We have full confidence in all of our players to score. Right now it feels like the net is the one my son plays on – it's just small."

You hate to play the what-if game in sports, but who knows? Maybe having Monson in attendance would have given Real Salt Lake the one point they needed to win.

[Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP Images]