Alleged manager-reporter affair sparks ethics debate

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell talks to reporters in the dugout before a 2013 spring training baseball game. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio/file.

At least in comparison to the sedate sports scene of Minnesota, there’s no better sports soap opera than what’s happening in Boston this week.

It started last month when “rumors” began to swirl that a female sports reporter — Comcast SportsNet’s Jessica Moran — was in a relationship with Red Sox manager John Farrell, who is in the middle of a divorce from his wife. Moran covers the Red Sox.

As the talk shows did their talk-show thing on the question of whether a reporter should be having an affair with a person she covers, Moran abruptly quit her job. Case closed.

Maybe not.

The Washington Post threw a little gas on the fire, recounting the number of “rumors” of women sportswriters and sportscasters having relationships with players or managers. Basically, three. Now, four.

That’s four too many for the women who are still trying to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, the Boston Globe reports today.

Chad Finn, the Globe’s sports columnist, insists the relationship matters because of its effect on other women. And ethics.

… with a journalistic caveat that both should have understood and apparently neglected: A reporter and a subject cannot have a romantic relationship. It’s ethically unprofessional, and makes a difficult job even more of a Sisyphean task for female reporters striving for and deserving of respect who are left incurring the ancillary fallout.

“It’s frustrating that people were saying it wasn’t a big deal,’’ said Jen McCaffrey, who is entering her third season as the Red Sox beat writer for and The Springfield Republican.

“It’s not just about two people having a relationship. It’s a professional environment. You work to be respected in this industry, and to have to be constantly proving yourself because of what someone else does, that’s unfortunate.

Several sportswriters and ethicists say the relationship, which neither Farrell nor Moran have confirmed, created the appearance of a conflict of interest. That’s a point not without foundation, although back in the day, the mostly-male sportswriting world had little guilt over bellying up to the bar for the team-provided game-day buffet.

“Impartial, objective reporters (who knew about the relationship) never said a word about it until now, why now?” Michael Holley, a host on WEEI Radio said on Monday, noting that it was a non-sportswriter who broke the story. “They didn’t say anything about it because we’re selective… in what we choose to report and what we don’t choose to report, so let’s just stop the charade and say that objectivity in sports doesn’t really exist.”

Co-host Dale Arnold said it’s not a big deal, because the reporter worked for a TV station, not a newspaper.

That brought a rebuke from Boston Globe sportswriter Jackie MacMullan, one of the deans of Boston sports.

“I’m a journalist, and sometimes I wonder if people know what that means anymore,” she told WEEI. “I know when I became a journalist, you had to be objective. That was the rule. That was what you were supposed to be. Sometimes you really liked somebody and they were lousy at what they do, and you had to be willing to write that they were lousy at what they do. And sometimes, someone could be a real idiot, a real jerk, but perform at a very high level. You had to do that, praise them, as well. It’s impossible to be objective about someone when you’re in a personal relationship.

“Now, this isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last time,” MacMullan said. “But it disappoints me nonetheless. I don’t think either one of them would deny that what they did was unprofessional. There’s no place for it in the business. I’m talking about my business. And my business is journalism.”

Had Red Sox players been aware of Farrell’s relationship with Moran, it could have been taken as a cue that pursuing female reporters was fair game, thus encouraging a ribald culture in the clubhouse, Finn wrote.

The radio hosts said the newspaper columnists now writing about the relationship are being “sanctimonious” because most of them knew about the alleged relationship.

“I’m not at all backing off what I said the other day that … players lost respect for Farrell because of this relationship as far back as 2013,” co-host Jerry Thornton responded yesterday.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013.