Albom Gets Mixed Reviews in 'L.A. Times' Story

By: E&P Staff An article posted today on the Los Angeles Times Web site gives a mixed picture of Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, who has been under fire for writing a column in the past tense set at a basketball game that hadn't happened yet.

The Times article -- a freelance piece by former Free Press staffer David Lyman -- reported that reader mail has been running 4-1 in Albom's favor since the scandal broke. But people who formerly worked at the Free Press have more varied views of Albom.

Lyman quoted Terry Foster, now a columnist for The Detroit News, as saying: "There were the Mitch rules and then there were the rules for everybody else. Mitch meant more to the Free Press than anybody else, which created lots of resentment from other reporters."

One example cited by Lyman was that a former Free Press copy editor was told to go easy on Albom's columns. Lyman wrote that the orders were basically: "Spell-check them. Make sure there are no glaring errors. But if there were any substantive questions, don't ever approach Albom. Refer them to his editor and then forget it. The message was clear. Albom was a golden boy who was accountable to no one but himself."

Foster was also quoted as saying: "Mitch is a very talented writer. And sometimes he out-writes you. But sometimes he writes things that just seem too good to be true. My opinion? I think they're going to find things they'll question. My gut is that he will resign."

Another former Free Press writer, Joe LaPointe of The New York Times, said of Albom: "I'm baffled by the whole thing. When I worked with him, he was maybe the hardest-working sports columnist I ever saw. He was everywhere -- at Red Wings practice, at Tigers games. He really did work. But I just don't get this. I understand the thing about the deadline problem, but it would have been so easy to write it a different way."

Lyman also noted that there is some anger at Albom stemming from the 1995 strike, during which the columnist crossed the picket line. Others who were quoted say there's a gap between Albom's public and private persona. The Times article mentioned that one student quit an internship at WJR radio after Albom threw a computer keyboard at her.

"The flip side is that, in print and on the air, Albom connects with readers in a way that is uncommon in modern journalism," wrote Lyman. "Critics say his writing is formulaic, but clearly it is a formula that touches readers deeply. Albom may be a millionaire megastar. But to readers, he's one of their own, and they want to know what he has to say."

Albom, who's syndicated by Tribune Media Services, is on paid leave while the Free Press investigates his past-tense column and the editing process that allowed it to get into the paper unchanged. Albom's body of work is also being scrutinized.


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