Dueling Daily News Columnists p. 14

By: Dorothy Giobbe Sportswriter uses column to criticize colleague sp.

IN SPORTS JOURNALISM, heckling goes with the job. For every fan who praises a reporter's skill and insight, ten will demand a retraction, an apology, or the reporter's head on a plate.
And while it's one thing to be jeered at by fanatical sports disciples, it's another to have to fight off blows from a colleague at one's own newspaper.
That's what happened on Sept. 21 at the New York Daily News, when columnist Denis Hamill opened the tabloid to find his integrity under assault by a fellow News staffer.
In late August, Hamill wrote a column rapping a New York Yankee pitcher, Andy Pettitte, for rudely dismissing a kiddie autograph-seeking duo. The brushoff was just another example, Hamill wrote, of the gaping canyon between big-budget players and the fans who fill stadium seats.
Hamill's column ran in the News and nothing happened for a month. Then, in late September, John Harper, a News sportswriter, penned a response.
In his own column, Harper not so subtly suggested that Hamill described the autograph incident all wrong. Baseball players are easy targets, Harper wrote, "but that doesn't mean they're all bums."
"What better way to reflect fan disenchantment with baseball than a column detailing a major leaguer taking great delight in snubbing a couple of kids looking for an autograph," Harper wrote.
"And if it happened, Pettitte deserved whatever shame the story brought. Question is, did it happen?"
Making a case for the pitcher's exemplary character, Harper lavished praise on the way Pettitte deals with "the little people." He also suggested that because Pettitte's father was a policeman, it is unlikely that Pettitte would ever be rude to fans.
Harper ended his rebuke with a condemnation of Hamill's journalistic ethics.
"At the very least, Denis Hamill owed Pettitte the courtesy of asking him about it [the incident] before he vilified him in print," Harper wrote. "He didn't."
Most journalists would be outraged at such a public scolding ? especially from a co-worker. Instead, Hamill said that when he saw Harper's article, he was simply "baffled" and "mystified."
"In his article, he accuses me and criticizes me for not trying to speak with Andy Pettitte, but that wasn't true," Hamill said.
"I did call, but the Yankees wouldn't let me talk to Pettitte. I did talk to the PR people."
Hamill said he can handle criticism. What he objects to is being blindsided ? Harper never contacted him before writing the column. "What he did wasn't professional. He commits the very sin he accuses me of."
Kevin Whitmer, Daily News sports editor, said that when Harper's article came to the sports desk, editors assumed Harper had called Hamill to get his side of the story.
"This was so unlike John because he is not a slash-and-burn type guy," Whitmer said. "So we figured he had talked to Denis, or that there was some kind of relationship there. It's not like John to try to get something through."
Harper did not return repeated calls for comment. But Whitmer says that, ultimately, he isn't bothered by his dueling co-workers.
"I'm not here to take sides," Whitmer said. "These are two guys who feel very strongly about their positions."
?("What he did wasn's wasn't professional. He commit the very sin he accuses me of.") [Photo]
?(Denis Hamill, New York Daily News columnist) [Photo & Caption]


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