Marquee recently debuted The Reporters, a Sunday morning panel discussion show with Chicago media personalities.

The Cubs (and Sinclair)-owned network has been looking to expand programming for years, recently adding rights to the Chicago Sky along with other original studio programming. The idea of a weekend-morning panel show makes sense; obviously it’s not going to generate massive ratings in that slot (especially on a network that still has plenty of distribution issues) but it’s almost certainly cheap to produce, and for hardcore Chicago sports fans, there’s some value there.

At the very least there shouldn’t be any kind of controversy, yet here we are. Paul Sullivan reported in the Chicago Tribune that a recent episode taping stopped after one of the panelists was critical of the Cubs current administration.

Though to say it was “critical” is honestly putting it fairly strongly. It was more a call for transparency. Regardless, here’s what happened, according to Sullivan’s sources:

[David] Haugh said Hoyer’s transparency was “lacking,” comparing it unfavorably to the job former President Theo Epstein did in explaining his game plan. Haugh wondered aloud if Hoyer was “tethered to reality” and asked for some clarity from the Cubs president. [Peggy] Kusinski agreed and called for honesty.

But the taping was abruptly halted shortly thereafter for what reporters were told was a technical difficulty. They were then informed they’d have to start the segment over.

No one was too alarmed by the timing, but before they began taping again, reporters were told not to mention the “transparency” angle in the new segment. The subject was avoided and the original segment was edited out when it aired Sunday morning.

News that the Cubs were apparently that sensitive to any possible critique of the team airing on Marquee that they’d halt a taping obviously made the rounds quickly, and the look was so bad that the network reacted very quickly to announce a change to the format of the show, via Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy.

From Jeff Agrest at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“A judgment was made on the fly that in retrospect was overly sensitive,” McCarthy said. “Going forward, the show will be live, and the reporters on it are completely unedited, as the intention really has been all along. Because the luxury of taping the show was in place, some people decided to get a little careful and avoid, among other things, repetition from other shows.

“It’ll be pretty hard to censor somebody that’s on live television. We’re going to remove that element to it because people make decisions that other people wouldn’t make. But this is not like a Cubs management-Marquee upper management swath across the bow that no one’s ever critical of the Cubs because that’s not the case in this show’s brief history. And it won’t be going forward.”

So, there you have it, straight from upper management: it’s someone else’s fault. Sun-Times writer Maddie Lee, also on the panel, pointed out the obvious irony:

“We all looked at each other very confused, like, is this happening?” Lee said. “I said it’s peak irony that they’re going to blame technical issues in restarting a segment about transparency.”

While Marquee upper management was very quick to pass the buck back down, it’s important to remember that for producers in the room working for a network owned by a team, that has to be a stressful situation. Whether they’ve been explicitly told not to run unflattering moments or not, it’s not implausible that they felt some kind of indirect or direct pressure, even just implicitly.

Going with a live version at least takes that pressure off of them (for the most part, barring some kind of dump button usage if a Chicago reporter starts making fun of the Ricketts family, and if that’s a possibility I’m going to have to figure out how to actually get Marquee to watch.)

Reacting this quickly is nice, too, although this is the kind of thing that’s so damaging that ignoring it would be the worst possible choice. Even now, it’s impossible to take a lot of the rest of Cubs coverage that seriously. Obviously team-owned networks are probably not going to have a lot of super-critical commentary, but if this happened over something so relatively innocuous, what kind of meaningful analysis can fans expect from the non-game programming?


About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a columnist at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer. He is probably talking to a dog in a silly voice at this very moment.