The Saints Came Marching In

By "Old Yank" Schneider: At 726 St. Peter Street, in the French Quarter of New Orleans one will find Preservation Hall. Since the early 1960's it's been a place where jazz has been played by perhaps every iconic jazz musician of the day. I got lucky and stopped in one February evening almost a lifetime ago and had the good fortune of catching Pierre Dewey LaFontaine, better known by all as Pete Fountin, sitting in with the band on clarinet. Beginning almost on the day Larry Borenstein converted the building from an art gallery to a music hall, musicians have played for tips only. The tip jar suggests "$2 for requests; $5 for unusual requests; $50 for "When the Saints Come Marching In". I wonder if I'm the only one alive who sees the irony in a place called Preservation Hall being so much more than indifferent to a classic New Orleans tune.

Some tunes have become so tiresome and commonplace that it becomes torture for trained musicians to have to play it again and again. So in Preservation Hall, if you want to torture a musician by requesting "The Saints", you are going to have to pay up. And the musicians smile through their torture as they watch the common tune requested sometimes as many as 10 times in a night.

We must be on our way to a cemetery because "When the Saints Come Marching In" is playing on every boxing web site now -- this time the tiresome, commonplace tune is being played as a funeral dirge for boxing journalism.

Tradition has the tune played at the tempo of a funeral dirge on the way to the cemetery and at an uplifting, hot jazz tempo when leaving the cemetery. I wonder if this band knows if they are coming or going.

Exactly who are these saints who've come marching in with their Boy Scout Band suggesting boxing journalism is dead? Every one of them has apparently concluded that they were on their way to an interment rather than heading to a celebration of transition. Certainly none of them have a conflict of interest that they've ever been able to rise above. So who is this Thomas Hauser to strut his arrogance around as if he's better than everyone else?

For anyone who is close to boxing (and many who aren't), you'd have to be asleep to not know that Thomas Hauser, the long-time critic of HBO Boxing, has accepted a consulting contract with HBO that has the town all a flutter -- on the surface the conflict of interest seems impossible to deny.

Apparently going to work for HBO means that you must turn in your journalism membership card -- if such a card even figuratively exists any more. Working for HBO apparently requires a man to surrender his integrity -- so we watch from the curb as the mourners move forward, in unison, slowly rocking from foot to foot in near military precision while wringing their kerchiefs.

Since the band has struck up the dirge version of "The Saints", perhaps we've been given an opportunity to look at who works for HBO and where they came from. Do any sports journalists, once critical of the boxing game, currently work for HBO that managed to succeed in making the transition from print to HBO while managing to keep their respect and largely the respect of fans in tact as well?

I'll start by focusing on one -- one many fans love to love and love to hate -- Larry Merchant.

A long time ago Larry Merchant was a highly opinionated writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, New York Post and a columnist for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Back then I doubt anyone would have concluded that the folks over at Top Rank sent him love letters. He joined HBO in 1978. Top Rank is a major promoter who has managed to conduct countless millions in business with HBO over the years. I would suggest that no matter how much a Larry Merchant detractor might cringe when Merchant opens his mouth, most would agree that he managed to keep his integrity in tact in the transition from print to HBO.

And note that successful Showtime analyst Steve Farhood made the transition from print journalism to Showtime successfully as well. He too managed to do so while those he reported on paid the bills in one form or another.

Don't get me wrong, broadcast sports (and the promoters, managers and players that come with the territory) is full of bad guys with tons of money looking to offer candy to little girls on every playground.

The question must be asked: Why is Thomas Hauser not being afforded as much as the slightest possibility that he can be successful in his transition to doing business with HBO?

The blogosphere abounds with descriptions of Hauser that range from "arrogant" to "snake in the grass" and everything in between. Thank God I did not have to read that Hauser was offering candy to little girls on playgrounds -- but it came close. Wow! Can you feel the love?

All of it might be true; I do not know the man.

However, we do know a few things that seem to be drowned out by how loudly the Boy Scout Band is playing. Hauser, over the years, devoted a fair amount of time to being highly critical of the folks over at HBO. His critique was leveled at the top of the organization and at times was quite specific in what he felt needed to be changed.

We also know that a house-cleaning at the top of HBO has happened. In fact, some might recognize that when the pen is a catalyst for change, it is the pinnacle of journalistic success. In fact, Hauser's years of critique leveled at HBO likely played a hand in catalyzing the change.

It's been reported that Hauser was offered a consulting contract to assist HBO in implementing some of the changes suggested over the years. A verdict on the plausibility of this can be easily rendered -- it only takes an observation of change over time to make the determination -- and very few seem to have the patience for time.

Now how about focusing a bit on who the members of this Boy Scout Band are? Who are these folks playing a funeral dirge over Hauser's imminent lost of integrity? And why is rendering their verdict without the benefit of time so important to them?

Among them are journalists who've been denied membership in the BWAA (Boxing Writers of America Association). Note that Thomas Hauser is the membership gatekeeper to the writers association; so one can wonder if some agenda is at play in using a pen to neuter Hauser of his integrity. They are journalists who are members of any number of organizations, with close ties to boxing that could bring into question their conflict of interest every time their pen touches paper. Is it possible that some of them might be hypocrites? And the band includes well-deserving BWAA members who've either been overlooked for honors for years or whose recommendations of those deserving honors have fallen on Hauser's silent ears.

The dissonance between the BWAA, led by Hauser, and members and wanna-be members and from those with their own conflict of interests to worry about is nearly capable of drowning out any opportunity for objectivity.

The point is that the Boy Scout Band so gleefully playing this funeral dirge version of "The Saints", might not actually have a lot of Boy Scouts in it.

We are all prey.

My press credentials have gotten me into areas hosted by major promoters. I've been wined and dined. So my soul must be for sale. All of us have a responsibility to face conflict of interest head on and deal with it to the best of each of our abilities. If a steak and a glass of wine is your price, so be it. If a consulting job at HBO is Hauser's price, so be it.

Architects are wined and dined by window manufacturers; physicians by drug salesman. CEO's and CFO's are wined and dined by investment bankers. All are exposed to corrupting influences. Not all are corruptible.

Thomas Hauser has been found guilty of corruption, conflict of interest and more -- all before his first day of work at HBO.

So as this tired rendition of a classic tune of corruption and conflict of interest comes to a close, what am I left with?

In this contest of tossing rocks from glass houses, we have a choice.

We can feed fans another tired $50.00, funeral dirge rendition of "When the Saints Come Marching In", in the form of more "journalists" pointing to the death of journalism, or we can give Hauser an opportunity to pick up his instrument and play; leaving it for all of us to determine if he's worthy of still playing at Preservation Hall.

Article posted on 07.03.2012

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