By Leonard Shapiro
Monday, August 16, 2010; 10:32 PM
It's been a tough summer for freelance broadcaster Jim Gray. Just when the venom finally seemed to be subsiding over his revolting role in the LeBron James "Decision" fiasco on ESPN, Gray once again found himself a major player in another high profile story last week at the PGA Championship.
Working as a reporter for The Golf Channel, Gray went on the air last Tuesday evening to tell viewers he had spoken to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin earlier in the day and asked him if he planned to make slumping Tiger Woods one of his four wild-card captain's choice picks for the American team.
Gray said on the air that Pavin told him that "of course I'm going to (select Woods). He's the best player in the world."
Good for Gray, and good for The Golf Channel, a network not widely noted for its hard-hitting coverage of the game. That kind of journalism is difficult to do when your network also considers itself a "partner" with the PGA Tour and other golf entities, who prefer a softer, sugar-coated approach and not much original groundbreaking reporting.
Surely that's one of the reasons The Golf Channel has used Gray mostly at the major championships in the first place-to come up with just the kind of exclusive report he provided after chatting with Pavin about Woods's Ryder Cup prospects on Tuesday.
What Golf Channel higher-ups did not expect was Pavin showing up the next day for a joint news conference with European team captain Colin Montgomerie and categorically denying what Gray had reported the night before. Pavin never actually said he was misquoted, only that Gray had "used a quote that misrepresented what I said. It shows disrespect to the other guys who are trying to qualify for the team."
And yet, fast forward six days later to Pavin's news conference on Monday in Milwaukee, the day after the PGA Championship had ended, ostensibly to talk about the eight players who had qualified on points for the American team.
Pavin was asked again about Woods's chances of becoming a captain's choice pick, and he said, point blank, "well, he's the No. 1 player in the world. That's a pretty big pro. He's playing better. I think we have all seen that and he wants to play, he wants to be a part of the team. But it's going to be my judgment whether I pick him or not. Obviously I'm considering him highly, no doubt about it. I don't think there's any cons."
Really now, doesn't that sound like a man who's already made up his mind about picking Tiger Woods for his team, just as Jim Gray reported last week?
Just a guess here because I was not in the room when Gray initially spoke to Pavin about Woods. But doesn't it now seem quite possible that Pavin told Gray pretty much the same thing that day, then realized upon further review that he had probably jumped the gun? Could it be that Pavin was advised by PGA of America officials to back off a bit and take a more politically correct approach the next day at his own news conference, to make it sound as if he really hadn't totally made up his mind, the better not to offend the remaining contenders for those four spots?
Of course, that's all pure speculation, and I wanted to ask Gray about all of the above myself. Sadly, he has not responded to several requests for an interview initially made through a Golf Channel spokesman on Monday morning.
Still, I've known Gray for a very long time, and quite frankly, I'm having a hard time believing that he would simply make up the Woods story. You may question Gray's tactics, as many did during that controversial interview with Pete Rose in 1999 when he relentlessly grilled him about his gambling on baseball. Or you can hold your nose at all those softball and occasionally inane questions he asked LeBron James before finally getting to the point.
But Gray has mostly been a tough, conscientious inquisitor over many years, and he also knows a story when he sees one. It says here that Pavin probably gave him just enough for him to feel comfortable reporting it, even if he had no video or audio to accompany his initial story.
All that being said, Gray clearly made an egregious mistake in confronting Pavin the next day shortly after Captain America had concluded his news conference. He did it in full view of a number of his fellow media members, many of whom reported that Gray poked Pavin in the chest, a gesture that touched off a heated exchange between the two men, with Pavin's wife Lisa also in the discussion.
Pavin was widely quoted as saying Gray told him "you're going down." But one eyewitness, a highly decorated, veteran golf writer who watched it all unfold, told me he never heard Gray say those words and that the quote came only from Lisa Pavin, who said she had recorded the argument on her cell phone.
If so, how come we haven't heard it? TMZ asleep at the switch? Where are you, Deadspin, when we really need you?
In any case, Gray has vehemently denied threatening Pavin. In a statement last week, Gray said, "I did not misquote Corey Pavin. I stand 100 percent behind my story. He challenged my credibility and I felt that that a private conversation with Corey was needed. At no time during that conversation was anybody threatened."
If Gray had a beef with Pavin's comments at the news conference, a so-called "private conversation" held in a very public place was hardly the way to handle it. His bosses at The Golf Channel had already released a statement saying they "stood 100 percent behind the accuracy of Jim Gray's report."
That should have been more than enough reason for Gray to ignore Pavin's news conference comments, simply take the high road and ultimately let his reporting speak for itself. Instead, he made himself very much part of the story, violating a cardinal rule learned in Journalism 101. He should have known better.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com