Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow came before assembled members of the press Thursday evening in D.C., to face the music for now-fired assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s locker room taunts directed at three women reporters after his team’s ALCS-clinching victory, and for the Astros publicly and falsely accusing Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein of journalistic malpractice. Luhnow, executing from a drearily familiar public relations handbook, expects you to accept that an organization capable of those two abuses is in fact super cool and populated by high-character individuals.
The most significant revelation from Luhnow’s presser, and what both explains and utterly refutes his insistence that the Astros have anything other than a diseased corporate culture, is that “many people” in the Astros organization apparently saw and approved the team’s initial statement, which accused Apstein of outright fabrication in her October 21 report. Luhnow, having spread blame around throughout his team’s front office, repeatedly declined to identify any of the individuals involved by name. None of those responsible for attempting to ruin Apstein’s career and reputation have been fired—if we are to believe Luhnow’s depiction of events, that would mean cleaning out the upper ranks of the Astros organization.
“That original reaction by the Astros was wrong, and we own it as an organization. There were many people involved in reviewing that, approving that, and I’m not gonna get into the details of that. It was wrong, it was the Astros’ decision.”
For as clear as Luhnow was that the statement was wrong, he also endeavored to make clear that it wasn’t wrong wrong—unbelievably, it is still Lunhow’s position that the facts of the event are meaningfully in dispute, and “it’s not 100 percent clear what the truth is.” So Taubman’s behavior was wrong (and out of character), and the team’s response was wrong (and out of character), but also all those reporters who individually corroborated Apstein’s reporting apparently cannot be trusted:
That evident contempt for the press also explains why Luhnow had made no effort to contact Apstein ahead of the press conference, in order to apologize directly for executing a retaliatory smear campaign after she reported true facts about the disgraceful behavior of a man he hired personally. According to Luhnow, he just hasn’t had time to, ah, speak to someone who is in the same room with him, or make a short phone call:
When public figures so unabashedly follow a PR checklist, regular people can be seduced into judging mainly the quality of the checklist, and viewing these things purely as PR successes or failures. Let’s dispense with that, quickly: Luhnow’s PR advisors should be fired. They’re real bad at their jobs.
But as a series of human actions, this is all hideous. The Astros have a culture where a person could even develop the specific anger behind Taubman’s taunts, to say nothing of shouting those taunts at someone in public; where the kind of person who would both feel that specific shit-hearted triumph and then weaponize it is otherwise considered a good guy with high character; where the organization’s inclination is to take the word of internal “witnesses” who would have obvious professional incentives for obscuring the truth over a first-person report from a journalist; where the action that flows from that misguided trust involves publicly accusing the journalist of fabrication; where a group of adults would need whole days in order to determine that even a general apology is appropriate; where orchestrating a happy ending to this disastrous sequence in a press conference is more urgent than personally apologizing to the only person who was actually wronged; and where you’d even need a PR playbook to sort this out in the first place.
So, uhh, yes, this very much is a cultural issue, and no, the Astros very much do not have a lot of really good people in their front office. Luhnow’s full press conference is embedded below: