Richard Justice Crosses the Line

As regular readers of this blog know, I have often wondered why Chronicle sports columnist Richard Justice is writing about sports. He is highly subjective in his views, does not back them up with objective facts and doesn’t reason well. Beyond that, he does just fine.

As a result of the foregoing, Justice is a controversial fellow among Houston sports fans. His blog is a rollicking place where mostly anonymous readers who comment on Justice’s blog posts regularly engage in competing insults with Justice. Not my cup of tea, but different strokes for different folks.

At any rate, after the Texans’ meaningless pre-season loss against Dallas a couple of weeks ago, Justice published this post in which he harshly criticized Texans offensive line coach Alex Gibbs — who is widely-regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL — for yelling at his players.

The post was odd, but nothing out of the ordinary for Justice, who had applauded the hiring of Gibbs this past January. Inasmuch as Justice noted that Gibbs has a policy of not talking to the media, many readers commenting on the post speculated that Justice’s criticism of Gibbs was simply sour grapes for Gibbs’ refusal to talk with Justice.

However, one particular reader who commented on Justice’s post was not interested in engaging in the usual name-calling that is common on Justice’s blog.

Stephanie Stradley, who previously blogged on the Texans for the Chronicle and who now blogs on the Texans over at AOL Sports Fanhouse, posted a comment to Justice’s post in which she challenged the factual basis of Justice’s assertion that Gibbs’ players were tuning him out because of his yelling. Stradley is a first-class blogger who analyzes the Texans much more objectively and effectively than Justice does.

In response to Stradley’s comment, Justice responded with shrill comment (since deleted) in which he reiterated his point about yelling and then insulted Stradley. Despite Justice’s insult, Stradley inquired in a subsequent comment about the basis of Justice’s contention that Gibbs’ players did not respond to him, to which Justice responded with another condescending comment. Tasteless, but again nothing out of the ordinary for the often childish nature of Justice’s blog.

But what Justice did next may very well have crossed the line.

Inasmuch as Justice’s criticism of Gibbs was so poorly-reasoned, readers continued to mock Justice in the comments to his blog post, prompting Justice to post a follow-up post to defend his position. But in so doing, Justice made the following comment (scroll down to comment at 9:49 AM) in response to a reader who suggested that he owed Stradley an apology for his earlier tasteless comment:

I don’t know what Stephanie’s real name is, but she creeps me out. She writes a little too often, wants to discuss and debate. She has her own blog, so why is she so interested in mine? Ask yourself that question. Maybe I’ve watched Fatal Attraction too many times. If something happens to one of my rabbits, she’s going to be in big trouble.–Richard

Incredibly, if that weren’t bad enough, Justice followed up that libelous comment with this one in responding to another reader’s comment (scroll down to comment at 10:13 PM):

Oh so you only use English when you feel like it? Be sure and put that on your resume. Listen, Cronkite, don’t get into an insult contest with me. You’ll end up in a fetal position whimpering and begging me to ease up. Find something you’re good at and dedicate yourself to that. I don’t know what that would be, but this ain’t it. Go hang out with that Glenn Close woman. She’d probably find you fascinating. Speaking of Stephanie Stradley, I woke up this morning and saw our rabbit cage was empty. ”Stephanie!” I screamed. Turns out, the little feller was sleeping beneath a chair.–Richard

In a patient and classy manner, Stradley recounts the entire bizarre episode here.

Beyond their utter tastelessness, both of Justice’s comments associating Stradley with a homicidal maniac appear to meet the requirements of defamation per se. As a result, Stradley has viable damage claims against both Justice personally and the Chronicle.

Ironically, Justice’s Monday blog post asserts that many Stros fans owe GM Ed Wade an apology. Absent the Chronicle and Justice heeding his advice and issuing an immediate public apology to Stradley, I hope she tees off on both of them.

The Chronicle has some very good reporters. But in these challenging times for newspapers, can the Chronicle survive the likes of Richard Justice?

5 thoughts on “Richard Justice Crosses the Line

  1. The sad reality is that Justice generates interest and hits and I guess that’s enough for them. If I need a good laugh (or a good rant) he’s always there to turn to.
    But boy is he an awful sportswriter.

  2. One of the reasons Justice keeps on keeping on is the attention paid to his material, somewhat like Madonna, it sure as hell can’t be for the musical talent, and at least in his case, not for the sexy dress.
    I quit the Chronicle, personally, and never read his stuff when I subscribed. There are more and better sources of information of all sorts in the electronic media now, so why bother with crappy reporters?

  3. My view is the Chronicle just doesn’t care. They are so desperate for readers and website hits that anything not rising to the level of felony is accepted.
    As many will tell you, Justice is not known for his tolerance of the “little people” and his “I am the media” rants have made him little more than a running joke.
    The really sad thing is: the guy can write a heck of a column. He just doesn’t have the chops to do meaningful sports analysis, nor the thick skin to survive being wrong with his integrity intact.
    For what he did to Stradley however he should be suspended, if not outright fired.

  4. I think that JD makes a good point that Justice attempts to be controversial to generate interest. And I think that Cory is correct that Justice has writing talent, although my sense is the he lacks the analytical ability to be an insightful columnist.
    My sense is that the Chronicle’s indulgence of Justice’s misconduct toward Stradley is a reflection of the newspaper’s dubious management. As noted above, the Chron has some excellent reporters and columnists, but the talent level is extremely uneven across the entire newspaper.
    For example, Dwight Silverman runs one of the best technology sections of any newspaper, and Eric Berger and Todd Ackerman do fine jobs reporting on science and Med Center-related issues. On the other hand, the Chron’s sports section — outside of relatively new addition, Zac Levine — is almost unreadable. The same is true for the business section. How can a newspaper in an area that is as interested in sports and business as Houston be so devoid of talent in those areas?
    Even well-managed newspapers are having a difficult time adjusting to the new media world order that the blogosphere and digital news media has generated. The Chronicle does not appear to be a well-managed newspaper. That does not bode well for the future of the Chronicle.

  5. I agree completely with the assessment of the good and bad at the Chronicle, and I think one has only to consider the layout of to understand the paper’s priorities. A little bit of news on top, followed by viewer-contributed fluff, followed by video fluff, followed by — oh look, some news again.
    As for business, at least the new design moved it up from last on the list. I think Richard is more interested in driving people to his radio show than he is in presenting thoughtful journalism.

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