The industry group behind the Grammy Awards punished the Los Angeles Times for running hard-hitting investigative articles on alleged corruption in the organization by restricting the paper's access to the ceremony, journalists said.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) also refused to provide any coverage credentials for Wednesday's event to online news services. The move, many journalists allege, seemed intended to monopolize online coverage of the event.
Though Times reporters were allowed access, the newspaper was
restricted from photographing the ceremony, according to the publication. In past years, the paper received full access to the annual event, arguably the music industry's most important awards ceremony.
"I'm sure they were being punished," said Gary Dretzka, a senior entertainment writer for the Chicago Tribune. "[NARAS] seems like they could be a very vindictive operation."
NARAS spokesperson Adam Sandler denied that the Times' restricted access had anything to do with the newspaper's coverage of the organization.
"There is no relation [between] a photographer not being in the house and the Times' articles," said Sandler, a former reporter for the entertainment-industry trade magazine Variety.
Sandler said that the Times was offered a space inside the venue from which to shoot photographs but that the newspaper rejected the offer.
Oscar Garza, who edited the Times' six-page special section on the Grammys, said that the spot offered to the newspaper was inferior to its access in previous years. He said he believed that the Times' coverage of NARAS figured into the organization's decision not to give the paper suitable access and claimed that Sandler and Maureen O'Connor, another Grammy spokesperson, noted the coverage in conversations with him about the paper's Grammy access.
"If there is no relation, why did both [Sandler and O'Connor] bring it up in conversations about the photo access?" Garza said Friday. "By bringing it up, they confirmed that there was a relationship."
Sandler denied that he made note of the Times' investigative stories regarding NARAS in speaking with the paper about its Grammy access. O'Connor could not be reached by press time.
A series of articles the Times ran in 1998 alleged that NARAS exaggerated its charitable work and reportedly spawned Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department investigations of the organization's financial practices under its chief executive, C. Michael Greene.
The stories won the Times a Pulitzer Prize. The paper later reported that Greene pressured executives at Time Warner's Warner Music Group to contribute to a NARAS charity CD or face "ramifications."
Greene, who has refused to comment on the investigation, is instrumental in deciding who will perform at the annual Grammy Awards show and in picking judges for the committees that select nominees.
The Times reported Wednesday that NARAS has hired investigators to attempt to uncover who in the organization leaked confidential information to the newspaper.
Chuck Philips, the Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter who wrote Wednesday's story and several previous articles on NARAS, said he was not surprised at NARAS' alleged actions but declined further comment.
'A Corporate Thing'
The Times was not the only media outlet to have its coverage restricted by NARAS. Online news organizations, including SonicNet Music News, were denied access to the ceremonies. Journalists said the move seemed intended to direct online traffic to the event's official Web site (www.grammy.com).
"They wanted to plug their own Web site as much as possible," said Anders Wright, news editor for the online music-news site Wall of Sound.
"It's a corporate thing, who cut a deal with who it's unbelievable," Tribune writer Dretzka said. "It's as if they owned their own newspaper and then didn't let other newspapers in."
Sandler said that online journalists were given a "content access opportunity" they could have watched the backstage footage webcast on the official Grammy Web site and reported on that.
But online journalists said that option was not acceptable, and they questioned the wisdom of NARAS' decision to exclude them.
"To not deem any online media valuable and to not give them credentials is clearly not looking to the future of where journalism is going," said Carrie Borzillo, managing editor of the music news and gossip service allstar, a division of CDNow.
Wall of Sound's Wright said NARAS was ultimately only hurting itself. "By not allowing us access, all they're doing is making it harder for people to get information about the Grammys."
The controversies surrounding NARAS show no signs of fading soon.
Soul great Barry White criticized the Grammy voting process Thursday, although he received the first two Grammys of his 30-year career the night before.
"It's not a fair organization," the 55-year-old White, who did not attend the ceremony, told Reuters. "A lot of things determine who wins Grammys: record companies, how much money they give in their parties. ... It's all suspect to me. I know this industry. I know it well. I'm not saying what I know." White reportedly said he is still angry about his 1974 loss to Bette Midler in the category of Best New Artist.
Sandler told Reuters that NARAS goes to "great lengths to ensure the voting process is secure and fair."
(This story was updated at 6:45 PM EST on Friday, Feb. 25, 2000.)