Column: Criticize the Chicago Cubs? Not on Marquee Sports Network’s ‘The Reporters’ show.

When the Chicago Cubs announced they were leaving their old TV home to start their own network, it was viewed by some as a prudent business decision that would create another vital revenue stream.

With more revenue streams, the Cubs theoretically would be contenders for years.

That of course, hasn’t happened.

The Cubs are in the early stages of a rebuild of undetermined length. In the middle of the first full season of Marquee Sports Network in 2021, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer came to the conclusion he could not sign his three biggest stars and executed a massive sell-off to restock the farm system, beginning the next phase of Cubs history.

But instead of stating the obvious, Hoyer declined to refer to the plan as a rebuild and even questioned why a reporter needed to put a label on it. Ten months later, the Cubs are well below .500 and looking to prospects such as Christopher Morel, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson.

The Cubs still refuse to concede the team is in rebuilding mode, which is their prerogative. No one has to take the word of Cubs management to know what they’re seeing with their own eyes, and no matter what it’s called it’s often unwatchable.

Still, there are games to be telecast and a station to provide fans with Cubs-related news and information. For those who can’t get enough of the team, Marquee Sports Network — owned by the the Cubs and Sinclair — provides that content. It has hour-long pre- and postgame shows, documentaries and events like last Friday’s unveiling of the Fergie Jenkins statue. The network also carries Chicago Sky games and other sports.

But there is plenty of airtime and not enough live sports to fill in the blanks. So the network created a Sunday morning talk show called “The Reporters,” a nod to “The Sportswriters on TV,” the classic cable talk show that aired during the 1980s and ’90s. That show featured a former PR man named Ben Bentley, who spoke Chicagoese and served as moderator, and old school sportswriters Bill Gleason, Bill Jauss and Rick Telander, who technically was young but had already developed an old sports writer’s persona.

For those in sports media, the announcement of the Marquee show was welcome news. There hasn’t been a local sports debate show since the summer of 2020, when NBC Sports Chicago canceled David Kaplan’s show, “SportsTalk Live.”

But some wondered how much candor reporters could exercise on Cubs-related topics while on a station run by the Cubs and Sinclair. Would a reporter be allowed to criticize the spending of Chairman Tom Ricketts? Could anyone say manager David Ross was an issue? Would the Cubs run interference to make sure top executives weren’t ripped?

One of those questions was answered Sunday. No, the network would not let a reporter criticize upper management — specifically Hoyer.

Sunday’s show featured three veteran reporters — WSCR-AM 670′s David Haugh, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Maddie Lee and former sports anchor Peggy Kusinski. They were joined by WGN-AM 720 personality Bob Sirott, who was the moderator.

Sources said a segment on the Cubs’ unknown trade deadline plans was going smoothly until Haugh, a former Tribune columnist, and Kusinki, who has a weekly show on WMVP-AM-1000, discussed the rebuild.

Haugh said Hoyer’s transparency was “lacking,” comparing it unfavorably to the job former President Theo Epstein did in explaining his game plan. Haugh wondered aloud if Hoyer was “tethered to reality” and asked for some clarity from the Cubs president. Kusinski agreed and called for honesty.

But the taping was abruptly halted shortly thereafter for what reporters were told was a technical difficulty. They were then informed they’d have to start the segment over.

No one was too alarmed by the timing, but before they began taping again, reporters were told not to mention the “transparency” angle in the new segment. The subject was avoided and the original segment was edited out when it aired Sunday morning.

Haugh and Kusinksi declined to comment. Lee could not be reached for comment.

A Marquee spokesman did not immediately return a message.

As someone who has appeared in dozens of these types of panel shows, from CLTV to WBBM-Ch. 2 to Comcast Sports Net to WTTW-Ch. 11, I don’t recall ever having a show stopped and redone to remove a comment. I can confirm the Cubs complained to CSN often about my criticism of team executives made during “Chicago Tribune Live” telecasts, but the station never edited them out or asked me to stop mentioning them on the show.

Kusinski formerly had a panel show on CLTV, owned by Tribune Co. — which at the time owned the Cubs — in which we both took shots at Cubs management without fear of censorship.

The point of an opinion show is to voice your opinion. Some people get it. Marquee apparently does not.

Marquee doesn’t have to air opinions about the Cubs that the team or station does not agree with. It’s the Cubs’ station, after all, and it’s the network’s show. But reporters at least should know their opinions might be edited out if they don’t line up with the Cubs’ messaging.

And certainly viewers looking for objective analysis on the Cubs should be aware the opinions on “The Reporters” are subject to censorship.

The Cubs are free to dispense their message any way they want. But if the owners want any credibility they need to let reporters speak freely on the network.