(the obligatory Theo-with-guitar shot. Lots of time to learn “How Much Art (Mantone) Can You Take?” this winter).

Strong stufff from the Boston Phoenix’s Mark Jurkowitz, who pulls few punches in his assessment of how the Globe, Herald and WEEI covered Theo Epstein’s negotiations with the Red Sox, as well as the former’s controversial departure.

“It was a good week for the Herald,” declared baseball writer Tony Massarotti on WEEI™s Big Show. True, but it would have been a much better week if Massarotti had toned down the conspiracy theories. In an infamous October 27 piece headlined “Smear Campaign Stinks,” Massarotti accused the rival paper of being in the tank with management to portray Epstein negatively after it reported on some aspects of the negotiations that the Herald didn™t have.

“The Globe owns the Red Sox which means the Red Sox own the Globe,” he declared, asserting that both the Globe and WEEI “are not about to challenge the words or methods of Lucchino and the Red Sox.”

Massarotti basically accused Globe baseball writers ” including Snow and Edes ” of having the journalistic ethics of Jayson Blair. That™s not only very strong stuff, it™s wrong. Massarotti seems like a decent guy and a knowledgeable baseball scribe. But he fell prey to that Herald institutional paranoia about the Globe.

One of the more dramatic moments in this episode was the tense encounter between Massarotti and Edes on the October 30 edition of Channel 4™s Sports Final. Responding to the Herald writer™s allegations of Globe culpability in a smear campaign against Epstein, an angry Edes said: “Personally, I took it as a great affront to myself.” A somewhat steamed Massarotti responded that “the Globe as an institution is severely compromised in its relationship with the Red Sox. That™s a fact. That™s not debatable.” It made for good TV.

“From the moment the New York Times bought a stake into the club, the perception of conflict of interest is every bit as real as a real conflict of interest,” Edes acknowledged on the Sports Final show.

The recent flare-up involved the sports pages, but the bigger perception problem for the Globe comes in its coverage of the Red Sox as a major municipal player. This is not just a baseball team, but a major marketer, land developer, tourist attraction, and aggressive business that demands coverage everywhere in the paper. Even though it seems tedious, the Globe ought to include a simple sentence disclosing its relationship with the Red Sox in every single story about the team that does not land on the sports pages. In a November 6 column, Globe ombudsman Chacon wrote that such a policy is in place, but he included Baron™s acknowledgment that disclosure is sometimes omitted accidentally. That should be tightened up. Since the paper is not likely to divest, it must disclose.

As for the Herald, someday it will learn what all good politicians know: when your opponent is doing a perfectly good job of making a mess of things, stay the hell out of his way. If it hadn™t been for the “smear campaign” mantra accusing the Globe of being corrupt, the Herald could have won the newspaper wars and claimed the moral high ground, too. The Herald™s portrayal of itself as the hardscrabble but honest tabloid bravely battling the privileged, lazy fat cats on Morrissey Boulevard may be an important motivational tool inside One Herald Square, but it verges on self-parody.

Finally, a bigger point. How come with all the manpower devoted to covering the Red Sox from spring training through the playoffs, we never really got a whiff of the serious ” and ultimately decisive ” tensions between Epstein and Lucchino until the contract talks blew up? Isn™t that something that journalists in regular contact with the team for more than six months should get wind of and make part of the ongoing coverage? These days, the exploits and activities of the Red Sox regularly make page one, the business pages, and even the gossip columns. Where were the city™s aggressive sports media on what turned out to be the most important off-field story of the year?