Due to some graphic language the version of this story posted here at bleacher report has been edited to remove offensive passages. To read the un-edited version click here.
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Yesterday morning I visited ESPN.com, as I often do, for sports news and notes. It is one of many websites I visit regularly for such purposes. There on the front page, amidst the tales of Yankees and Red Sox, the NHL and NBA Finals and other high profile nuggets was a peculiar headline:
So I clicked, I read, I followed the links where they led, and read some more.
The ESPN.com headline stems from John Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Inquirer and his columnin which he referenced the blog of Jerod Morris. On Monday Morris, who runs a small sports blog called Midwest Sports Fans as a sideline, posted a story entitled The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows.
I know, lousy title. The premise, as reported by ESPN in all of its’ entities, was that Morris proclaimed Ibanez a possible steroid user. I’ll let you read the story for yourself and make up your own mind. I have formed my opinion, which I’ll get to later.
Ibanez responded angrily when a reporter asked him about the story, which is hardly surprising or wrong. I would too. He went on to tell reporters, according to the ESPN.com article,
“Make them accountable. There should be more credibility than some 42-year-old blogger typing in his mother’s basement. It demeans everything you’ve done with one stroke of the pen.”
For the record I don’t know if Jerod Morris lives in a basement, whether said basement is his mothers and whether Raul Ibanez knows this either. I do know however that in very short order the largest sports media company in the United States made Jerod Morris big news.
ESPN invited him to be a guest on Outside The Lines to discuss the issue with John Gonzalez of the Inquirer and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, both full-time professional journalists.
In short order both Gonzalez and Rosenthal skewered Morris with every ounce of voracity they could muster. Journalistic ethics and standards were debated, then used like clubs to bludgeon this little blogging man into a pulp. Ken Rosenthal even went so far as to invoke the golden rule in saying Morris should consider if “he would want something like this written about him” before publishing.
I had read the post in question prior to seeing the segment, something I’m not sure can be said for many people, including Ken Rosenthal. After watching the debate I returned to the article to give it another read. It was then that I noticed the barrage had begun. Comments were being posted at a blistering rate, some in support of Jerod, although the majority with a different spirit.
I don’t pretend that Morris is without blame in all of this. He wrote the story. He published the story. Different opinions have emerged as to whether Morris was raising a question or pointing a finger, though however you view his work you must concede that he poked the bull a little. Don’t poke the bull unless you’re prepared for the horns, right or wrong.
I understand the reasons mainstream media pundits are piling criticism upon Morris. Rosenthal and the gang feel he sullied the good name of sports writing and needs to be slapped on the wrist in front of everyone. For the record I think what Morris wrote was irresponsible. I do.
Although it was hardly as egregious as what Rick Telander wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, which is not a blog but a newspaper, which last I checked is part of the “mainstream media” so many journalists are claiming has higher standards than the blogosphere.
Telander, discussing the power surge of the diminutive Theriot, wrote:
“Sorry, Ryan Theriot, you’re a suspect. Forget Manny Ramirez and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire and all the other hulking, accused performance-enhancing drug users.
You, sir, all 5-11, 175 pounds of you, are doing devious things.”
I would assume that he meant that in jest, as satire, that he was trying to be clever. He wasn’t clever, he was absurd. If Jerod Morris deserved to be stripped and whipped on the front page of ESPN and its’ Outside The Linesfor his words, then Telander deserved much more. But there was no front page story.
Oh ESPN did have a story about it, it was on the ESPN Chicago page, in the blog section of all places, which you need a map, a compass and an Indian guide to find. Bruce Levine wrote the piece, which featured a soft and fuzzy story about Telander and Theriot meeting at Wrigley Field days later to have a chuckle and talk baseball.
Funny, there was no Outside The Linessegment demonizing Telander, a member of the “mainstream media”; Hypocrisy – plain and simple at its’ ESPN finest. At least Ken Rosenthal spoke up about it. Rosenthal wrote on foxsports.com:
“Even respected mainstream journalists such as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Rick Telander are stretching previous boundaries. Telander began a recent column by saying, “Sorry, Ryan Theriot, you are a suspect,” and ended with the line, “When you plant cheating, Major League Baseball, cynicism will be the crop.”
Fair enough, but such finger-pointing forces players into a corner.
It’s irresponsible. It’s unfair. It needs to stop.”
Personally I find this rebuke softer than the one issued to Morris, in which Rosenthal used the same finishing line without the “fair enough” caveat, but quibbling over semantics does not solve the problem, and I respect and generally like Ken Rosenthal despite his over-the-top brow beating of Morris. I understand and agree with many of the points he made in claiming Morris to be wrong in this case. But I will say this in Jerod Morris’ defense….
At least he put his name on it.
He did not invoke an “unnamed source”, he did not site information from “A person close to the team”, he used no material obtained from a person who illegally leaked it to the press in defiance of the orders of a Federal Court Judge, dare he steal an idea from the playbook of “mainstream media” members.
Speaking of Selena Roberts, she was in the news as well yesterday. Several media outlets, including ESPN to their credit, reported that sales of her book, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, were down sharply and falling well short of expectations. It seems Ms. Roberts book has sold approx 16,000 copies, out of 150,000 in the first printing.
The story points out that her book was ranked #2,904 on Amazon.com, more than a thousand places behind the discredited memoirs of James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, which was published more than six years ago.
This is the same Selena Roberts who has been criticized heavily in the blogosphere for her reporting of the now defunct Duke lacrosse rape case. The same Selena Roberts of The New York Times, which has refused to print retractions for factual errors and misleading passages in her coverage of the scandal that wasn’t what she claimed it was.
This is the same Selena Roberts who, in her book on Alex Rodriguez, included factual errors about times and places where Rodriguez was said to be engaging in these dirty acts of cheating.
I’m counting this one in the win column for journalistic integrity, for common sense and most importantly, for the readers. The public at large seems to have sent the message mass media outlets and old-school pundits have refused to believe - that we, the readers, are tired of the dirty, devious, under-handed and manipulative tactics of giant killers and sensationalists.
We are tired of media outlets like ESPN carrying live coverage of Alex Rodriguez for more than five straight hours on the day his failed drug test became public. A failed drug test which again, was obtained from someone who remains to this day anonymous, who violated the order of a federal court judge in providing it to Ms. Roberts and the gang at Sports Illustrated.
This was the same behavior that netted writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn (both now of ESPN) “the goods” on Barry Bonds, except in this case it was grand jury testimony.
Ken Rosenthal pointed out in an interview at bizofbaseball.com:
“I’m bothered by the many leaks of confidential information – the BALCO grand-jury testimony, Bonds’ positive test for amphetamines. It reeks of McCarthyism. Of course, as journalists, Lance and Mark did exactly what they were supposed to do; leaking grand-jury testimony is against the law, printing the information is not.”
I’m bothered by it too, I believe many of us are. I agree that it reeks of McCarthyism, I disagree that journalists should do it. While it is not illegal to print the information, as Rosenthal points out, it should be.
The continuance of the illegal act leaves a stain that is tough to wash away, over time we get used to it, and it becomes standard practice, but it shouldn’t be.
There are times in history when the public right to know, the public need to know has out weighed the legal calamities and ethical quandaries that resulted from a reporter running a story, but don’t even try to tell me writing about a baseball player and alleged steroid use qualifies here. If you can do it with a straight face I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you. The first amendment is a shield, not a toy.
It’s irresponsible. It’s unfair. It needs to stop, to borrow the phrase.
This kind of abuse of journalistic power is what I’d like to see profiled on Outside The Lines, in the New York Times, in the San Francisco Chronicle, and on blogs near and far. Pundits can beat down a sports fan with a keyboard all they want and smile, thinking they are fighting the good fight for ethics and standards, but until the mainstream media looks in the mirror and addresses the farce it has become, I won’t take a word of it seriously.
They can defame non-traditional media, call bloggers names, act like the proverbial older brother and embarrass “new-media” types in front of everyone to make their point, but it’s a hollow and fruitless exercise, for neither newspaper men nor bloggers get to score the argument.
That responsibility belongs to the readers.
If the shuttering of newspaper buildings and the vast expansion of blogs and web-based news is any indication, I’d be sweating all over my typewriter if I were a fish-wrap man.
Journalism has evolved, it will continue to evolve, and as it does there are standards and ethical lines in the sand we all should abide by, many of which have been true for centuries. But no member of the media, old or new, can say with sincerity that their faction as a whole does it right.
Each instance, each story, each journalist needs to looked at on a case-by-case basis. If you feel each should be judged, so be it, the freedom of speech we all are thankful for allows us that opportunity, but remember it is the reader who will ultimately make the final decision.
Have a little faith in your audience. Remember that when people read the blog post from Mr. Morris they will form their own opinion. They will ask the questions, they will look for the answers. We don’t always need to tell them how to react, they are quite capable of letting Jerod know if he was right or wrong.
As of the moment I type this his post on Raul Ibanez has been read some 13,445 times. There are 220 comments and counting, more negative than positive in case you’re wondering. Funny, in three days his post on a blog nobody had ever heard of last week has been read by almost as many people as Selena Roberts’ blockbuster book on A-Rod. At least I think it’s funny.
But what do I know, I’m just a blogger.
Have a question or an opinion? Leave your thoughts in the comments or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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