Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Curious Case of Jay Mariotti: Blogger Bashing Is Bad Journalism

This debate/story just won't die. And I know, I'm only keeping it on life-support.

Journalists want it both ways. They decry the rise of blogs, criticize the "liberties" taken with truth by bloggers, bemoan the medium's unprofessional nature, and mock its authors while touting their j-school degrees and years cutting their teeth in the newsrooms of no-name papers.

Jay Mariotti, a blogger himself on a big-name platform built into a powerhouse by none other than a blogger, is the latest multi-platform rambler in the vein of the Bissingers and Rosenthals of the world to jump into the blogger vs. journalist war of words, albeit weeks late.

Rather than paraphrase his latest column on the subject, lets take a look at it in its entirty and inject some truths behind his innuendo.

Steroid Guessing Is Bad Journalism
Posted Jun 29, 2009 11:12PM By Jay Mariotti

I am one of the fortunate ones. Twelve months a year, I'm paid to dispense information and opinions on a major Web site read by millions, not to mention a major TV network watched by millions. I don't have to STRRRRRETTTTCCH THE TRUTH or make something up to be noticed as a columnist.

Show of hands by the bloggers out there. Tell the truth. How many exaggerate for the sheer purpose of garnering attention (like, say, a commentator on Around the Horn)? How many of Jay's millions of readers and viewers would lose a wink of sleep if Mariotti were today relieved of his duties at AOL and/or the Four Letter?

But in this changing media sphere, where everybody and his pet tarantula has a blog, many do have to compromise facts and fair play to turn heads and maintain some sort of living. And in the sports end of that sphere, the easiest path is to take liberties with the steroids crisis and randomly drop names of so-called users based on nothing more than unfounded speculation, whim and guesswork.

Rather, it's almost suggested that bloggers take the tact that Jay's counterparts in the industry did between 1998 and 2007: bury your head in the sand. I challenge Mariotti to provide one name "randomly" dropped by bloggers.

For all the fine work done by legitimate journalists who continue to uncover the smut in what inarguably is sport's biggest scandal ever -- T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Selena Roberts among them -- the sports writing business is rife with too many reckless idiots who don't hesitate to publish or post a name without the slightest bit of corroboration.

Talk about "name-dropping." Speaking of "reckless idiots," let's look at one of those "legitimate journalists" that Jay praises, Selena Roberts.

Michael David Smith, a highly respected blogger at Mariotti's online home, wrote last year, "Two Years Later, Selena Roberts Still Can't Admit She Was Wrong About Duke Lacross."

Sports columnist Selena Roberts is a gifted writer who usually sounds just the right notes in writing about the way sports intersects with issues like race, class, politics and the law. But she was dead wrong about the Duke lacrosse case. Roberts wrote a terrible column on March 31, 2006 that centered around this 20-word paragraph: "But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?"

Roberts' thesis was that the Duke lacrosse players were banding together to protect the rapists in their midst. Of course, as we now know, it wasn't so hard to gather the facts in the Duke lacrosse case -- the facts were right there, out in the open, but a corrupt prosecutor named Mike Nifong (the only person who went to jail for the Duke lacrosse case) was so eager to twist the facts to his own political advantage that he would have sent three innocent men to prison had the attorney general not taken the case out of his hands.


But while Roberts got the story wrong in March of 2006, that can be understood -- it was a complex story, one that most members of the media got wrong. What is harder to understand is Roberts' continuing refusal to admit she was wrong, nearly two years after the fact.

Yes, given the staggering bulk of guilty names and relentless flurry of new information, we all wonder to ourselves if every major leaguer who has played since 1995 used steroids. But that doesn't mean anyone has the right, legally or ethically, to start speculating for public consumption just because he has a functioning computer, a miniscule niche in cyberspace or a column in the dying newspaper industry. The methods of dissemination may have changed, but journalistic standards suddenly shouldn't go to hell.

Here lies the main crux of this column and why I feel so angry and perplexed by the whole issue in general. Like Rosenthal and Buzz before him, Mariotti implores bloggers to uphold the journalistic standards he implies they should have. In doing so, Mariotti is alluding to the idea that bloggers are, in fact, journalists and members of the media- these same individuals he taunts as "wreckless idiots" and stretchers of truth.

Let's lay it on the table then. Jay, are you willing to accept and treat members of the new media as your peers, uphold them the same rights, encourage your contacts in leagues, news outlets and with teams to treat them equally and fairly as they would any old-school hack, and only then reserve judgment as to whether or not they meet your industry's self-identified standards?

If you know an athlete who uses steroids, convince us that it's true with corroborated material.

If not, please keep it to yourself.

Again, I ask you to give us an example of a player and or athlete "unfairly" and definitively accused by a blogger.

The irresponsibility began three years ago when blogger Will Leitch wrote on a Web site that he had "80 percent'' faith in a source who said a Kansas City-based strength and conditioning coach was one of the redacted names in the Jason Grimsley report. "Does (the trainer's) name sound familiar?'' Leitch wrote. "If it doesn't, he -- and we assure you, this gives us no pleasure to write this -- has been Albert Pujols' personal trainer since before Pujols was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft.'' A photo of Pujols was included in the blog item.

Here's the problem: The trainer's name wasn't found anywhere in the report, meaning Leitch smeared the trainer and Pujols in one inaccurate swoop based on an "80 percent'' certainty rate. I think we learn in our 11th-grade journalism class, if not out of the womb, that it's irresponsible to tell a potentially damaging story if you're not entirely certain it's true. Eighty percent may as well be zero percent. The mess was exacerbated by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who ran with the story and caused a national feeding frenzy, and not until Pujols threatened legal action did a shamed, humiliated Leitch emerge with a correction titled, "A Deeply Regrettable Wrong,'' apologizing to the trainer in the process.

A reputable Web company would have fired him on the spot. Unfortunately, Leitch worked for a company that enjoyed the attention and allowed him to spew more lies about people. He profited from his fraudulence by writing a book read by a few of his blogging buddies.

Here's the rub. While Leitch is widely praised as the poster boy of the sports blogosphere, he couldn't be a further example of your typical blogger. Rather, Leitch's educational background and career more closely reflect that of yours, Mr. Mariotti. He is YOUR peer, not mine. A former editor at his college paper, he is/was a contributing editor at New York, and a contributor to The New York Times, GQ, Fast Company and Slate, and prior to that book you referenced, had already been twice published.
The fact that he is deemed a blogger because he founded Deadspin is akin to you being deemed a blogger because you opine at FanHouse.

What he did was open the door to the Jerod Morrises of the world. A few weeks ago, Morris speculated on his obscure baseball blog that Raul Ibanez, who is enjoying a career season with the Philadelphia Phillies, might be on steroids. In a post headlined, "The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows,'' Morris proceeds to do what he suggests himself is unfair and indicts Ibanez. "Any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers aren't natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer ...,'' he wrote. "Maybe the 37-year-old Ibanez trained differently this offseason with the pressure of joining the Phillies' great lineup and is in the best shape he's ever been in. And maybe that training included ... Well, you know where that one was going, but I'd prefer to leave it as unstated speculation."

Unstated? No, Jerod, you left nothing for conjecture.

June 16, 2009, Jay Mariotti at FanHouse:
At least three times, maybe more, I've asked Sammy Sosa if he ever has used steroids. Each time, he testily answered no, once stating that the only performance-enhancing substance he took was a "Flintstone vitamin." He had this goofy, cartoonish way about him that made you want to believe him, even though deep down, as someone who noticed that his head and upper body were swelled disproportionately to human reality, I knew he was as stone-cold guilty as any of them.

Now, at last, the other syringe seems to have fallen. In a development that will shock no one but the lying, denial-ridden Sosa himself, baseball's sixth-leading home run slugger of all-time reportedly is on the list of 104 players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003. Assuming the New York Times report is correct, it means Sosa becomes the latest in a staggeringly prominent line of fallen, cheating, juiced-up heroes who have turned the game's steroids debacle into pro sports' biggest scandal ever.
Pot, meet Kettle.

...Predictably, another blog -- Hugging Harold Reynolds, if you can believe it -- linked the piece to its Twitter feed, and Morris instantly became the hottest potato in the sports blogosphere.

We re-tweeted it because it was well-written, researched and thought-provoking piece on a topic every average fan chats about with his buddies - be it on a fantasy message board or on a sports bar stool.

Quite impressively, Ibanez, whose only sin might have been playing in Seattle-based obscurity for too long, responded with a robust stance of self-defense that rightfully focused on the lack of proof. All Morris had was two-plus months of Ibanez numbers -- .312 batting average, 22 home runs and 59 RBI until he went on the disabled list for a strained left groin -- that obviously trump his career power averages of 23 homers and 95 RBI.

He responded because he was put on the spot by a beat writer looking to fill a page, a beat reporter who (more than anyone else) is responsible for blowing up the story, and, in turn, making the Ibanez ordeal a national controversy.

"I'll come after people who defame or slander me," Ibanez raged to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's pathetic and disgusting. There should be some accountability for people who put that out there. Unfortunately, I understand the environment we're in and the events that have led us to this era of speculation. At the same time, you can't just walk down the street and accuse somebody of being a thief because they didn't have a nice car yesterday and they do today. You can't say that guy is a thief."
When asked if he has used steroids, Ibanez flatly said no. "You can have my urine, my hair, my blood, my stool -- anything you can test," he said. "I'll give you back every dime I've ever made (if a test is positive). I'll put that up against the jobs of anyone who writes this stuff. 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. Nobody is above the testing policy. We've seen that.

Total over-reaction to a piece he in likelihood hadn't even read at the time.
While denouncing unfounded claims (not unlike bloggers categorizing elderly hitters having career years in the steroid era), Ibanez lumps bloggers into one, widely-repeated category of basement-dwelling 40-somethings.

"It's unfair because this should be about how hard work, determination and desire trumps chemicals and shortcuts. That should be the message: desire, character, work ethic. But some guy who doesn't know me -- one idiot -- says something like this. They should be held accountable. It's cowardly.''

While Morris tried (unsuccessfully) to contact his subject, to my knowledge, Ibanez made no effort to directly address his accuser. Rather, he chooses to hide behind the paper and media that "writes this stuff."

Predictably, Morris made a fool of himself during a panel discussion on ESPN's Outside The Lines. Like many bloggers, he came off as someone who hasn't been properly trained to grasp libel law. Of course, the Internet is the Wild, Wild West and doesn't punish abusers for libeling people.

The perception that Morris made a fool of himself solidifies the notion that Mariotti is writing for his counterparts, the league, the players and the teams, and not the fans. While not all feedback on J-Rod's appearance from the blogosphere was positive, the one most pointed at as looking foolish, ill-informed and out-of-touch, was Ken Rosenthal. Has Morris been sued for libel?

Yet. Meanwhile, the real professionals will keep pounding on the amateurs. "Ten years ago there was not a chance that any newspaper or magazine or any other entity would have printed such a thing,'' FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal said on OTL. "It's wrong. It's irresponsible, it's unfair, and it needs to stop."

Over the last 10 years, the publication at which Rosenthal made his bones, The Baltimore Sun, has cut 60% of its staff; and in 1999, Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, Clemens and Palmerio were heralded as national icons.

"It's not fair to make assumptions like that,'' ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said. "It's a shame anyone is questioning (Ibanez) without proof.''


"It is unfortunate that we have an Internet circumstance where people can be inflammatory with everything they say,'' co-host Tony Kornheiser said on ESPN's 'Pardon The Interruption.'

WTF is an "Internet circumstance?"

Because the Internet is a gateway to everyone, bloggers have a place in this new media world. I've seen plenty of good ones who apply the principles that will win them credibility for years. I've also seen plenty of bad ones who have no conscience and don't belong anywhere near a keyboard. And the problem involves more than bloggers. Recently, an ancient columnist named Rick Telander suggested in the Chicago Sun-Times that Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot's early power burst should send up red flags. "Sorry, Ryan Theriot, you're a suspect,'' he opened his column. "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.''

Basically, Telander was no different than blogging boy Jerod Morris -- speculating based on numbers, not facts. And if he was being sarcastic, he picked the wrong topic; this one is way too sensitive. My guess is, Telander was trying too hard to get attention in a death-warmed-over newspaper.


Yeah, we know. You left the Sun Times on your terms. To "compete" and abandon the dying medium.

And what was Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times thinking when he wrote, "Thanks to Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, etc., fans outside St. Louis must wonder, 'Do we celebrate Albert Pujols or suspect him?' ... Pujols has batted four times with the bases loaded this season and three times has hit grand slams ... In his only other at-bat with the bases loaded, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger delivered a two-run single ... Sadly, it makes you wonder.''

Yes, unfortunately it does. And unfortunately people talk about it. So, unfortunately it's news.

Sure, we wonder. Know how many names have been leaked to me through the years? But as writers, we should not release our wonderment for public consumption unless we have full evidence of wrongdoing, as Roberts had when she broke the Rodriguez steroids story in Sports Illustrated. If Pujols and Ibanez were guilty, we'd probably find out in due time. Until then, I'll pause because we have no solid reason to presume guilt beyond the fact several of their colleagues have been guilty.

Yes or no: Did OJ do it? Did MJ molest kids?

These are desperate times in the media. But desperation should not turn us all into National Enquirer sleazes.

If you are implying that Midwest Sports Fans is sleaze, you too are basing that on nothing more that unfounded opinion.

The first thing a professor ever told me was, "Get the story right.'' That's why I was so angry a few years back when I was framed by the Sun-Times. The agent for Scott Skiles, then coach of the Chicago Bulls, had given our basketball beat writer the financial figures for Skiles' new contract. They slightly differed from the numbers run by the rival Tribune, as supplied by Bulls management. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, no fan of mine, ridiculously marched his lawyers into the office and demanded a correction in my column -- even though the numbers had been approved by editors and were supplied to me by an editor. (Reinsdorf actually was mad that I had been criticizing him for being a cheapskate and not signing Skiles earlier.) The paper buckled and ran multiple corrections for my column only -- but not for its own news story that published the same numbers -- which should tell you how corrupt the place was.

Woe is you. You were framed. Should have checked your sources. Trust, but verify. Which begs the question: what is "truth" and what makes you the authority on it.

So it bothers me when a writer just drops a name and doesn't face any repercussions. I'm definitely seeing an erosion in the accuracy game. We're down to, oh, about 80 percent now.

Has Jerod not faced repercussions? Has he not faced public scrutiny? Has he not stood up and acted honestly and respectfully? Has he once pointed blame (like, oh, he was framed)? He has stood by, defended, justified, debated and amended what he wrote. He doesn't hide. Nor does he or did he invite this "attention."

So tell us. What are you, Jay Mariotti? Newspaper hater? Blogger? Journalist? Renaissance man?
Be it abandoning the platform which brought you success, or babbling away near-daily on ATH, you come off as one of the very things you accuse bloggers of being - a self-serving, attention seeker.

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Andy said...

Not that I disagree with your post in its substance, but the typo problems hurt the thrust at the MSM for the second straight day.

"Wreckless" is not the word you want; the "let's" you're looking for has an apostrophe; "shear" instead of "sheer" doesn't work. I, as a blogger, appreciate the attempt to defend Morris and decry Mariotti, but the typos are unfortunate, and should be mussed out before the post goes up, mostly because you'll get snarky comments like this.

Thanks for tearing down Mariotti, though.

Hugging Harold Reynolds said...

Duly noted.

Bob Mantz, Jr. said...

A) Every damn print writer has a blog and pretty soon there will be no print left so they need to get with the program

B) Blog is such a bad term. No longer are we 'web logging' like a friggin diary. It's more Net Publishing...does nublishing work? How about Bwriters?

Simon said...

Major League Baseball and their players are getting what they deserve for their negligence of the 90s and that is constant speculation.

If peoples number very greatly from his career years than you now have probable cause to question those numbers because the equivalent player profiles are those of the abusers of the 90s.

Nobody knows if Ibanez took steroids other than him and never did he say Ibanez was on steroids. But people talk, people will question all the time, and this is what MLB gets and what it deserves.

Russianator said...

Spot on. Marriotti is a fraud.n

crickettier said...

The fact is, unfortunately, sports writers and sports broadcasters are the most paranoid people on the face of the planet. When I was in college and worked in the press box for my team's D1 basketball games, I'd introduce myself to various media personalities and tell them I was interested in sports journalism and if they could help me out. 99% of them gave me a deer in the headlights look, as though I could potentially steal their job one day if they gave me some tips or advice. That's pretty much what I see here. Mariotti is just crapping his pants, worried that someone on the internet might actually make sense if given a platform to showcase their opinions, a platform that previously was reserved only for Mariotti and his cronies.

Overall, the sports media fraternity is exactly that, one giant exclusive clique in which you have to "know somebody" to get in and get a job, rather than know someTHING about whatever the subject is you're talking about. Also, shouting really loud at the camera helps, as Stephen A. Smith has proven.

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