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Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Geoff Baker ReduxNote: I'm giving this post from yesterday a bump for two reasons: First, it was posted kind of late, and a lot of people don't scroll back past ATH on a given day, so it's "new" to a lot of readers; Second, because Geoff Baker his ownself waded into the comments thread last night. I think that's kind of cool and think that maybe some folks would like to read that too.
Geoff Baker got mad last week when a blogger waded into waters he feels that only professionals like Geoff Baker should be wading. Today he wades into my waters:
Here's a primer on U.S. libel law and how it relates to blogging, in case you're interested. It should be required reading for any blogger in this country.
I was going to write about 1000 words aping his piece from last week, substituting the dangers of amateurs engaging in the business of lawyering for his take on amateurs engaging in the business of professional journalism, but I couldn't keep a straight face. I'm actually fine with Baker writing about this stuff because (a) it's not rocket science; and (b) he's right. Like I said last week, you've got to get your facts right if you're going to get into the accusation business. That goes for bloggers too, and like Baker, I am similarly not impressed with the argument that a blogger can be looser with things if he's only writing for a small, friendly audience (not that Jerrod Morris was being "loose" in my estimation).
But beyond that, Baker remains off his nut. Last week I (and many others) noted that Baker himself seemed to be doing far worse than Jerod Morris was doing when he suggested that the entire 2003 Seattle Mariners team had been on steroids. Today he defends himself:
Now, this may seem like the same thing to a lot of you, but there are important differences. The most obvious is that no individual was singled out. Believe me, this was intentional. There are ways to approach topics like this, to hint at stuff that may or may not have been going on, but it requires subtlety, not a sledgehammer.
I suppose that's fine if all you care about is avoiding legal liability for defamation -- and even then I'm not sure that the Mariners as a team wouldn't have an action for some sort for business disparagement or something -- but certainly that's not the operative ethical standard, is it? Anything is fair game as long as there's an "out?" That's not what Baker seemed to be all worked up about in his original piece. It was all about being tough and accountable and writing with integrity and credibility and all of that. Something greater than mere lawsuit avoidance, at any rate. If anything, Baker's pained rationalization of his February piece directly contradicts his stated belief that looking one's target in the eye matters. His accusation of non-specific Mariners with an "out" built-in is exactly the opposite of looking someone in the eye. It's cowardly ass-covering.
Baker's next point is the freakin' cake topper:
Some of you have asked why I -- and my colleagues -- failed to denounce Rick Reilly for publishing similar things about ballplayers that Morris did. Well, the first answer is, many of my colleagues did denounce Reilly several years back when he challenged Sammy Sosa to take a drug test. Many thought he was unfairly singling Sosa out.
Sorry, I don't cotton to any system with exceptions that so thoroughly swallow the rules as the one Baker sketches out, and that's even when the rules are weak moving targets like those he's proposing. If we are to take Baker seriously, there's a bogey that all of us writing about baseball need to hit -- about thirty years of puff pieces, if I reckon correctly -- and once we hit it, anything is fair game. If I'm wrong about this -- if, for example, I get my license to be irresponsible at, say, 25 years -- I hope that Baker lets me know, because I have a lot of garbage I want to fling at people.
Finally, Baker responds to criticism of his "White Jays" piece from a couple of years ago:
I've had people write in to ask me about my so-called "White Jays'' series of three stories written for the Toronto Star six years ago. What those stories were supposed to be about was how the Blue Jays, after years of pipelining talent from Latin America, had suddenly become a team with the fewest amount of minority players in baseball. At a time when the number of Latin Americans in the game was exploding.
I'm somewhat sympathetic here, because his "White Jays" story, while not his finest hour, wasn't as bad as a lot of people made it out to be. But his explanation of this is instructive: other chefs in the kitchen screwed it up, not Geoff Baker. Kind of undercuts that whole notion he's pushing about the importance and value of all of those editorial layers that separate the pros from the amateurs, doesn't it?
Baker goes on and on and so could I, but we'd never come to agreement on everything. I do hope, however, that we can agree on this: people who write non-fiction for a living need to be accurate and take responsibility for their words no matter who they are and where they write.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 8:20am
“If you don’t like it here, there’s the door, don’t let it hit your ass on the way out.”
Oh, nice retort! Just like the USSM, if you have a different opinion, or an issue with something, you should just leave. I enjoy the USSM stuff when they actually focus on the game and players instead of attacking Baker and others with whom they disagree.
“Irony, thy name is Capper…
“Look, I said it with your last piece, and I’ll say it again…..if you dont like someone, or their articles, disregard it. If people stop drawing attention to stuff thats crap, then it doesnt get page views, followers, etc….its called being the bigger man….something I’m thinking is pretty novel to you.”
You should probably take you own advice, Caps.”
I know you cant be this stupid…...the difference is I’m not “posting an article”, I’m merely commenting on a POS article posted on a site I used to really like. But hey, that’s how it all starts….you lose one reader, then another, and another.
Posted 06/17 at 10:11 AM
Jason @ IIATMS said...
Disagreement, when it leads to discussion and discourse, is a good thing. When it leads to name-calling and stone-throwing, it just sucks.
Capper, I have no problem with you disagreeing with CC’s work, or even not liking it. But to bash him, the person, is low.
You don’t like his work, that’s perfectly OK. Don’t read. Feel free to debate intellegently but spare us the verbal attacks.
And yes, CC’s readers and friends, like me, will continue to defend his work and his abilities.
Posted 06/17 at 10:40 AM
Jack Marshall said...
The standards for journalist, bloggers, and people who stand and scream on street corners are EXACTLY the same: honesty, fairness, civility, competence, responsibility. Arguing that an irresponsible post (and Morris’s was that) is fine because it promotes dialogue is Big Lie 101. Sure, I can promote dialogue by writing that the Holocaust never happened, that Barack Obama has sex slaves in the White House basement and that Derek Jeter is a crack addict… the dialogue still doesn’t justify my slimy conduct. If you publish words that are going to be read in public, you have an obligation to do it right. This blogger-journalist, Rick Reilly-Jerod Morris dichotomy is false, false, false.
Posted 06/17 at 10:52 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Jack—I agree with you that the dichotmy between blogger and pro writer is false, and believed that even back when I was getting 97 hits a say on Blogspot. If you’re going to say something, you have to be able to stand behind it no matter who you are.
I disagree with you, however, re: Morris’ post. I’m not terribly comfortable with such speculation myself, but I don’t see what he wrote as being terribly out of the mainstream. Certainly not enough to justify the hypotheticals you you give.
Posted 06/17 at 11:10 AM
You used to really like? I’m not sure what’s changed.
Posted 06/17 at 11:24 AM
Jack Marshall said...
Craig, my answer would be: Ask Ibanez how he feels about having his name put out on the web as a potential steroid-user, when all he’s done is have a great one-third of a year.
I agree that the post was not out of a mainstream that holds that David Ortiz is a suspected PED user because he’s in a slump and Dominican, or that Albert Pujols is a suspected user because he’s so damn good. But the mainstream of law enforcement used to assume any black man driving a nice car had drugs in it or had stolen the car. Mainstream isn’t inherently right, and if it’s mainstream to write an article “defending” a player of conduct when there is no evidence whatsoever that he engaged in it, then “mainstream” isn’t a sufficient justification. (In Iran, Holocaust denial is mainstream, as you know.)
Posted 06/17 at 11:25 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
I don’t know that we’ll ever know how he feels. His angry reaction was when a reporter from Philly mischaracterized Morris’ post and basically said to Ibanez “some blogger is accusing you of steroids, what do you say to that?” I’d be angry too. Only problem is, that’s not what Morris did. What he did do has been rehashed ad nauseum in the past week so I’m not going to go there again except to say once again that your hypotheticals are too extreme to be instructive here.
Posted 06/17 at 11:33 AM
“Arguing that an irresponsible post (and Morris’s was that) is fine because it promotes dialogue is Big Lie 101.”
But is anyone here really arguing this?
Posted 06/17 at 11:59 AM
The Common Man said...
I’m sorry, Jack, I don’t see what’s irresponsible about Morris’s post. You’ll have to enlighten me. Morris writes, “any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation.”
Without leveling an accusation, Morris argues that someone enjoying unprecedented success at an age when he should normally be in decline, in a profession where PED use has been wide-spread in the past, is remarkable and raises questions and suspicions. Likewise, if you saw a fund manager’s performance was far outstripping the market, even in a down period, and it was not immediately clear how that manager was doing it, wouldn’t that raise suspicions as well, in this post-Madoff environment? Don’t we have to take the earnings statements of banks with a healthy grain of salt, given their recent history?
Posted 06/17 at 12:34 PM
Capper—It’s something of an overstated cliche at this point to say that the way the public receives news is now changing, but even so it seems important and appropriate right now to analyze and clarify establishment criticism of the newer outlets. How much of it is valid, demanding introspection and improvement by the community? How much of it is hypocrisy or just raging against the dying of the light?
It’s perfectly valid for a reader to make the criticism that this material is probably of more interest to bloggers than it is to baseball fans, but perhaps a little tact would still go a long way. This stuff is a little bit “meta”, and might not suit your taste, but that doesn’t per se make it lazy anti-establishment counter-criticism. It has value. In the end, discussions like these will improve baseball coverage for us all.
Posted 06/17 at 02:45 PM
Sara K said...
@ Derek - Spot-on. The inherent value of ShysterBall discussion to baseball coverage in general was what I was hinting at when I pointed out that THT invited CC to the party, which was a bit of subtlety that clearly missed its mark. Not that spelling it out will make it easier for Capper to appreciate it, but it was a nice bit of articulation.
Posted 06/17 at 03:31 PM
Sara K said...
@Geoff - “Then, along comes Bavasi to run the 2004 Mariners. All of a sudden, a 90-plus win playoff contender from 2003 plummets to a 99-loss season. The offense drops off a cliff. Is there a connection between those drops and the stiffer drug testing?”
How does this not cast suspicion on the whole team? I’m not saying that it is necessarily wrong for all players to be under some degree of suspicion as the unfortunate consequence of MLB’s allowing drug use to flourish. I’m just trying to figure out the difference between your reasoning and Morris’s. Both articles are pointing out a significant difference in performance and acknowledging that, due to generalized suspicion, we can’t help but wonder if PED use is a factor. Would it have been different if you had listed the names of all the members of the 2003 and 2004 rosters in the article?
Posted 06/17 at 03:46 PM
The Common Man said...
It’s not the whole team, Sara. Geoff is clearly casting suspicion only on the hitters…after two pitchers were mentioned in various PED documents. So there.
Posted 06/17 at 04:01 PM
I was wondering how long before Baker showed up here - he can’t leave comments unanswered.
It was me who questioned the willingness of players to speak to you, Geoff. Of course you get “clubhouse access” - if you are eligible and approved for credentials, the team has to allow you in.
But the number and quality of Ichiro and Griffey quotes in LaRue’s piece far outstrips anything I’ve seen you get at least over the past year. And as dogged as you’ve been on the Ichiro-in-the-clubhouse front, I would expect that you would have scooped LaRue off the map with great quotes about the change of feeling.
In the end, what you’re being taken to task for is your sanctimonious demeanor in print. It went to ridiculous lengths on the Ibanez story - yes, he happens to be one of the ‘08 M’s who readily spoke with you - and didn’t stop when you were called on it, even given the lessons you SHOULD have learned from the “White Jays” debacle, i.e., everyone needs a bit of slack, at least until they prove undeserving.
The problem is, right now you’re running out of slack yourself.
Posted 06/17 at 05:37 PM
@Jack: the problem isn’t the blogger - his post would have been dead in the water until a member of the supposed MAINSTREAM media decided to make it an issue.
With free speech comes the freedom to understand that it’s one person and one point of view, and the freedom to NOT further publicize that view - especially if the view is kind of obscure in the first place - unless maybe you’re trying to stir up a sh*tstorm yourself.
Posted 06/17 at 05:51 PM
Geoff Baker said...
You’re right, Michael, I’m not going to leave comments unanswered when they’re misinformed. Too much of that out there on the internet, so this is my attempt to set the record straight. We have written plenty of clubhouse stories since spring training if you care to look, so, why make that up? In fact, my very last newspaper story from this road trip began by talking about a team meeting prior to a game in Baltimore that quoted Griffey exclusively right off the top. So, again, you’re not accurate.
Plus, I don’t know anyone in this business who measures “scoops’’ on the quality of quotes you get about stuff. That’s the kind of stereotype some bloggers have cast on reporters inside the clubhouse—as if we care about quotes like they’re something golden. Maybe in radio or TV. N0t in print. It’s just not true, not for the people any good at this business. We deal in information—quoted or otherwise.
You may be upset that a fellow blogger got told he was wrong in public, but your argument doesn’t become any stronger when you make stuff up. So please, stop.
For Sara, it doesn’t cast specific suspicion on anybody. It casts as much, or as little, as you want to believe. Just like the Sosa revelations cast as much, or as little suspicion on the rest of MLB players as you want to let it.
That’s different from naming those players one-by-one next to the word steroids in a headline. As one of your fellow commenters keeps pointing out. Hope that helps.
Posted 06/17 at 05:58 PM
Sara K said...
Well, ok, but the headline of the article is about speculation and the unfairness of it. It doesn’t accuse; it acknowledges that Ibanez is the victim of the preexisting blanket suspicion of all players whose performance suddenly changes (or seems to change). It allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.
Would it have been better for Morris to say that “All players with unusually hot starts this season are, perhaps unfairly, under suspicion”? This would leave the reader to ask, “hmm, which players are having unusually hot starts, and should I be suspicious?” This approach would have been much less specific than calling out a particular team, since a team name is just a short-cut for the names of the players who are on its roster.
I want to be really clear in my intentions. I’m not a blogger, and I’m not trying to attack you or journalists in general. I just really want to understand the rules of the information game. What Morris did seems more forthright and honest to me. He acknowledged the speculation that hangs over all players in Ibanez’s position, pointing out that there are many alternate explanations and that it is unfortunate that we can’t wholeheartedly embrace what is otherwise a great story. I feel like what you wrote invited people to engage in that very same speculation. If you had particular players in mind, why not point them out? Why leave it to the public to possibly start whispering about players who you had no intention of accusing? If you didn’t have certain players in mind, then it seems like you really did mean “all of them.”
I am not holding out hope that you would agree with any of this. But if a miracle should occur and you are somehow swayed, I would hope that you might agree that what Morris’s article did was “cast as much, or as little suspicion” as the readers brought to it. It was the reaction to the article that was over-the-top, not the article itself.
Posted 06/17 at 10:51 PM
Geoff Baker said...
You ask some very good questions. So, I will give you a detailed answer you deserve.
The biggest problem with what Morris did is he threw the steroids “issue” into the headline alongside Ibanez’s name. He writes his own headlines, so he is responsible for that. A headline is how you “frame” an issue. Trust me, I learned that the hard way with the “White Jays” thing that went atop my story six years ago. When you package something that way, people assume there’s meat to it, whether it’s what Morris intended or not.
Yes, Ibanez is part of some very general speculation about all players in particular. But when you raise the doubts about him as an individual as strongly as Morris did, it would be like taking any successful CEO—Bill Gates, Michael Eisner, whoever, in America today—and writing a headline with his name that reads: “Embezzlement talk perhaps unfair but…’’ just because we’re going through a fiscal crisis in this country brought on by corrupt business practices.
You can’t tar everyone with the same brush, no matter how angry the public mood. We’re not bullies. When you write for public consumption, which all bloggers, like it or not, are now doing, there’s a responsibility to defend rights against the mob mentality.
As someone on this blog pointed out, the “common consensus’’ used to be that being a black man in a nice car was reason enough to get stopped by police.
Well, that’s not good enough. I know the fans are sick of steroids revelations. I’m sick of them too. We’re all on the same side. But that’s still no excuse to go off half-cocked and start throwing names around as if they’re guilty until proven innocent.
My colleague, Larry Stone, recently wrote a column about Ken Griffey Jr. and, partway down, raised the steroids issue, because, as Morris rightly points out, it’s out there. But what Stone wrote was something along the lines that he’d never be so naive as to emphatically state that a guy is clean because he has no way of knowing.
But, he then added, there has never been any talk amongst baseball insiders, tests, or anything else to suggest that Griffey had ever done anything wrong and until he sees it, he’ll believe he’s clean and has no reason to doubt him.
Had Morris stated that about Ibanez, down in the body of his text, rather than in a headline, nobody would have batted an eyelash.
But he gave a voice to the “whisperers’’ in his headline. Whisperers who know nothing at all about whether Ibanez is taking PEDs. They are no closer to the truth than to knowing what the inside of a North Korean prison looks like. They may think they “know’’ but how could they? When you write that such talk is “perhaps unfair” the reverse implication by default is that it’s “perhaps not’’ unfair.
So, you can’t give a “voice” to just anyone.
Because if you do, then who knows when you, or someone you love, may become a target?
You can’t become part of a lynch mob of writers just because you write for a blog. You do have to adhere to “journalistic standards’‘. The law says so. And the same thing applies to public figures. You can criticize them, call Ibanez a buffoon of a left fielder, but you can’t imply—even unintentionally or indirectly—that he may have committed a criminal act of taking steroids.
What Morris did was sloppy and borne out of inexperience. And I guarantee you, it will become a case study.
And Sarah, I like bloggers and have worked with and gotten to know them well for two-plus years writing my Mariners Blog. We don’t always agree. And when we don’t, I say so. I don’t tell them what they want to hear just to be popular.
But with the added power bloggers are attaining comes added responsibility not to cross over the line. No newspaper would have written the headline that Morris did.
Rick Reilly really skirted the line with what he wrote on Adrian Beltre. I’ve already spoken out against Murray Chass for what he wrote about Mike Piazza and added, in the comments thread of my own blog, that Rick Reilly had better know something behind the scenes—other than pure guesswork.
With Reilly, it’s possible he knows something based on experience and contacts. With Morris, flat-out impossible. But if Reilly is guessing, he’s just as wrong.
And two wrongs don’t make a right.
Ballplayers, unpopular as they are on this, still have rights. And the biggest responsibility we all have is to protect people from unfairness when they’re most vulnerable.
Researching this steroids stuff takes years of legwork. Trust me, we all want to get there. I spent time in the Dominican and Venezuela researching lengthy steroid pieces in 2005 and 2006. It took time and money and I barely scratched the surface.
But throwing names out there blindly doesn’t speed up the process. It just undermines us all.
Posted 06/18 at 02:06 AM
Geoff Baker said...
Oops, sorry, it’s Sara, not Sarah. Apologies. Amd to you, Craig, for confusing Michael’s words with yours earlier on.
Posted 06/18 at 02:12 AM
Sara K said...
I think your example of the CEOs is a bit off the mark, since there isn’t an analogous pervading suspicion about all CEOs being embezzlers. What I am taking from your response is that the big issue with Morris’s article is the headline. I can see that, since there are probably a lot of people who scan headlines and don’t bother to read the article. Those people would have missed that the article itself is about the phenomenon of doubting the stories we most want to believe in, not an accusation of Ibanez per se.
Thanks for your time, Geoff. I appreciate your willingness to debate the issue and to articulate your position in more detail.
Posted 06/18 at 10:57 AM