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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
The Common Man said...
With respect, Geoff, it’s not a blind process. Morris wasn’t tossing David Eckstein or Joe Mauer out there to chum the waters and stir up trouble and…I can’t think of any more metaphors to mix…because he thought it would be fun. He looked at Ibanez’s performance, which is an outlier in the rest of his (very good) career, and tried to figure out why he was suddenly performing so well, especially at Ibanez’s age. He discusses ballpark, quality of competition, and sample size. And he discusses an elephant in the room when we talk about 35+ year-old sluggers who suddenly discover a new level of ability.
Certainly, Morris’s headline did not reflect the tone of the rest of his article, and we can certainly fault him for that. But the rest of the piece seemed, to me, to be thoughtful and careful regarding Ibanez’s performance, the lack of any kind of PED evidence, Ibanez’s repeated denials, etc. So, Geoff, title excepted, is it fair for Morris to talk about Ibanez’s performance in the context of the steroid era and the possibility that he may have used? From your comments above, it sounds like you’re ok with Morris and others raising this possibility, which seems to be in stark contrast from your blog post a few days back, when you wrote “It took some guts to wade into this topic. But when you go all-in, you’ve got to go all in. He didn’t do that. When you write about topics like killers, or Hell’s Angels, or major leaguers and steroids, you can’t pussy foot around. You’ve got to go at it hard, directly, with no b.s. and be able to defend yourself afterwards. This blogger couldn’t because he went in only halfway. He tried to raise the “steroids issue’’ then claimed he really wasn’t pointing a finger at Ibanez.”
Posted 06/18 at 11:21 AM
Jack Marshall said...
I know this is the “bash Geoff Baker” thread, but his above articulation of what was wrong about the Morris article is 100% correct. (So was his embezzler analogy. The fact that there isn’t that actual suspicion doesn’t matter—his point is that if there was such a suspicion, it would be wrong to finger a Bill Gates simply because he was a CEO.)
Craig was correct in pointing out that Baker’s Mariners piece was close enough to what Morris did to raise the specter of hypocrisy, but those who are hypocritical can still be perceptive about why conduct is wrong, even if they engage in it themselves. Pointing out Geoff’s mistake is no defense of Morris.
Posted 06/18 at 11:23 AM
Bill @ the daily something said...
Major respect for jumping into a conversation like this, but seriously. The headline? “The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows.” If your position is that it’s objectionable to have a player’s name and “steroid” in the same headline, that’s just untenable. And it would be hard to write a more innocuous headline that *does* feature those two things. It adds nothing to what already exists—a 37 year old off to an uncharacteristically good start is going to garner some steroid speculation in the modern fan’s mind.
What Morris did, though I find it annoying and borderline unreadable, is absolutely indistinguishable from the entirely-circumstantial-evidence-based speculation the MSM has spent years engaging in w/r/t Sosa, McGwire, and countless others (and how about non-sports writing: how many times do you suppose somebody goes missing and you can find the name of their loved one or relative and “murder” in the headline?). The differences I can see are (1) it’s a blogger, (2) some reporter brought it to the player’s attention for his own inscrutable ends, and (3) it’s Geoff’s buddy Raul.
Posted 06/18 at 12:19 PM
Jack Marshall said...
That’s just not correct, Bill. There was NO valid circumstantial evidence at all (and circumstantial evidence can be valid, probative, and convincing: defendants have been convicted by juries on strong circumstantial evidence.) for raising suspicions about Ibanez…a hot start in a third of the season in a new league, team and park—-that’s simply not at all like what caused suspicions about McGwire et al. Look at McGwire: you had hs physical growth, his nagging injuries, his admitted use of pre-ban andro over the counter, Canseco’s first-person accounts in his book, MM’s record-setting home run burst, his shrunken appearance post-career and his shame-faced and absolute refusal to answer repeated direct questions about his PED use under oath. That’s substantial…indeed, I’d have a hard time rebutting the presumption that based on all that, MM did use PED’s. “Absolutely indistinguishable” from what Morris was writing about? Nonsense. It’s clearly distinguishable.
Posted 06/18 at 12:37 PM
Bill @ the daily something said...
Probably don’t need the lecture on circumstantial evidence, thanks.
He’s 37. He has a 163 OPS+ against a career high of 125 and pre-‘09 career average of 113. He’s hitting 51 HR/650 PA against a pre-‘08 career average of 22 and career high of 31. You can argue that it’s distinguishable by degree or amount (though a lot of what you mention about McGwire came up long after the speculation started, at least McGwire had established a reasonably similar level of performance earlier in his career, and the list re. Sosa is a lot shorter), but to say “there was NO valid circumstantial evidence at all” is positively ridiculous.
If a B student suddenly is the one kid who gets 100% on the hardest test of the year, is it libelous for the teacher to suggest (without by any means deciding) that he MIGHT have had some help?
I can’t believe I’m defending this. I have no interest in steroid speculation, and I hated Morris’ article. But he was absolutely within his rights to publish it.
Posted 06/18 at 01:05 PM
The Common Man said...
Bill, Jack’s main issue is less to do with rights, I think, and more to do with what he believes is ethically right. I think there are legitimate questions as to whether Jack’s perfect world ethics are reasonable expectations of individuals. If Jack has never done anything ethically questionable, he’s the first since Jesus Christ, who I believe has returned to Earth and is catching for the Minnesota Twins.
Jack, again I think it’s important to point out that Morris didn’t finger anybody. He raised the point that steroid use has to be an acknowledged possibility, though not necessarily a likelihood, in any instance where a slugger suddenly jumps in performance in his late 30s. As I wrote earlier in this discussion, there are clear analogies to this, “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 06/18 at 01:22 PM
Jack Marshall said...
If you don’t need the lecture, then please stop using “circumstantial evidence” as a synonym for “weak evidence” or “invalid evidence.”
Who said Morris didn’t have a “right” to publish his crappy article? Not me. He has a right to publish whatever irresponsible, hurtful, dishonest drivel he wants short of libel, which this wasn’t. Just because he has a right to do it doesn’t make it right to do it. (I’ll spare you the lecture on that.)
Yes, a B student who suddenly aces a test should have the benefit of the doubt if there is nothing more than the unusual performance, and unusually good performance is not circumstantial evidence of wrong-doing absent more, such as previous evidence of character deficiency. If a teacher suggested in his blog that my son was cheating (while “defending” him by suggesting all the other ways he might have excelled), based only on one test, I’d have his head.
You act as if speculation is its own justification. It isn’t. Speculation about McGwire and drugs based only on his performance was unfair. The fact that it turned out to be right is irrelevant. I always had a gut feeling that John Edwards was a lying, phony sleazebag based on little but instinct and the fact that he was a trial lawyer and cared way too much about his hair. It would have been irresponsible for me to write an article saying, “there have been whispers that John Edwards can’t be trusted and is probably the kind of guy who would cheat on his dying wife, but here are some reasons why that might not be true.” As it happens, I was right. It doesn’t change the fact that the article
Posted 06/18 at 01:35 PM
Bill @ the daily something said...
I get the sense that you’re not really sure what you’re arguing. Or that you’re arguing just to argue.
But, fine. If you want to call it “unfair,” then whatever. I might even agree with you. That’s way, way short of what Mr. Baker and others are saying about it. And whatever it is, it’s no more or less fair than the kind of speculation the MSM engages in all the time.
Posted 06/18 at 01:41 PM
Jack Marshall said...
And when the MSM is that unfair, it is wrong, unprofessional, and it should be called on it. Just like Morris. That’s all.
Posted 06/18 at 01:55 PM
Geoff Baker said...
For Common Man,
Most of the Morris piece was harmless and he did attempt a well thought-out essay on stats. Which is why it made no sense to take the steroids angle and throw it into the headline of a blog that otherwise had nothing to do with it.
Unless, that was his true intention all along. To raise the steroids angle under the guise of a well thought-out stats piece. Morris has since written and told me he truly had no ulterior motive and I accept that on its face. But giving equal prominence to “whisperers’’ about steroids in a piece that was 90 percent about something else makes it appear he was taking a back door route towards suggesting Ibanez might be a user.
And that’s where my “go all in’’ statement comes from. Either you’ve got the goods to put it in a headline, or you don’t. And if you don’t, then don’t try to sneak it in there. In both the headline and his phrasing further down. Both were too strong for what little Morris had to go on. I used the example of what Larry Stone did vis-a-vis Ken Griffey Jr. That’s about the extent Morris should have gone in order to be fair and not make it look like he was strongly hinting at something else about Ibanez with an otherwise routine blog post.
There are lots of people having huge years that are outliers. Ichiro Suzuki is 35 and having his best season since 2004. He had his worst season last year. Going to mention “steroid whispers” in a headline and story about him?
For Sara K., if you don’t like my CEO and embezzlers line, just substitute it for “top bankers” and “fraudulent mortgage underwriting”.
Posted 06/18 at 02:02 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
“Ichiro Suzuki is 35 and having his best season since 2004. He had his worst season last year. Going to mention “steroid whispers” in a headline and story about him?”
Don’t tempt me, Geoff . . .it’s a slow news day . . .
Posted 06/18 at 02:04 PM
On June 2nd, Craig posted a link to, and brief discussion of, Bill Simmons’s article postulating that David Ortiz’s sharp decline was due to the fact that he was older than he claimed to be. The evidence in favor of this charge was Ortiz’s sudden fall off a cliff (though now he seems to be clamboring back up that cliff) and the fact that he is Dominican and kinda sorta friends with Miguel Tejada who did, in fact, lie about his age. The evidence against was Ortiz’s physique and the fact that other players with similar physique and stats have fallen off the face of the earth at the same age as Mr. Ortiz. I argued at the time that Mr. Simmons’ suggesting that Mr. Ortiz is a liar and a cheat based solely on his country of birth and the people he might associate with was irresponsible and perhaps even racist (though certainly not maliciously so, it just strikes me as dangerous to make an argument about someone that uses his or her nationality/ethinicity as the prime piece of evidence.) I was mostly shouted down and one commenter was kind enough to introduce me to reality. I would posit, now, that Simmons and Morris engaged in exactly the same kind of journalism. Both condemned (or more accurately, cast damning accusations at) players based solely on association. Simmons sought to explain a player’s decline by suggesting he might be a liar and cheat based only on a guess and the fact that others in similar situations were guilty of being liars and cheats. Morris sought to explain a player’s rise by suggesting he might be a liar and a cheat based on only a guess and the fact that others in similar situations were guilty of being liars and cheats.
I have two questions then. Question one: Mr. Baker, Craig, fellow commenters, am I right in equating these two pieces of journalism? Question two: Mr. Baker, if you choose to take the time to respond, could you tell me if there’s a reason you would criticize Mr. Morris and not Mr. Simmons?
Posted 06/18 at 02:25 PM
Jack Marshall said...
JW: They are virtually the same, and you shouldn’t have been shouted down. I’d argue that lying about one’s age (fraud) is not as serious as PED use, but that’s a close call. Sammons’ article was unfair and irresponsible too.
Posted 06/18 at 02:32 PM
Thanks for the answer; I’m genuinely curious about what other people think. It’s funny though, when I was writing the above comment, I originally had writtena: “I was shouted down and disagreed with by most commenters on that post other than Jack Marshall” but then I decided it would be inappropriate to drag your name into a comment that you had no input on, ya know, since it would be tantamount to saying you agree with my P.O.V. without asking you first.
Posted 06/18 at 02:44 PM
“And when the MSM is that unfair, it is wrong, unprofessional, and it should be called on it. Just like Morris. That’s all.”
Agreed. Which makes Baker’s response, “Jerod Morris is not Rick Reilly,” ridiculous.
Posted 06/18 at 02:47 PM
The Common Man said...
Thanks, Geoff. That’s a well-reasoned explanation and I appreciate your help understanding your thought process. Headline and phrasing aside, I still think the debate within the vast majority MSM has had more to do with a punk blogger raising the possibility of PEDs, rather than one of their own. It’s been (in my opinion) largely a reaction to the medium in which the possibility was delivered and the lack of “credentials” that the writer could point to.
And while I appreciate that your article regarding the 2003-4 Mariners does not single out any specific names as potential users, giving individual players an “out,” as you say, I’d argue that by using that broad a stroke, you’re bound to get a little paint on everyone. And personally, I don’t see a discernible difference between speculating about 13-14 guys (you were talking about hitters only in the article), and 1. Both articles still cast suspicion on individuals (and Morris’ article, like yours, leaves a significant out if you don’t believe player(s) in question is a doper).
Again, thanks. Not enough of your colleagues are willing to engage fans of the game like this and to have these kinds of discussions. Your enthusiasm for dialogue is refreshing.
Posted 06/18 at 03:04 PM
Tom M. Tango said...
The original up-in-arms problem that MSM had with Morris is that they treated him as a wannabe journalist, and that he failed to uphold their standards. But, that was not the standard that Morris was trying to uphold. Rather, he was writing to his own standards. And, as far as I can tell, his standards are being sincere, inquisitive, and resourceful.
Geoff’s position on Morris seems to have evolved (which is good) to the point that the issue is that Morris introduced “steroids” into an otherwise decent article. That by doing so, he forces readers to infer more than Morris meant. I think we can all get behind that.
If this is the true problem with the Morris article (that he went all Bill O’Reilly on us by calling out “Pinhead” because it’s an attention grabber), then in no way is there a controversy here. The worst you can call Morris is showing bad taste, and having an unclear thesis. MSM should focus on O’Reilly, Hannity, Rush and the rest of the gasbags. Those guys make MSM look bad.
So, the Morris article, that he went O’Reilly on us, is what made Ken Rosenthal be on the air for 9 minutes, shaking his head, and spouting ridiculous things like “Do you want this stuff being written about you?” ? (I find it hard to believe that any reporter would say this.) I have no doubt that Ken Rosenthal did not even read Morris’ blog entry.
And MSM’s initial reaction was to an event where a blogger exercised his rights to speak out, as he would with his friends or in a bar, without crossing the libel line (which Morris did not approach). MSM, instead of reporting the news, made the news, by asking Ibanez about something that he did not read but asked him to react to a one-line summary by the guy asking the question. And the rest of MSM reported on the initial MSM report.
I fully support what Morris did and how he did it. And Baker’s absolutely pithy response article (of Ichiro/chemistry… Craig did you link to it?) is the perfect rebuttal to Morris, about how you can basically ask a question about anything, and find some reasonable cause if you look hard enough. That Baker response shows that Morris was sloppy in saying “steroids”.
Being sloppy is not a reason to turn his niche blog into something widespread. However, I am sure Morris appreciates the publicity.
My blog had its own thread on the matter:
Posted 06/18 at 03:13 PM
Jack Marshall said...
Jason: Also agreed. I think Baker probably agrees too, based on his clarification here. As I know by sad experience, it’s dangerous being flip.
Posted 06/18 at 03:20 PM
Morris’ headline makes a lot more sense when you take it in the context of how he explained the genesis of his article. A friend in a fantasy league was jealous that Morris had Ibanez on his team and Ibanez was having a huge season, so his friend claimed that Ibanez’ performance was the result of PEDs. Morris set out to write an article disproving the “Suspicion of Steroids”, and took into account a few simple statistical measures which he assumed would put the issue to rest. Of course, what he found was that this quick study didn’t do much to explain Raul’s outstanding season, and therefore he had to consider that there were other possible reasons for the increase in performance, including, yes, steroids.
Now, given that this is why he wrote the article, and what he was trying to address, it makes perfect sense for his headline to be what it is. If Morris is guilty of something, it’s not considering the way the headline would be interpreted by anyone not privy to his fantasy league discussions, which, it turns out, is pretty much everyone in the entire world.
I didn’t get the impression that the headline was designed to raise controversy or point the finger at a guy or grab attention, but rather that it just made sense given the reason for the article and the way it was written.
Posted 06/18 at 03:31 PM
Posted 06/18 at 03:41 PM