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Thursday, April 30, 2009
Why I’m skeptical of Selena Roberts’ new bookThis morning I wrote that, while the facts are the facts when it comes to the A-Rod business, and that they will ultimately bear themselves out (or not), we should be mindful of the characterizations and judgments that accompany those facts:
Which in some ways illustrates my skepticism about the book. Not about the facts as such -- facts have a funny way of proving themselves right or wrong on their own, and once the book is out and A-Rod and his lawyers and publicists have their say, the allegations in this book will take on either an air of credibility or not. Lord knows after Clemens and Bonds and everything else, no steroid-related fact will shock me.
As some people mentioned in the comments, there is more than Roberts' previous work on A-Rod to be considered when assessing whether she has committed an act of responsible journalism or a drive-by character assassination. For example, there's Roberts' work on the Duke lacrosse case. Via Timeswatch.org, here's what Roberts wrote in March 2006, in a column that Timeswatch says "seethes with the presumption of guilt":
"The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke's lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings. Something happened March 13, when a woman, hired to dance at a private party, alleged that three lacrosse players sexually assaulted her in a bathroom for 30 minutes. According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime. She was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.
Later, as the erroneousness of the rape charges and prosecutor Mike Nifong's perfidies came to light, Roberts took on a defiant tone. After noting how much hate mail she had received for earlier reporting, Roberts continued:
"What happens if all the charges are dismissed? There is a tendency to conflate the alleged crime at the Duke lacrosse team kegger on March 13, 2006, with the irrefutable culture of misogyny, racial animus and athlete entitlement that went unrestrained that night.
Roberts concluded the piece by seemingly suggesting that the false rape charges and prosecutorial misconduct were worth it in the end, if it opens up Duke to "change" and positively impacted the culture of spoiled white athletes. Like a lot of people, I wasn't very critical of the first reports, but post-Nifong, Roberts' latter article was nothing short of astounding.
But don't take my word for it. A much longer and scholarly handing of Roberts' reporting on the Duke lacrosse case can be found in this law review article, the conclusion of which was a real humdinger:
[The New York Times] largely ignored the law of defamation in its reportage on the Duke lacrosse case. Chest-thumping newsworthiness or news creation became its mantra, if not its mode of operations. Maybe this is the unfortunate true legacy of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the most important defamation decision in Anglo-American legal history: that the media may largely act unconstrained by defamation liability concerns because of the practical difficulty of litigation and the huge obstacles to actually collecting an award.
Before I go any further, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear:
(1) I don't dare propose that anything to do with A-Rod rises to the level of seriousness of the Duke lacrosse case; and
(2) I have no idea if the facts reported in today's Daily News piece or any of the other facts in Roberts' upcoming book are true or not.
Indeed, as I've said three times today, I don't even think that I care if the facts are true or not, because the facts don't interest me as much as the way in which they are presented, the context, and the conclusions they cause Roberts to draw. For all I know, A-Rod was eating minotaur adrenal glands three times a week until last Thursday and has been involved in every underhanded baseball operation since the death of Hal Chase. Such matters will be borne out as true or false in a mostly orderly fashion over time.
What I do care about -- and the reason I have quoted all of this stuff by and about Selena Roberts -- is the culture of character assassination that has become inextricably linked to the subject of steroids in baseball. Every big name who has tested positive has not only been branded a cheater by the media, but a dirty cheater with evil and chicanery in his heart. Every assertion of innocence -- even to subordinate allegations -- has been met with scorn. In addition to censuring players under the rules of baseball, the media (and the public at large following the media's lead) has further demanded that high-profile steroids users be ostracized, and that the historical record be expunged, as best it can be, of their very existence. It has been a shameful few years in this regard, and I hope and pray that one day some semblance of perspective on the subject of performance enhancing drugs in baseball prevails. But we're certainly not there yet.
Enter Selena Roberts. The same Selena Roberts who has already demonstrated a clear interest in making Alex Rodriguez into a villain. The same Selena Roberts who smeared the Duke lacrosse players. Even if we concede that she gets the facts right in her upcoming book, can we have any faith that she presents them with even a semblance of balance, as opposed to surrounding them with innuendo, rumor, conjecture, and false sanctimony?
And before you ask, yes, that stuff is important. It's important because whatever we think of Alex Rodriguez the baseball player, we cannot forget that Alex Rodriguez is also a person. That he's a father. That because so few people will actually get to know him personally over the course of his life, books like Roberts' and the surrounding media storm will forever be his calling cards, whether he likes it or not. In light of this, the man -- or any other person who becomes the subject of intense scrutiny -- should be afforded some basic fairness in such endeavors. Report the truth for good or ill, but be double damn sure about the character judgments you draw about him in the process.
As I said this morning. It's one thing to say that A-Rod lied about certain things and broke certain rules. It's another thing to say that he did so because he's an inherently evil or damaged person. I have no problem with the former. Based on Selena Roberts' track record, however, I am extremely skeptical of anything she writes positing the latter.
UPDATE: I have some more thoughts on this here.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 4:23pm
chris K said...
This is some vintage Roberts from back in 2004 I found quoted in an old BP article:
In mid-March, New York Times columnist Selena Roberts hacked and mocked her way through a piece on Beane and Moneyball, including this car accident of a paragraph:
“At 42, Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] (a k a The No-Life Institute). But with its philosophy filtered through his Ivy League predecessor in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, Beane applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70’s fringe writer Bill James.”
Posted 05/02 at 01:15 AM
Every big name who has tested positive has not only been branded a cheater by the media, but a dirty cheater with evil and chicanery in his heart. Every assertion of innocence—even to subordinate allegations—has been met with scorn.
That may have become the case in the last couple of years as the extent of the steroid problem was gradually exposed. But for years many years previously, it was precisely the opposite. The “culture of character assasination” directed its venom at anybody who dared to suggest that steroids were prevalent in baseball (Jose Canseco, anyone?). It was all kill the messenger, all the time, for a long time. Baseball’s old boy’s club closed ranks around steroid denialism, and almost everybody, tabloid journalists included, played along. Is there any question now that this failure to examine the issue in a timely manner exacerbated the problem considerably? Let’s not let this happen again; let’s take these accusations seriously. The genie is out of the bottle, and scapegoating Selena Roberts won’t make this go away.
Posted 05/02 at 03:02 AM
This makes me question the motives of a Mr. Calcaterra much more than that of Ms. Roberts, frankly.
Pretty ironic to write a piece trashing Selena Roberts… accusing her of trashing somebody else…
Posted 05/02 at 01:43 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Alskor—ask me any question about my motives you’d like. Anything not clear from the post I’d be happy to illuminate for you. I don’t think anyone is getting the same offer from Roberts, whose reasons for so obviously hating Rodriguez are oblique at best and her sources wholly anonymous.
And it’s not ironic to “trash” Selena Roberts for her trashing of someone else. Indeed, it’s quite appropriate, as she should not be expected to be held to different standards than anyone else.
But like I said, the offer is open: ask me anything you’d like about my motives. I have no hidden agenda here.
Posted 05/02 at 04:40 PM
Alex Rodriguez has admitted to cheating the sport while in the midst of a guaranteed $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. He lied to 60 Minutes and never would have voluntarily admitted to cheating without being outed by SI researchers. In fact, NO MLB player has admitted wrong doing in this matter until either caught or out of the game.
Thus, reporters have every reasonable cause to question his veracity. He could have been viewed as baseball’s clean savior coming to take some hallowed records, but he proved to be a cheater, like many others in his era, most of whom are still in the closet.
Does all this make Rodriguez Attila the Hun? No, it simply documents him as cheating his sport and repeatedly lying about it to any and all. (His personal life is his own with which to deal.)
After his spring training press conference, Rodriguez did not even have the good sense to keep away from his cousin whom he said was his one and only steroid supplier. The Yanks had to ask him to dissociate.
Let Roberts and others write all that they want and we shall judge the quality of her work. SHE ain’t the biggest problem in this mess, and though she may be at the vanguard of information to date, she is not the only one searching for the truth. Stay tuned.
And good luck, Yankee fans, you can have him and all the Samsonite he carries.
Posted 05/04 at 02:58 PM
Jorge Costales said...
Thanks for the institutional memory on the issue of Roberts and Rodriguez - great post
Posted 05/04 at 09:27 PM
Terry Meinberg said...
I am a 60 year old man and I think Selena is a disgrace to her profession. She should be called the “B” word. I hope she has nothing in her closet because if she does someone should go looking and bring her down to earth and bury her with her own style.
Posted 05/05 at 01:02 PM
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