Missing Steroids

Jason at IIATMS has a major post up this morning about how the baseball press missed the steroids story. There are many good points there, and the most comprehensive cataloging of reporter mea culpas on how they missed the story that I’ve seen to date. At the moment, however, it is this passage that has me thinking:

But the real crux of this discussion lies at the feet of the reporters covering the teams. As with anything, what did they know and when did they know it…and why didn’t they say anything as soon as they learned of something? Questions we’ll never really know the answers to. Some writers, Buster particularly, have been self-critical. Others less so. What started out as a search for some of Buster’s notable admissions and self-admonishments, brought me to an article that’s two and a half years old, but as relevant as ever . . .

. . . The writers and reporters could have done more. Should we have EXPECTED more? Maybe. But honestly, how many of us are strong enough to risk our careers to be a whistleblower? You need to feed your family, a professional identity to cultivate or protect. I can see how and why some chose to cover their eyes and rejoice over McGwire, Sosa and the rest.

I’m not willing to be as sympathetic. Yes, I’m aware of the long tradition of baseball writers looking the other way, but I think it’s a poor excuse for journalistic failure. And it was a failure, brought on by the fact that, unlike any other genre of journalist, sports reporters are essentially expected to be beholden to the subjects they cover. Maybe sports isn’t as important as politics or international affairs or the economy, but wouldn’t we all be better off if the same standards, or at least something close to it, were applied to sports reporting that apply to those beats? Wouldn’t we know more? Wouldn’t it cultivate a deeper interest in the games we watch?

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  1. kevin said...

    I’m a journalist. It’s not just the sports media that is regularly (and, often, correctly) accused of being co-opted by its subjects. All entertainment media falls into the trap.  Most business journalism does, too. Just take a look at the cover articles from Money, Fortune, Forbes, etc., in the past few years; were they sounding the alarm about AIG, subprime mortgages, and so on?  Not until very late in the game.

  2. TL said...

    Baseball was booming and that helped everyone including baseball writers and they weren’t going to say a word.

    Sports writers are too busy getting caught up in the athletes. They dreamed about being these guys and having their talent. And when it became obvious they didn’t have they decided to get as close to the sports as they could – by being sports writers.

  3. pete said...

    They had no reason to write it then. They to do know. To be sanctimonious.

    Doing the right thing for the wrong reason doesn’t make that person more righteous. It makes them an opportunist. They took the low road then, and it doesn’t lead to the high ground now.

    Hear, hear.

    The writers, and even the group of players, who looked the other way for years but now want to lash out at guys like ARod are the same kind of sanctimonious scum as the guys in management who did the same.

    Frankly, I have more problems with a guy like Roy Oswalt, who undoubtedly saw and heard an awful lot over the years but wants to trash ARod, than I do with actual steroid users.

  4. MooseinOhio said...

    Bringing back the Schilling discussion from a few days ago because he is a great example of blustering in the wind after the explosion has already occured.  What microphone was Schilling standing in front of 5 years ago, 10 years ago or when at any point when maybe it would have been a real revelation.  In short I agree with Pete when I hear folks like Oswalt and Schilling get righteous after the fact as I find it somewhat disengenuous. 

    I appreciate Olney’s willingness to turn the spotlight on himself and his profession and admit that he and his colleagues, for the many human reasons he shared, may have not properly investigated the story.  Just like we want the players to do I believe members of the baseball media who want to maintain their credibility should admit their mistakes and faults in not covering the story. 

    Acknowleding why they did not report on what was a major issue in the sport but not a major story because no one was willing takes the risk to uncover the truth is the first part of the process in assuring that they remove the blinders.  Otherwise they are no different than Oswalt or Schilling and anything they write about personal integrity and doing what is right for the sport should be read in the context that it is the walk, not the talk that truly matters.

  5. Chipmaker said...

    I’m gratified to see this angle of the steroids era finally getting some coverage—the utter abrogation of responsibility by the media.

    Every one of the sports reporters of the time must have known the names “Woodward”, “Bernstein”, and “Pulitzer”. This was a very low-hanging fruit, left unplucked.

    Fold up against that failure the various major award winners (some unanimously)—Caminiti, both Rodriguezes, Gonzalez, Sosa* (and the robbery of McGwire behind him), Tejada, and Himself (and probably others)—and there’s some ‘splainin’ to be done. Omerta among the players is understandable, even traditional; not so for the media.

    * Though Sosa still has nothing material against him, just curious timing and interesting physiology.

  6. kendynamo said...

    i dont personally have a problem with reporters not blowing the steroid whistle back in the 90’s, early 00’s.  nor do i think it’s an ethical issue.  i simply dont think it was there job.  plus i would resent it if someone told me how i was supposed to have managed my career, given how devestaing it would be if some local beat reporter starting trying to out players he was covering in the locker room, especially with the scant hard evidence he or she wouldve had.

    that said, what bugs the hell out of me is to hear reporters bitch and moan about how selfish players in the past tarnished the game and its legacy.  THOSE are the jerks who need to have said something earlier, if indeed they are legitimately outraged.  im looking at you, awful tom boswell and awful wallace matthews.

  7. Chipmaker said...

    Yeah, to clarify, though I am sore disappointed that reporters—who have locker room access, see the player physiques, must pick up some buzz—did nothing, it really gets up my nose that now they just turn around, wring their hands, and start with the denunciations.

    You collectively had your chance, BBWAA. Point those guns into the nearest mirror, as well, do.

  8. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    I noted this at the bottom of my post (thanks for the linkage, CC), who was to blame for this mess:

    Clean players: For not tipping off writers. For not yelling louder to their Union leaders. For not demanding more stringent testing.

    There’s more but that was relevant to the Oswalt/Schilling chatter above.

  9. Melody said...

    I think it’s not just in sports that the media is beholden to the people they cover… in fact, I’m much more worried about the prevalence of that pattern in political coverage.  At this point, a lot of the major media outlets have as much invested in Beltway politics as the politicians themselves—they’ve become name celebrities, and in a sense they have an interest in upholding the system that created them.  I don’t think that’s necessarily a conscious objective, but it’s there nonetheless.  I don’t think it helps that the business model controls newspapers and other media to an extent that it didn’t in previous decades.  More papers or news outlets taken over by giant corporations, and more pressure from everywhere to show profit, or show more profit, or show MORE profit.  Not good for news, which should have an ultimate goal other than profit.  A goal which is central to the functioning of our democracy.  There’s a reason the media is the only industry explicitly mentioned in the Bill of Rights.  It’s not like other industries—it has a special role to play in order for our country to function the way it should.  It’s not just a business.

  10. kendynamo said...

    i think the lobbyists in our country would also claim to have their profession enshrined by our sacred federal document in their right to petition government.

    also i dont see how you’re goign to extricate the business out of journalism.  people have been complaining about that problem since before the bill of rights.  will funding media outlets with tax dollars make them LESS beholden to political interest?  should they all be charities?  instead of worrying about stuff like that just be more cynical.  its a far easier solution and fun too.

  11. Pete Toms said...

    Melody, I think newspaper owners would be thrilled to see ANY profit!  Don’t worry, big media is dying quickly.

    Great post by Jason.

  12. Ron said...

    Even if they had reported what was going on, why would they have done it?

    The writers weren’t going to do it out of some noble sense of right and wrong. They were going to do it because it was a story that would sell, and a way to get noticed for it.

    The reason they didn’t report it wasn’t because of a fear of their jobs, or their reputations, or how the players percieved them. They didn’t write it because it wasn’t a story then.

    They had no reason to write it then. They to do know. To be sanctimonious.

    Doing the right thing for the wrong reason doesn’t make that person more righteous. It makes them an opportunist. They took the low road then, and it doesn’t lead to the high ground now.

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