This 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.
No, my skepticism involves how any ambiguities in the factual record will be spun and how the biographical fill-in will be slanted in order to make A-Rod out as a generally bad person. That’s not a skepticism borne of some predisposition to defend A-Rod. I admire his talents, but I’m not a huge fan. Rather, my skepticism is based on experience of reading Roberts’ previous work about Rodriguez.
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.
“Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account. Maybe the team captains are right. Maybe the allegations are baseless. But why is it so hard to gather the facts? Why is any whisper of a detail akin to snitching?”
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.
“Porn-style photos of two exotic dancers — one of whom was the accuser — emerged from cellphone camera downloads. Heated exchanges between players and dancers occurred. Racial slurs were heard. And in an ‘American Psycho’ reference, a repulsive e-mail message depicting the skinning of strippers was sent by a player, Ryan McFadyen, who, to his credit, has since apologized.
“To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined. No trial, all vindication. This microview has some passionate, respectful followers, but also a few loquacious bullies.
“Don’t mess with Duke, though. To shine a light on its integrity has been treated by the irrational mighty as a threat to white privilege.
“Feel free to excoriate the African-American basketball stars and football behemoths for the misdeeds of all athletes, but lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids.
“No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive.”
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.