Friday, March 24, 2006
Stankeye Quote of the Week 3/24
-Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi in Jeff Pearlman's book The Bad Guys Won.
Schiraldi is notorious for blowing Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series. Carter has repeatedly said over the past 20 years that he knew the Mets could come back against Schiraldi because he was a coward. This is poor Calvin's response.
-Instead of suing for libel, Barry Bonds's lawyers are taking a different route, asking a judge to freeze all of the profits going to the authors of Game Of Shadows. The lawyers argue that because much of the material in the book was gathered illegally (from leaked grand jury testimony), the authors should not stand to profit from the book.
I don't profess to be any kind of expert in media law, but to me this is a silly tactic, because I don't see how Bonds can win. Even if the authors came across illegally disseminated information and published it, that is well within their right. As reporters, it is their job to gather such information and report it to the public. As long as they themselves obtained the information legally and innocently, they can't be sued, and that seems to be the case here. As I understand it, a third party leaked grand jury testimony to the San Francisco Chronicle, so the one in the wrong would be the leaker, not the Chronicle or Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. If they had stolen the documents or killed someone to get them, then obviously it'd be another story.
The 2001 case of Bartnicki v. Vopper provides a good comparison here, and though it deals with illegal wiretaps instead of leaked court documents, the argument is essentially the same.
I assume Bonds's lawyers went this course because they realized that a libel suit would probably be fruitless. Few people realize that it is incredibly difficult for a famous person, especially one as famous around the globe as Bonds, to win a libel suit. Bonds would have to prove that the authors showed actual malice in their book, that they published bogus information just to smear his name. Given the supposedly vast mountains of evidence they've compiled, and that they're seemingly just reporting on, it'd be very difficult to prove that. And a libel suit is now pretty much out of the question anyway, because Bonds's lawyers have, in essence, acknowledged that the facts contained in the book are in some way true by suing to freeze the authors' profits instead of arguing libel.
See the kind of boring crap you learn when you're a journalism major in college?
-Apparently ESPN Radio windbag Colin Cowherd is a big, fat plagiarist.
Season starts in a little over a week. Yeeeee-haawwww!!
Good point about the court ruling that allowed illegally obtained evidence. But do you think a taped conversation and an alleged leak (that nobody can validate) have the same weight of evidence? In one case, anyone who listened to the tape can make an interpretation of what they heard. In the other, no one can dispute the hearsay. Additionally, the court decision you cited was based in part because the subject matter of the illegal wiretapping was of public interest, affecting a labor management negotiations. Disclosing that negotiators conspired to make a deal has a different level of public need-to-know than Barry Bonds taking steroids.
I like what the Bonds attorneys are doing because I personally believe that reporters must maintain their independence to a story. It’s a simple principle of ethics. Without ethics, we couldn’t rely on anything that was published. As soon as they have something to gain personally, they loose that independence and they violate journalistic ethics. They could not confirm their story unless they had multiple persons providing the leaks, and they had a vested interest in interpreting what they heard to sell their story. I would have higher confidence in the story if the book’s proceeds were donated to a charity, and if the authors didn’t proactively promote the book, or themselves. As a journalism major, what do you think? What do your professors think?
It’s nice to see a big organization like the San Francisco Chronicle standing up for their employees, but they too have a vested interest. They have been publishing the articles about Bonds by these two guys for months, and they absolutely need to stand up behind the published word, even if its not the truth. It would be interesting if the readership took up a movement to cancel subscriptions unless the paper took a stand on ethics. What would happen then, if 5% or 10% of subscription revenues were lost. I’m afraid Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams would be on their own.
Proving liable against a public figure is hard, but the case starts with proving the story was untrue. The defense against liable is truth. I guess my biggest question is, if they have the truth, why hasn’t Bonds been charged by the FBI? Based on an account from Fainary-Wada himself on KNBR, the FBI is allegedly investigating the story, and has been for months. Should I believe that two reporters from the Chronicle are more equipped to find the truth than the FBI? That makes me uncomfortable at best. Your conclusion that the book contains “vast mountains of evidence” which in turn proves Bonds is guilty assumes that their interpretations have been correct, and their sources truthful.
The Shadow evidently reported not only on leaks that are not confirmable, it crawled into Bonds head and tells why he did what he is alleged to have done. These guys are good! They can discover the truth about motive, intent, and fact.
I suspect the truth is that Bonds and hundreds of athletes, pro and armature, have been taking substances to enhance their performance for years. I also suspect that Bonds is an easy target, and the Chronicle reporters knew that anything controversial about Bonds would sell papers, (and it they were lucky, become a pathway to fame and fortune). And, I understand that doing a piece about some struggling double A player trying to hang-on by using steroids would not be as sexy as tearing down Bonds. The story is not one that takes the high road on an issue, as much as it takes the express elevator to the penthouse.
Just one more insight. I love hearing the people on talk radio concluding that Bonds is a user because he is so big. Did you see Ken Griffey Jr. in the WBC? He’s huge! Yet I haven’t heard anybody say he uses. He might be too.
First, even if the evidence is not really of public interest, it doesn't matter. The Shadows authors are still within their rights to publish it. I know that in the Bartnicki case that was a major factor, but this is a 1st Amendment issue. Once the information is out, it's out. The courts can't restrict a newspaper from publishing that information; it's an infringement on free speech and freedom of the press.
As far as the FBI question goes, Bonds isn't being investigated because, simply, drug use is not a crime. Possession is considered a crime, and if Bonds at one point used a controlled substance, it would just be a waste of the government's time and resources. Drug users are seen as victims, that's why the FBI goes after the big guys, the pushers and sellers. It's why they're going after BALCO and Victor Conte, not Bonds. Also, I specifically noted that there were "supposedly" vast mountains of evidence contained in the book. I certainly question the validity of the sources that the two authors have pulled from, but the book is being plugged as the most concise and in-depth indictment of Bonds's steroid use yet, so hence the "supposedly".
Everything else you say in the post, Mr. Anonymous, I completely agree with. Athletes have been trying to get that extra edge over the competition since the beginning of time. What is steroids if not another form of one-upmanship? Does it make it right? Of course not. Does it make steroid users despicable human beings? No.
The whole thing illustrates how crappy the media is in reporting this issue. Instead of doing the research and inquiring about how much steroids have really affected the game or how they really will affect a baseball player, the media is out going after the big guys because it sees what it always sees, dollar signs. Of course they don't report on the AA scrub who takes HGH as a last resort. No one gives a shit about that guy. They do, however, love to see a guy like Bonds, who isn't exactly a beloved individual anyway, raked over the coals. Again, alluding to Sometimes a Great Notion, people like to watch bigs things come crashing down. It's human nature.
The media is like any other business, they want to make money, and the way to make money is to appeal to their audience's bloodlust for big names getting torn to shreds Scandals and sensationalized stories get people's attention, and soon we get morons like Dan Wetzel adopting a holier-than-thou attitude like he's never done anything unethical in his life.
The authors of Shadows are no different. It is perfectly fair to question their journalistic integrity in this whole matter, and it would be much better if the proceeds did indeed go to charity. However, the legal matter is completely different from the ethical one. Sure, the lawyers might have a good point that these guys are only out to make a name for themselves, but again it becomes a free speech issue. These guys may be assholes for going after Bonds for profit, but that's still within their rights as given by the 1st Amendment. It's a dicey issue, but that's my take.
It's a story that's become ridiculously overblown and is going to become a debacle, like the Scott Petersen case or the O.J. Simpson trial. Unfortunately, it's not going to go away.
I think we can all agree that it'd be nice if everybody'd just shut up so we can play some baseball.
(OK, so that wasn't brief at all, but hey, my penchant for ranting is hard to contain.)