Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Jeff Pearlman doesn't seem to understand

This is almost too complicated a series of linking for me to do this, hungover as I am, but here goes. Jeff Pearlman has written a column taking Jason Whitlock to task for a column (a wonderful column, IMO) which takes to task Selena Roberts for writing a vindictive invective (is that redundant?) about Alex Rodriguez's myriad personal problems. (No link necessary).

Jeff's a sometime reader of this blog, evidently a very nice person, and and a talented author whose only book I read I enjoyed immensely (the one about the 1986 "Nigh" Mets). However he just doesn't seem to get it here. Let's look

Ten years ago this December, Sports Illustrated ran my profile of John Rocker. The story sort of put me on the map as a journalist (which is funny, because it really wasn’t all that well written), but it also earned me a ton of scorn. In the days … months … years after the piece initially ran, I received myriad calls and letters, wondering when I would step up and apologize. In some quarters, the belief was that I had taken advantage of a young man. That, while his beliefs were certainly off, he was just a bumpkin, naive to the ways of the media.

Alas, I never apologized. Never felt I should, even though the outcry was pretty damn loud.

Three years ago, Selena Roberts wrote a piece for the New York Times that called out those Duke lacrosse players accused of sexual assault. Her column was unambiguously strong, and, many believed, took the young men to task for a crime it turns out they didn’t commit. In the days … months … years after the piece initially ran, the belief was that Roberts had taken advantage of young men. That, while she certainly had a right to an opinion, she hung these guys without proof.

Alas, Selena Roberts never apologized, either. Never felt she should, even though the outcry was pretty damn loud.

This is a longer block quote than I usually post, but I think it's essential. Look--let's look at this bullshit analogy:

1a.) Jeff Pearlman writes a mildly exploitative column in which John Rocker says a bunch of blatantly racist things of his own volition.

2a.) Some people claim that Rocker was too naive to realize the consequences of his blatantly racist comments and therefore Pearlman had done him an injustice in writing this column.

3a.) Pearlman felt pressure to apologize but did not.

Now the flipside

1b.) Selena Roberts write a column in which she uses the allegations of A FUCKING CRIME. THE WORST FUCKING CRIME THERE IS ACCORDING TO MANY PEOPLE. She uses these allegations of a crime (which turn out to be false) in order to attack what she perceives to be unacceptable NON-CRIMES going on within a sports program and university. She makes various connections between the allegations of the crime and the NON-CRIMES in order to attempt to get readers to infer that the allegations of the crime are likely true.

2b.) People think that this is inethical and that she should apologize for it.

3b.) Roberts not only does not apologize for it but gives myriad statements claiming that she was indeed justified in implying that a culture of what she perceives to be sexism somehow meant that these boys were more likely than not to be guilty of ONE OF THE WORST CRIMES IMAGINABLE

Surely it doesn't take a brain surgeon to see how shitty this analogy, but let's break it down for all the orthopedic surgeons out there. (Take that Dr. McGillicuddy. MRI my ass!) Jeff Pearlman's crime (if it was a crime) involved his use of discretion regarding FACTS--if Rocker said something racist, it was nonetheless said, irrespective of how naive Rocker was or whether Pearlman should have posed those quotations as excoriatingly as he did. Roberts's crime (if it was a crime. And it was. A crime that is) was rather that she took conjecture involving her interpretation of facts (pictures taken, broomsticks waves, American Psycho emails sent) and presented it in a way that suggested evidence of fact towards a judgment on the guilt of people who, as it turns out, were not fucking guilty.

In short: Pearlman is accused of putting too many facts in. Roberts is accused of using facts to turn a non-fact into a fact.

This is not a valid analogy, and one of the major failings of the thought process that leads to what follows:

Being completely forthright, I don’t think Selena handled it 100-percent righteously. The column was, in hindsight, too accusatory, and when the innocence was proven, she probably owed an “I was wrong” follow-up piece.

Not particularly relevant to Whitlock's point.

That being said, for my money Selena is one of America’s best writer/reporters.

Not particularly relevant to anything.

She was years ago, when she covered Tate George and the New Jersey Nyets for the Times, and she is now. Show me a big-time columnist who doesn’t wish he/she could take back some things that made ink, and I’ll show you a big-time columnist who doesn’t belong in the biz. Columnist go out on limbs. They take sides. The oftentimes leap before they look. Do you think, looking back, I’m happy I called for Joe Torre’s dismissal
in May, 2007? Hell, no. It was boneheaded, rash, moronic. I was wrong, but my pen (well, keyboard) never stopped me.

And certainly Pearlman shouldn't have written that Torre article
. But surely Pearlman can also see a difference between writing a column that impugns a player or coach's ability, and writing column after column after column, as Roberts has, that impugns a player's (A-Rod, for those of you scoring at home) moral fiber.

If Pearlman were to write a book exposing various he said she said bullshit allegations about Torre, his previous column would not establish a personal vendetta against Torre. It would establish that, at that time, he thought Torre wasn't getting the job done as manager.

OTOH, Roberts has established a personal vendetta (or at least something resembling that) about A-Rod's moral character. That makes her allegations more suspect than if she was not someone who, time and again, had written articles calling A-Rod phony, a bad teammate, and of weak character.

Furthermore, her Duke situation shows to an even greater extent her reliability when presented with facts--the way she is willing to play fast and loose with specious facts in order to arrive at what she presents as hard and fast conclusions.

Gee fucking whiz. Why oh why would hearsay that supported her foregone conclusion re: The Duke Case be relevant when evaluating her book, in which all her allegations are based on hearsay that supports what already was her foregone conclusion?

Good grief.

What truly bothers me right now are the growing legions of media sorts taking Selena to task; gleefully evoking Duke lacrosse—as if they’d never made a blunder themselves. Here in New York, Boomer and Carton of WFAN’s morning show seemed to take special pleasure in slamming away

How is it possible that Pearlman can't see the difference between a "blunder" that involved essentially convicting someone of something they didn't do whilst relying on specious (at BEST) evidence, and the "blunder" that he is about to use to impugn Whitlock's credibility (found below)? Especially since the majority of revelations that have leaked from Roberts's book involve using specious evidence (hearsay and conjecture about how "pitch tipping" MIGHT work or players who heard that "A-Rod was in on it") to reach a judgmental conclusion about A-Rod as a human being?

How is it possible he does not understand that? Is it possible he sees his own journalistic mistakes through the eyes of Roberts's poorly received invectives?

Pearl: It ISN'T. Your. Fault. (Will Pearlman respond: "Don't do this to me man. Not you man."? Tune in next week!)


(Several years ago, Whitlock was embarrassed nationally after it was learned that, during a Chiefs game against the Patriots in Foxboro, he taunted fans by writing a sign reading BLEDSOE. GAY? I thought it was just a stupid, silly mistake—but one that bothered many people. We all do things we regret). Others have followed suit.

Lol. He just. Doesn't. Fucking. Get it.

Here is why this is not relevant to this conversation: If Whitlock comes out and writes a tell-all book detailing how Bledsoe is a bad person, and potentially gay, this would be a relevant incident to mention.

Jeff Pearlman: confusing ad hominem arguments with reasonable questions of credibility since 199X. Like in this passage:

I’m not sure what the point here is, except that I hate the old Republican strategy of shifting the focus from the subject to the messenger.

What it boils down to is this. A-Rod has cheated. He's used steroids. He may have used steroids in high school. He may not have. He may have tipped pitches (and if he did, then that is an atrocious crime against the game of baseball, IMO) or he may not have. He may have "bitch tits" or he may not. He may have asked a trainer to bring him a cup of coffee. He may be insecure. He may be a bad human being. Hell, worst of all, he might even tip 15%!!!!!

Hell, I think I'm inclined to believe that all of the above are more likely to be true than not.

But you know what? When I'm looking at someone being accused of all these things, when the evidence is less than concrete (as it is for most of the above accusations) then SOME OF the burden falls on the credibility of the person leveling these accusations. Since journalists' sources are protected, that puts much of the burden of credibility on the journalist who is expressing these third party accusations.

Why is it unnatural that we inspect closely she who is leveling these accusations, and, finding her past wanting, adjust the extent to which we are willing to believe these accusations accordingly?

Don't answer that. It was rhetorical.


Bengoodfella said...

I think of everything you said, Jeff Pearlman is going to be the most angry you accused him of using strategies the Republicans use. That's just wrong.

I think what is bizarre is that when Pearlman wrote his Rocker article he actually had proof of things Rocker said that he was a racist, homophobic moron...there should be no comparison because Roberts doesn't have quotes that offer proof that's not speculation.

All Selena Roberts has, that I heard about at least, granted I have not read the book but I would imagine some sort of information would have come out that she has proof, is heresay that some players said A-Rod did pitch-tip or he did use steroids in HS.

There is no smoking gun and no real evidence. Sure, that is hard to get actual physical evidence he did both of those things, but if you are going to write a book about A-Rod and mention these things without tangible evidence, you had better believe someone is going to look into your credibility. Hence the response to the Duke rape case articles.

Jeff Pearlman would not have written an article and called Rocker a homophobe and a racist if he did not have the quotes and could prove what happened.

Anonymous said...

Great post. 'Nuff said.

cs said...

Yeah, great post CW...

Though the use of 'myriad' right after Pearlman's use of 'myriad' was a bit amateurish.

Larry B said...

All I have to say is that Roberts is a fucking hack. A successful hack (aren't they all?), but a hack all the same.

Martin said...

Jeff and Selena must still be good friends from his time at SI, because nothing else explains this. I expect better of him, I really do. Jeff and others keep talking as if she was writing some opinion peice on new lead content regulations in toys. As Whitlock points out in his article, Roberts was on Jim Rome's show and COMPLETELY MISREPRESENTED what she had written in her articles about the Duke case.

Jeff seems to be under some notion that the articles were different then they were. Perhaps he hasn't read them in awhile. I'm not sure. In any case, he doesn't get that those articles that Roberts wrote weren't "Sexism is bad, and these Duke guys need to learn how to be more mature" but were attack articles calling for these kids heads, SOMETIMES in instances when she knew the evidence against them was flimsy or downright not there. She was on an agenda driven witch hunt, and she was selling the torches. I think the same applies to the A-rod book.

Also, part of the problems people are having with Roberts book, and sorry if this sounds sexist, is that it's obvious she's never been an athlete, much less has any idea about what fantastic athletes are capable of. Several blogs and fitness/weight training experts have come out and said that not only is it possible Alex went from benching 100 pounds to 300, but fairly likely. Given a full year as he matures as a teen ager from never having done weight training before, and given that he's a world class athlete, very easy he could have gone 100 to 300. One can tell from her interviews and the excerpts from her book that this fact is mind boggling to her, and that she thinks it is ABSOLUTE proff he had to be on something as a high school student. In actuality, it just means she's a moron who really doesn't have a clue about the actual sports she writes about, or the athletes who play them.

Tonus said...

Good post, Chris. I think you nailed it pretty squarely. Jeff doesn't need to apologize because John Rocker wasn't able to think before he spoke. Jeff doesn't need to apologize for writing a column critical of Torre or the Yankees, so long as he doesn't get personal or otherwise crosses any journalistic lines.

It seems to me that Selena Roberts owes the public at least an explanation, and I think she does owe an apology to the Duke lacrosse players and to the university as well, for drawing some pretty harsh conclusions from flimsy (and in many cases incorrect) information. Otherwise the doubts about her credibility are valid. By not retracting or explaining a number of statements, as well as her disingenuous insistence that her approach never changed, it's not possible to take her at her word.

PS- I have no trouble believing the stuff she said about ARod, though I'd be a bit surprised at the part about tipping pitches. And I have a total man-crush on Jason Whitlock.

Chris W said...

cs: "Though the use of 'myriad' right after Pearlman's use of 'myriad' was a bit amateurish."

Shit. I didn't notice that. I guess that's why no one pays me! :(

Daniil said...

just click on Selena Roberts' name

This is the interview that Boomer and Carton on NY's the Fan had with Roberts. I thought it was well done and touched on a lot of the points of this post.