Jockbeat: A-Rod, A-Rod, Selena Roberts, and all that Chass
According to a report by the Sporting News, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, is being panned all over the place and "isn't exactly flying off the shelves."
Since you can't access my May 8 review of the book on Salon.com (because it is a subscription service), here are a couple of my criticisms:
"Roberts, a former New York Times columnist, is the Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story that Rodriguez had tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone while he was with the Texas Rangers; he subsequently admitted that he had used the substances all three years he was at Texas, from 2001 through 2003. In terms of criminality, this is petty stuff; at the time, Major League Baseball had attached no penalties to the use of either drug, a point that the media (which has been roasting Rodriguez on a regular basis for years) hasn't yet realized. The rest of the book seems to be an attempt to build a case that Rodriguez has done something much worse than that, but as in the old Bob Dylan song, nothing is revealed. Almost all of the book's major assertions are unsubstantiated...
"Two players supposedly close to A-Rod (they are unnamed, sigh!) claim, 'He has used HGH [human growth hormones] while with the Yankees based on the side effects they've seen.' Put aside the fact that human growth hormones are not the same as steroids; what exactly are the side effects of HGH? (Roberts never tells us.) And how would these two players be qualified to identify them? The reader is offered no clue."
I urge you, though, not to take my word for it. Though the New York Times has yet to weigh in on A-Rod, Murray Chass, a Times columnist for nearly 40 years, leveled a devastating shot at the book and its author on his website. Chass calls A-Rod "a journalistic abomination." That phrase probably won't appear in any advertisement for the book, but it should alert prospective readers what they would be getting."
Roberts, writes Chass, "makes far too many serious allegations about Rodriguez to hide them behind anonyms quotes ... There is far too much in this attack book for Roberts to expect readers to take it on faith that her anonymous sources are real and that they can be trusted." Reporters, he contends "have to establish their credibility with their use of unidentified sources for readers to accept them." For the record, Chass reminds his readers, he and Roberts "were once colleagues at the New York Times, and I can't say she established that credibility. She also didn't strike me as being a top-flight reporter. As a result, I don't feel I can trust her book full of anonymous sources.
"I should also disclose that after Robert became a columnist for the Times, I found her baseball columns to be shallow and superficial, and she demonstrates her lack of baseball knowledge in the book."
A-Rod, Chass concludes, "is big on innuendo. In fact, her use of it should earn Roberts the title of Queen of Innuendo."
I urge all interested readers to check out the full text of Chass's column for details.
I take issue with only one of Chass's particulars: "Had she written these same reports for the Times," he says, "very little would have made it not the paper." I respectfully disagree. In fact, Roberts has been guilty of some highly irresponsible in the past, and it's to the shame of the New York media that it was the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock who called her on it. "Not long ago," he wrote in his May 2 column, "sportswriter Selena Roberts compared the Duke lacrosse players to gang members and career criminals.
"She claimed that the players' unwillingness to confess to or snitch about a rape (that did not happen) was the equivalent of drug dealers and gang members promoting anti-snitching campaigns.
"When since-disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong whipped up a media posse to rain justice on the drunken male college students. Roberts jumped on the fastest, most influential horse, using her New York Times column to convict the players and the culture of privilege that created them. Proven inaccurate, Robert never wrote a retraction for the columns that contributed to the public lynching of Reade Seligmann, Colin Fiinnerty and David Evans. Instead, she moved on to Sports Illustrated, a seat on ESPN's 'The Sports Reporters,' and a new target, baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez."
I have only one quibble with Whitlock's column: Rodriguez was at least guilty of something, however trivial. Anyway, you can read Whitlock's column as well as Roberts's indictment of the Duke students.
It's hard not to conclude that Selena Roberts is guilty of sloppy and irresponsible reporting on two major issues. And instead of being called to task for it by her colleagues -- especially at the New York Times, which hasn't found a Roberts credibility issue yet that it couldn't ignore - she has been inexplicably rewarded. You get the feeling reading Murray Chass's column that he was saying loud and clear what no one at the Times had the guts to say. Shame on everyone in the New York sports media -- myself included - for allowing a Kansas City reporter to say what we should have said.