Selena Roberts: Hatchet Person

For all the accusations you will see and read being made against Alex Rodriguez, keep in mind the following; the main person behind the accusations has a history of attacking Rodriguez and has a history of being part of one of the most irresponsible smear campaigns in recent media history, the charges made against the Duke Lacrosse team. The hatchet person’s name is Selena Roberts of the New York Times.

Craig Calcaterra of Shysterball has written on Roberts treatment of Rodriguez before these most recent allegations. Check out his recent posts, here and here. An excerpt on Roberts role in slandering the Duke Lacrosse team:

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.”

Craig Calcaterra’s posts referenced are copied in full at end of this post.
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Why I’m skeptical of Selena Roberts’ new book – Craig Calcaterra – Thursday, April 30, 2009

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.
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The New York Times’ A-Rod Hatchet-Job – Craig Calcaterra – Friday, December 7, 2007

The biggest reason why I was so convinced A-Rod wasn’t going back to the Yankees was the notion that no reasonable person — especially one with skin as thin as A-Rod appears to have — would want to put up with the devastatingly bad press he endures in New York day-in and day-out. My thinking was that he would do almost anything to go play somewhere where he’ll just be left alone to play ball. Of course I was completely wrong about that, which has taught me a lesson about trying to figure out what’s going on in a ballplayer’s head.

But I wasn’t wrong about the press, and this morning’s New York Times contains the latest broadside against the Yankees’ third baseman. The charges? (1) A-Rod owns some low-rent apartment buildings in Tampa and some residents are complaining; and (2) A-Rod’s charitable foundation has been surprisingly inactive. While both of these subjects are legitimate topics for discussion, the rhetoric employed and conclusions drawn by the author, Selena Roberts, are way over the top.

While the article features some complaints from a handful of residents of one of the several apartment complexes A-Rod owns, Roberts amps up the condescension, accusing Rodriguez of “profiting off struggling families,” and claiming that “[t]he veneer of Alex Rodriguez’s real estate empire of working-class housing is staged to disguise his inner Mr. Potter.” Rather than simply note that Rodriguez wouldn’t comment on the story, Roberts goes ad-hominem and says “Repeated efforts to reach A-Rod through three layers of publicists — think booby traps around a precious stone — were unsuccessful.”

The relative inactivity of A-Rod’s charitable foundation provides another platform for Roberts’ curiously charged rhetoric:

An examination of his high-rolling corporate side, as well as a glossy A-Rod Family Foundation short on largess, reveals a portrait of Rodriguez as a player about to enter Yankee Take II solely for business purposes, primarily as a branding tool. He emerges as an obsessive pursuer of cold, hard numbers on and off the bases, with serially disingenuous nods to his ever-challenged image.

The evidence that Rodriguez only cares about charity for image purposes? That he is, in Roberts’ words, “a cheap tipper?” (1) that he hasn’t donated much to his relatively inactive foundation; and (2) that Derek Jeter “while he may have I.R.S. issues,” has given $2 million to his foundation in the past nine years. How this is an indictment of Rodriguez when, in the very next paragraph, Roberts herself notes that Rodriguez has given nearly $4 million to a scholarship fund and to build a practice facility at the University of Miami is beyond me. Indeed, the practice facility donation is used against Rodriguez, as Roberts derisively notes that “the practice facility is named Alex Rodriguez Park.” How dare he.

Rodriguez may be a bad landlord (though it’s worth noting that Roberts quotes only three of his tenants, two of which complain and one of which says that the place is clean), and his foundation may not be well-run or well-conceived, but nothing in even this hatchet job of an article justifies the rhetorical bombast and personal attacks made by Roberts. She and the New York Times obviously set out to kill Rodriguez and do so, in a manner that would make the Post and Daily News blush.

Alex: you still only have a deal in principle. You haven’t signed anything. It’s not too late to pack your things and head out west. The only thing you’d risk by doing so is some bad press. You’re getting that anyway, in spades, so why not leave?
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in Miami Marlins & MLB and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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