Steve and I have been sparring lately over the credibility issues inherent in the whole Roberts-Rodriguez brouhaha. We recently debated the issue by email, and the following is our unedited conversation. I post it because I think a lot of the pertinent issues from both sides of the fence are brought up, and encourage you to post in the comments section your thoughts on both the specific issues raised here and the broader issues of anonymous sourcing and journalistic credibility as well.
Moshe: The upcoming Selena Roberts book seems to be thinly sourced and based primarily on hearsay. That being said, you seem fairly confident that most of the allegations will be shown to be true. Why so? Also, do questions about Roberts credibility temper your conclusions?
Steve: Its the nature of the book business and journalism, which I don’t think either Alex or his defenders understand.
First, you can’t publish allegations like she’s made without having multiple sources. If not, you can get sued for millions and you can’t stay in the Book business for long getting your ass sued off all the time. If anything, I guarantee she had loads of other material which wound up getting edited out by the legal staff because it wasn’t solid enough legally.
Second, these lines of inquiry, even the ones getting into his personal life, are all fair game. Alex is the one who has presented himself as things which he is not. He presented himself as the “Clean HR King”, the steroid information she dug up found that to be a lie. He talks the game of a good teammate, the stories about him hitting on teammates wives show that wasn’t true. He’s presented himself as having an enormous respect for the game, the pitch tipping scandal showed that to be bogus. He presented himself as a ‘clean liver’, the endless parade of floozies and PED’s show that to be false. Over and over again, Alex is the one who has sold a story to the public which was false. Roberts has simply exposed Alex’s own lies for what they are. Don’t shoot the messenger. When a high profile Televagelist is caught in a hotel room with a hooker, its big news. Why? Because he has presented himself as something he is not. Alex has done the same thing for
years. Had he said nothing, it would be nobody’s business. But he brought it up, so its open season.
Finally, Selena did nothing wrong in the Duke Lacrosse pieces. First, she was writing editorials for the Times back then, not hard news pieces. She was entitled to her opinion and it was a reasonable one given what we knew when they were written. People seem to forget the context in which those pieces were written. Her sources for those pieces were people that came from the prosecutor’s office. The same office where the DA was thrown out of office and disbarred for suppressing evidence. If the DA was her source, its easy to see how and why she was mislead. A journalist is only as good as her sources, and if one of them is willing to go so far in lying to a Grand Jury, I see no reason to believe he didn’t lie to her as well. She believed him, and got burned as a result. It happens, but she didn’t do anything wrong as an editorial writer, whose job it is to take sides in debates.
Moshe:I have to disagree on multiple fronts. Firstly, while she may have multiple sources, none of them actually know anything, as all she has in terms of evidence is speculation and hearsay from various anonymous players. In regard to the pitch-tipping in particular, multiple Rangers have come out and refuted that story. Conversely, Shane Spencer, who is admittedly one of Roberts’ sources, said that it was a rumor that he heard in the clubhouse, and that if he had actually seen it, he would have stopped it. Multiple Rangers have echoed that thought. When the book places stories with hard evidence (the 2003 failed drug test) alongside those that are based on innuendo and rumors, and presents them both as being equally valid and equally supported, that is irresponsible and journalistic malpractice.
I think another issue here is the dichotomy between the two types of information that Roberts is trying to sell here. On the one hand, she wants the book to be taken seriously as a journalistic endeavor. On the other hand, she puts forth the Page 6 type stuff, which is certainly fair game, but is something that I think detracts from the legitimacy of her important arguments. People find it hard to take the pitch tipping allegation seriously when it is pages from an “undertipping in Hooters” allegation.
Lastly, you are way off on the Duke Lacrosse case. She misrepresented evidence and was rebuked by her editors for that. She turned the entire case into a broader racial and class based issue, almost single-handedly starting a furor and alleging a coverup that did not exist. Worst of all, she never apologized. In fact, she specifically did the opposite, stating that her columns remained true even after the charges were dropped. She convicted the players in the court of public opinion without a trial, and most importantly in terms of analogizing to our current situation, did nothing to corroborate evidence. Why should her journalistic integrity and ability to follow-up properly on bits of evidence be trusted now? Why should I believe that she is not, once again, depending on innuendo and faulty sources? Why didn’t she speak to Michael Young, Alex’s closest friend? She has been writing anti-Alex columns for a while now, and I do not think that she deserves the benefit of the doubt here, considering her past.
Steve: On The Duke case, we know the prosecutor mislead everyone, including the grand jury. Why you fail to cut her any slack for being mislead (as many other journalists were) makes no sense to me. She didn’t apologize because she was editorializing based on bad information, she’s not a mind reader or a fortune teller. The kidnapping and sexual offense charges were still pending against all three players even after the charges were initially dropped. The prosecutor wasn’t convicted of wrongdoing until 7 months after the charges were dropped. Its easy to look back now and criticize, but given what she knew at the time her positions were pointed (as a good editorial should be) but understandable.
Moshe: Nope. Firstly, there was evidence upon which she was not mislead- she mischaracterized certain items as court documents when they were nothing of the sort, and the Times was forced to issue an apology. Further, a journalist who is mislead by a source should certainly apologize, and I am not sure what the rationale against that would be. If you judge people based on faulty information, you need to make amends when the information turns out to be false. Additionally, her editor admitted that they were negligent in not realizing the nature of the prosecutor, and were certainly at fault for failing to corroborate any of the evidence that they were fed. You stated that these stories always have multiple sources. It seems that Roberts has a history of going forward with a story with just one source, comfortable in its accuracy as long as it fits with her agenda.
Steve: A journalist who is mislead by a source has no obligation to apologize. How would that exactly go? “I was lied to and therefore I’m sorry”? Makes no sense.
And multiple sources are required for news pieces, not editorials. Editorials are as the old saying goes ‘one man’s opinion’. Or in this case, one woman’s. You and I opine on single sources every day of the week. The vast majority of TYU posts are based on one source or article. Yet Selena Roberts isn’t allowed to for some reason. Someone needs to explain that to me.
Moshe: ”I was lied to and therefore I am sorry.” Basically- or more accurately- “I am sorry for the judgements that I made based on bad information that were printed in the world’s largest newspaper without any independent corroboration.”
In regard to the one source thing, this is a blog. We do not get paid for this, nor are we expected to have the same journalistic standards, in terms of sources, that an editorialist for the NY Times should have.
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