Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Accuser On Trial

Finally, the gods seem to be aligning for Alex Rodriguez. The day before he is supposed to play his first game of his career after his steroid confession-circus and the publication of Selena Roberts damning book, "A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez" Manny Ramirez gets a 50-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy. Finally, the spotlight might not be so harsh on A-rod's case.

However, another thing has been happening—also in Rodriguez's favor. Journalists are starting to look, really look, at Selena Roberts' career, her motives and her public record.

Jason Whitlock, not normally the most insightful journalist, wrote an interesting piece on FoxSports.com regarding this subject. In it, Whitlock questions Robert's credibility—with interesting results. "Her sourcing for the most damaging allegations, by her own admission, is either anonymous or non-existent." He then goes on to question her motives for investigating Alex Rodriquez by bringing up Roberts coverage of the infamous Duke lacrosse rape case and her subsequent response to the teams' exoneration. "Roberts' reaction to the exoneration of the Duke lacrosse players calls into question her credibility. By refusing to acknowledge her mistakes in the Duke case, she creates the impression that her agenda trumps the truth."

Whitlock really digs in to Roberts. In summation, Whitlock basically says that Roberts is—with the Duke lacrosse case and the A-Rod book—is out to prove her larger social point: that sports is corrosive to young men and creates a false sense of entitlement. And she is willing to fudge facts and sacrifice people's lives to prove her point.

Strong words. And impossible to prove. That said, it interesting to note that Roberts in an recent interview regarding her Rodriguez book claims she “buttoned up every single hole to make sure to be absolutely right . . . It’s like being in court—once you say something, you can’t just strike it.” Those Roberts words are interesting to note because, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com had this to say:

It took me less than an hour to find a mistake in A-Rod, The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez , the Selena Roberts book that debuted this week.

And I wasn't even trying.

I got to page 79, read that A-Rod was "hitting a dismal .105 . . . with April nearing its chilly end," and that he then met with a guy named Jim Fannin "in a downtown Milwaukee hotel room." I wasn't covering A-Rod in 1996, but I was covering baseball. And it seemed stunning that he could have been hitting .105 near the end of April. It took me all of three minutes on baseball-reference.com to find out that he wasn't. No, when A-Rod was hitting .105, it was April 7, six games into the season. And while the Mariners had just finished a series against Milwaukee, it was at the Kingdome, not at County Stadium. And while the Mariners then left on a road trip, they went to Detroit, not Milwaukee. The Mariners' lone trip to Milwaukee that season was in late July, not late April.

Granted, this is small potatoes credibility-wise—it has nothing to do with whether Rodriquez took steroids or not—but in a small sense it has to do with whether artifice and "scene-painting" had anything to do with Roberts story. If she claimed she was "buttoning up every hole," then why such sloppy errors which such easy-to-check facts?

More damning is the Durham-in-Wonderland blog. On the site, they go through Selena Roberts' New York Times articles on the Duke lacrosse rape case. The point-by-point corrections of her "facts" and assertions are damning to say the least. Here is a small sample of the blog quoting Roberts' articles and their corrections:

According to reported court documents, she was raped, robbed, strangled and was the victim of a hate crime.

Roberts was in a world of her own in describing a search warrant as a “reported court document.” (The Times was forced to run a correction several days later.) No item in the case file—“reported court document” or otherwise—ever contended that Crystal Mangum was the “victim of a hate crime.” The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.

[Mangum] was also reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.

Roberts’ description of the medical reports was false. The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.

Players have been forced to give up their DNA, but to the dismay of investigators, none have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.

This statement was outright false (the three captains gave detailed “eyewitness accounts,” including DNA samples, which they gave voluntarily). The Times never ran a correction, and Roberts has never acknowledged her error.

For days, Durham residents and Duke students have rallied on behalf of sexual-assault victims, banging pots and pans, hoping to stir more action out of Duke’s president, Richard H. Brodhead. The indignation has been heartening . . .

That Roberts, like the Group of 88, considered it “heartening” to see protesters blanket the campus with “wanted” posters or carry enormous “castrate” signs speaks volumes as to her values. Roberts has never retracted or amended her praise for the potbangers.

Jason Whitlock picks up from there. In his May 7th, FoxSports.com article he quotes a recent Roberts interview regarding her Duke Lacrosse coverage.

"I have always separated what the crime was ... and what the culture was. It didn't have to rise to the level of a crime to rise to the level of a column. And I wrote about the culture at Duke, and there's no doubt about that. I stand by that today...These women had pornographic pictures taken of them and distributed on the Internet. These women had racial slurs yelled at them. That is indisputable. There were broomsticks waved at them. That is indisputable. The issues that happened that night, separate from the crime, were in my opinion — and people can disagree with this — were worth writing about."

Whitlock then writes: "Here's what's also indisputable: At no time in her original Duke lacrosse-bashing column did she mention anything about pornographic pictures, racial slurs or broomsticks waved at strippers. She wrote about rape, robbery, strangulation and a hate crime. You can read the column for yourself here."

What does this all mean? Frankly, we don't know. It could be that Alex Rodriguez is truly guilty of every single thing Roberts asserts. Or, it could be that Roberts became a little too zealous to show the underbelly of the sports world, to further her own cause. Or it could be something in the middle. And its a shame. If Rodriguez is in fact, truly guilty of the crimes Roberts asserts, then he deserves to be punished. But in Roberts sloppy journalism, it may just be that any hope of finding the truth will lay buried.

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