Beyond The Hype: When Is A Story Not A Story

By Diane M. Grassi, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: August 10, 2009

NEVADA (BASN) — At a time when rumor and innuendo in sports journalism has arguably never been more pervasive, one would hope that the current active senior statesmen of their craft would still have an interest in maintaining their once high standards.

As prominent newspapers in cities large and small are folding, to wit, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, sports coverage is being depleted.

In addition, many regional newspapers are sharing content and sending fewer personnel to cover Major League Baseball (MLB) games this season.

In Los Angeles for instance, only 2 newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News of Los Angeles are covering the Dodgers; down from 12 a decade ago.

The New York Times is cutting back on MLB road trips for the NY Yankees and the NY Mets, in the publishing capitol of the world. The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun are sharing stories for coverage of the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals.

Over all, the number of baseball writers in the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is down 65 writers from 2008 and its total is now725, including non-active members. That does not include those sportswriters who are not members of the BBWAA.

The argument will wane as to whether this is all relative specifically to the economy, exacerbated by the expanse of the internet. Perhaps newspaper proprietors, generally corporate holding companies that preside over numerous assets and businesses, are using the economy as an excuse to downsize.

Whichever it is, however, when a journalist perhaps sees the writing on the proverbial wall, does he or she then deliberately bend the rules to remain relevant?

Such apparently appears to be the case as evidenced in a July 27, 2009 NY Daily News column written by highly regarded sportswriter, Bill Madden.

The piece was titled, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig Mulling Pardon For Hit King Pete Rose. The NY Daily News still enjoys the 5th largest newspaper circulation in the U.S. and remains an exclusive property of publisher, Robert Zuckerman.

In Madden’s column, published the day after the 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he “broke” the story that MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, “is said to be seriously considering lifting Pete Rose’s lifetime suspension from baseball.”

The source of his information? Madden goes on to say, “The tipoff that Selig may now be inclined to pardon baseball’s all-time hit king was Hank Aaron’s seemingly impromptu interview session with a small group of reporters….on Saturday.”

Aaron also spoke publicly regarding his stance on steroid users. But what Madden honed in on was when Aaron spoke about Pete Rose. Aaron said, “I would like to see Pete in. He belongs there.” That quote was apparently enough for Madden to frame a complete story and to put the whole broadcast media and press corps in a tizzy.

Here is his own logic: “It is no secret that Selig considers Aaron one of his closest friends and values his opinions over perhaps all others…..It was also learned that in a meeting of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, two of Rose’s former teammates on the Board, Vice Chairman, Joe Morgan and Frank Robinson, also expressed their hope that Selig would see fit to reinstate Rose.”

Madden goes on to say, “Another Hall of Famer familiar with the situation” also joined the chorus for Pete’s admission back into baseball, which potentially could allow his admission into the Hall.

And Madden added, “According to another source, the behind-the-scenes lobbying process began 5 years ago, but stalled because Selig was still not satisfied that Rose was ‘reconfiguring’ his life.”

This prompts the question: Was that Madden’s version of a journalist’s “Who, what, when. where, why and how? Not to those journalists who take such questions seriously.

Madden apparently had doubts himself when on the following day, July 28, 2009, he wrote a NY Daily News column titled, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig Will Not Ease Up on Pete Rose.

Since Madden’s first article’s title was fancied to purport fact, it came as a surprise that the very next day he would write a column almost as if someone other than himself had written the supposed news the day before.

However, prior to his near “retraction” article on July 28th, Madden’s name bounced across America from television and radio networks to new media outlets online to other newspaper dailies, and Madden was promoted as the guy who got the “scoop.” Pretty clever, eh?

As momentum built, before sunset on July 27, 2009, it was a “fact” that Selig was entertaining reinstatement for Rose. And everyone knew that Bill Madden got the exclusive.

The only problem? No one had told Bud Selig about his supposed intention. And for a guy covering NY sports for 30 years, Madden erased any doubt that he was not now well known. Unfortunately, no so for his best work, but for arguably committing a neat publicity stunt of sorts.

Given the climate of broadcast and newspaper outlets offing their talent near retirement age, it makes sense in some circles that Madden would want to gain instant and unabated relevance.

And few ever read or heard about Madden’s follow-up column the next day on July 28th which he began with, “Despite growing sentiment from a number of influential Hall of Famer’s – most notably Hank Aaron – that 20 years has been a sufficient sentence for Pete Rose for betting on baseball, Bud Selig insists nothing has changed from his stand point.”

But most curious is Madden’s conclusion in the first paragraph as he denotes, “And I’m coming to the belief that he’s going to remain so as long as Selig is commissioner.”

He goes on to state, “The image Selig has been carefully crafting for himself over the past 2 years is that of no-tolerance….So how would it look now if he pardoned someone who broke baseball’s cardinal rule?”

You have to love this guy. A day later he draws a conclusion as if the original article never existed, but based upon his own reporting and history with Bud Selig on the Pete Rose saga.

So the only conclusion we can conclude is that Bill Madden knew better, but needs to be part of the national spotlight, whether his reportage is accurate or not or even belies what he really knows.

The underlying point of citing Bill Madden here is that it sets a bad precedent not only for sport journalists but the state of journalism generally.

For if a guy, supposedly well regarded and one of the most powerful sports writers in New York City, has to stoop to such rubbish to bring unearned attention to himself, then what kind of example does it set? It goes against the Journalist’s Creed, which is incumbent for the survival of the Fourth Estate.

And you will be interested to know that Bill Madden is one of 3 finalists for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award to be voted upon this November and to be awarded at the 2010 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The award is the highest one bestowed by the BBWAA to its membership.

However, winners are not “inducted” into the Hall of Fame but rather “enshrined” by way of a permanent exhibit within the Hall’s library. And Spink Award recipients also enjoy lifetime membership on the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee that elects those players who are past their 15 years of eligibility on the ballot, as well as non-player candidates.

So why Madden’s self-scribed hype? To keep his job? To get another job? To win the Spink Award? Or to do it because he can get away with it given his good reputation?

Whatever the reason, he certainly was not thinking of his journalist brethren and those who strive to report the facts and for whom it still matters. It would be refreshing to hold on to that last bastion of good journalism, given the times in which we live.