Wait, why shouldn’t the media cooperate with MLB?

As the Biogenesis scandal moves into its next phase, the obvious question is what repercussions, if any, the players associated with Tony Bosch will face. MLB would like to investigate the matter, but most of the records are in the possession of the Miami New Times, and they aren’t sure they want to hand them over to MLB:

Here’s the truth: We haven’t yet decided what do with the records from Tony Bosch’s clinic. We’ve shared many of them already, posting them online last week after carefully redacting names of people we didn’t think were well enough confirmed or sufficiently newsworthy.

The question of whether to release the records is thorny, and there are few precedents. They were given to us by a source who requested anonymity. We will not divulge that person’s name. We take this responsibility very seriously.

Moreover, reporters are not law enforcement. Nor do we discipline anybody for anything. Our job is to transparently lay out the facts and let the public — and responsible parties — decide whether action is needed.

Of course, we do want justice. And as a parent of three kids who play sports, I want badly to discourage use of these drugs that endanger peoples’ health.

Interestingly enough, a lot of reporters don’t think that the paper should aid MLB’s investigation, and Calcaterra agrees with them:

Major League Baseball is a business, not the government. If the New Times’ exposéwas about goings on at General Motors, there would be zero chance at all that it would turn the records of its reporting over to General Motors management, so why on Earth is it considering it now?

This can only be explained by that allusion to the editor’s kids — please, someone, think of the children — and the very successful, century-long campaign by Major League Baseball to make people think that it is some sort of national institution instead of a for-profit business. It already got Congress and the Supreme Court to agree that it’s something greater than a business, getting an antitrust exemption out of them. It likewise pulled that stuff with federal agents and prosecutors during the course of George Mitchell’s investigation, getting them to use their power to give Major League Baseball something it would not have otherwise gotten (i.e. coerced/bargained cooperation from accused drug dealers) because, well, just because.

Craig’s point about the government’s cooperation with MLB and the Mitchell Report is well taken, and I absolutely agree with him that federal investigators acted improperly in that case, but at the same time, I don’t think this is the same thing at all. And I certainly don’t agee with Buster Olney comparing it to MLB’s “refusal” to release a full list of players who failed a dud test during the 2003 screenings, because baseball can’t legally release those names, per their agreement with the union that made it possible in the first place. As I see it, if the paper wants to cooperate there’s nothing inherently unethical about it, provided that they don’t burn any sources they promised anonymity to in the process.

And, frankly, I think the New Times has the m0st sober perspective on the question:

Major League Baseball is the only body that can sanction players involved with performance-enhancing drugs. Though the league passed tough new testing standards, which will take effect this year, they have proven at times ineffective at disciplining players for drug use. Only a handful of players — including San Francisco Giants star Melky Cabrera, who was named in our report — have been suspended for PEDs. Even Alex Rodriguez, who publicly admitted use of steroids a decade ago, hasn’t been disciplined.

Well, maybe a little childish, but the point about MLB’s authority here is a good one in my opinion. To borrow a point William Juliano made earlier: if this were an example of journalists exposing corruption in the police department or city hall, wouldn’t we want them to cooperate with an investigation as much as ethics would allow in the name of serving the public interest? Isn’t affecting some sort of positive change/result the whole point of this sort of investigative reporting in the first place? And, if not, then what is? To bump their web traffic and brand value? And yes, I realize that doping ballplayers isn’t as serious as dirty cops, but then MLB can’t toss anyone in jail either (well, just as long as Walter doesn’t open up a wormhole that tears apart the fabric separating our universe from Mike Lupica’s, anyway).

My view is that the paper should employ a balancing test of possible outcomes here, and that such a test argues in favor of handing over the papers. Without doing that, MLB probably can’t conduct any sort of meaningful investigation into the matter, which woud be a shame for everyone, really. Not only because the rule breakers would get away with it, but because anyone who might be in the accounts without having actually done anything wrong will forever be left to twist in the wind, judged only by the public and the media. And we all know what that will mean for them.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

6 thoughts on “Wait, why shouldn’t the media cooperate with MLB?

  1. Moskva81

    Good post – thoughtful and informative as usual.

    Question: so my understanding is the CBA pretty much bars any player being suspended unless they fail a properly administered drug test in the present. The public gets upset in situations like this because they think someone should get in trouble for a situation that certainly looks like illegal drug use (whether it actually is or not we still don't know). I'm guessing this stance is partly predicated in the average person's understanding that if their name was connected to drug ring they'd probably lose their job pretty quickly (whether they were in a union or not) and they don't think athletes should be allowed to get away with it.

    Putting aside issues of public perception, where does the labor agreement between the players union and MLB actually fall in the world of labor contracts? I mean to say, is their labor contract more or less stringent when it comes to drug policy than say for a GM worker? Did the players get an overly favorable contract in this regard because this is a professional sport (and not garment work) and they had leverage? Or was MLB in on it too because they also do not want players tested stringently and found guilty? Or is this your run of the mill drug policy that pretty much any union would seek and we're just dealing the case of an uniformed public opinion on drug laws and unions (and god knows there's plenty of that)? I realize these are large questions and perhaps some of the comparisons don't work, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

  2. Cs Yankee

    Another possibliity;

    MLB: "Turn over all papers so we can review them and question the source(s) properly"
    Paper: "Business wise, ethics wise, etc., we cannot do that"
    MLB to the public: "We tried every avenue possible to obtain these so-called records"

    All this works in MLB favor, as long as, the MSM has a bigger story to chase.

    • You assume people will understand that they can’t suspend everyone based on a newspaper report.

  3. lazlosother

    I don't think the records should be shared. There is a reason that sources for the press can remain anonymous. Show that they can't and info will dry up. There is also the fact that the records in this case seem to be unreliable – dates that don't exist on any calendar, a letter-non sequiter, etc.

    The last reason is that MLB should have absolutely no bully pulpit over the press as they are a business, not a governmental agency. The last thing we need is MLB having even more authority over the press than they already have.

    As far as journalists cooperating for the greater good, remember that deep throat wasn't exposed until he had passed away. This crap isn't more important than watergate.

    • BrienJackson

      Sharing information isn't necessarily the same thing as burning an anonymous source.

      • lazlosother

        True enough, but damn it makes me queasy. I still think they should tell MLB to go scratch. The press has no responsibility to help MLB enforce their drug policy and it would set an uncomfortable precedent. It would make people less willing to talk to the press. Add to that the seemingly unreliable nature of the info they have, and it makes the idea worse.

        I think if they were to provide the info the press itself will rip them apart.

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