ESPN A-Rod Coverage Example of Bad Journalism

Unless you’ve been buried under books at the Gleeson Library for the past two weeks, you’ve heard the sports gossip story of the month, if not the year.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 while a member of the Texas Rangers.  While every media outlet in the country covered part of this story, ESPN out did them all with a week long soap-opera of the A-Roid Scandal that they disguised as real news.

ESPN’s short drama series was highlighted by an on-air “confessional” interview with Rodriguez that featured an uncomfortable amount of make-up, far too much hair gel, and far too few answers.  Hall of Fame sports reporter Peter Gammons dumbed himself down to questions like “Will baseball ever be as fun for you as it used to be?” and “Did you ever hear anyone call you A-Fraud in the Yankee locker room?” The whole thing was a poorly-prepared play, directed by the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”

The real story here is that Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003 during a drug test conducted by MLB of all of its players that was supposed to remain anonymous.  MLB collected urine samples of those players and said that if more than 5 percent of those tests came back positive, they would implement a drug testing policy the following year, which they did.  Furthermore, the list of the players tested along with their urine samples were supposed to be kept separate, in different labs, in different states, never to be put together, and were to be destroyed after testing as agreed upon by MLB and the MLB Players Association.  The tests were never destroyed, and when the BALCO investigation began what eventually led to the Barry Bonds indictment, the Federal Government executed a search warrant of the two labs and confiscated both the urine samples and the list of players that were supposedly destroyed.  The list and the samples were matched-up, and eventually Rodriguez’s name was leaked this month to Sports Illustrated.  You would think that with all the money MLB rakes in, they would have invested in a paper-shredder.

If ESPN was really in the business of sports journalism, the questions would have been for the league.  Why weren’t the samples and the list destroyed?  Who leaked the information?  What kind of breach of contract does this constitute between MLB and its players?  What was the league planning on doing with the information they had?  Is Gene Orza, one of the heads of the Players Association, under investigation and/or subject to any discipline for allegedly tipping off players as to when they are going to be tested?  Where is the list and the samples now?

Instead, ESPN dressed Rodriguez in bright colors and put him under more florescent lighting than Barbara Walters on “The View,” while he continued to lie during his “confessional” through his freshly-whitened teeth by reciting rehearsed answers to soft-ball questions that he was clearly prompted on.

He said he isn’t sure what he took because he was “young,” “stupid,” and “naïve.”  He said he started using steroids in 2001 and stopped in 2003 because he suffered an injury during spring training in Sunrise, Florida and had a “revelation.” Do you really think anyone believes you?  You get paid  a quarter of a billion dollars to play baseball (officially $275 million over ten years).

You know every food and drink that has goes into your mouth, and every syringe and needle that goes into your, well, use your imagination.  Moreover, anyone who is familiar with MLB’s testing policy knows that there was no policy until 2004, which is why Rodriguez stopped shooting up in 2003.  But, I digress.

If anyone at ESPN cared to do some real investigative reporting or cared to present real news instead of presenting their pointless and invaluable opinions as journalism, they would spend more time investigating why we know this information about Rodriguez in the first place and less time giving us a fake interview and analysis of that fake interview.

ESPN “Baseball Expert” Steve Phillips, in his post-interview analysis, compared Rodriguez to Britney Spears as a star who is falling apart before us, much like Phillips fell apart and was canned by the New York Mets for being a lousy General Manager, which is the only reason he is on ESPN now as a “Baseball Expert.”

The truth is, ESPN is not concerned with the real story because just as Rodriguez sold his soul for better statistics and just as MLB sold the purity of its sport for profit and big business, ESPN has sold its journalistic integrity for higher ratings.  They knew fans wanted to hear from A-Rod, so they agreed to ask him non-incriminating questions just so they could be the station with him on the air.

Maybe George Boddenheimer, the CEO of ESPN, and his fake journalism cronies should come to USF and take Journalism Ethics, where we are taught to present a balanced and accurate news story and investigate facts, not feed the public fake news and irrelevant opinions and call it journalism.

Nicholas Mukhar is a senior media studies major and journalsm and legal studies minor.


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