Monday, May 22, 2006

It Is Just Never Ending: Chronicle's Bonds Bashing

Submitted for your perusal, another case of either missing the context or just plain ignorance and scorn for the truth: Sunday's "Shea Hey" column in the SF Chronicle by John Shea. Beyond the obviously lame reference to, and commercial hijacking and debasing of, the great Willie Mays' beloved nickname just to have a snazzy column name - which, I might add, took him many years to figure that one out apparently, as he has written for the SF Chronicle for years now - in Sunday's column he makes reference to the Barry Bonds' "wiping out of Babe Ruth" quote and how Bonds is apparently contrite now and has learned his lesson.

Too bad the Chronicle isn't contrite and learned their lesson and published that column. The part of that column I found particularly funny - and damning and defensive - is this sentence he had to insert there: "The Chronicle was there and taped it and published it." How childish! This is what I get from that, reading between the lines: "We were there and we taped it and we even PUBLISHED it, so that makes it the truth, cross our heart and hope to die, with the First Amendment on our eye."

As any long time reader of my writing has seen, I have lambasted newspapers for their coverage of Barry Bonds over the years. I've caught on to journalists, in general, who misinterpreted either what Bonds' said or did, just so they can have a nice column to write where they bash Bonds again. I'll have to update that one on this blog this summer. One blatant example of that is the "wiping out Ruth" incident.

"Bonds Isn't Guilty of Picking This Fight"

That is the headline of the a column that Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury wrote for the July 18, 2003 edition of that newspaper explaining how it was obvious to anybody in the room that Bonds was playing around, that he was not serious when he said it. And yet the headlines went out by other people that Bonds was disrespecting Babe Ruth, which was most hilariously capped by the press release the Executive Director of the Babe Ruth Museum seemingly sent out at the heat of the moment that he got the news from the press of what Bonds had said, but without the context of what actually happened in that presss conference. As I noted, I've written on this before, but I will devote this post to going over Ann Killion's column, point by point, to show what a mockery of journalism the Chronicle is doing with their Bonds bashing.

And its not like Bonds didn't said those words, so these journalists can stand by their tape recorder, because Bonds did say those words. Only that reporters, who are suppose to report what happened and with context, just either went into robot tape recorder mode or "this will make Bonds look like a fool" mode. I find that her words best describe the situation so I will be quoting her words a lot, since obviously you, the reader, might think that I was taking things out of context. I would just post a link to the article or just post the whole thing, but the Mercury sells all their archived articles. However, I feel that I can quote from pertinent parts of it and I've given attribution above if anyone wants to pull up the full column, from what I can remember about attribution from my school days.

First, here is what Ann Killion said about that Director's press release:

Standing in for Babe was Michael L. Gibbons, the executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore. We assume that Mr. Gibbons is a real person and not just some merry prankster who copped a piece of Babe Ruth letterhead to insult Bonds.

In a screed e-mailed to the national press, Gibbons pompously responded to "Barry Bonds' ill-conceived assault on Babe Ruth.'' After some statistical mumbo-jumbo, Gibbons quickly got right into the name-calling. Of Bonds he said, "As today's most accomplished player, he continues to abuse his role as baseball's natural goodwill ambassador through an overt aloofness that turns off fans and players alike. Can you imagine the Babe refusing to participate in an All-Star game home run contest?!''

Well, I can't, since the first home run contest was in 1985, 38 years after Ruth died. It's hard to decline an invitation to something that hasn't yet been invented to prod ratings for a medium that hadn't yet become popular.

But it's also hard to imagine a caretaker of baseball history thinking it was a good idea to attack today's home run king.
So that was her take on his press release. And he doesn't miss the chance to get some PR for his museum, he also issued a statement this weekend lauding Bonds after his 714th HR for, essentially, coming to his senses and praising all that is Babe Ruth (not that there's anything wrong with that, Babe is probably the best player in MLB history, being both an accomplished pitcher as well as a homerun hitting genius).

Killion on What Bonds Said

Many people know the quote that Bonds said but in case your memory is as foggy as mine has been lately, here is what Barry Bonds said, again out of context and without qualifiers, making his statement seem harsh (just imagine these words being said harshly and/or meanly as you read them), as he answered the question of why Bonds wanted Babe Ruth's home run total of 714 more than Aaron's record:

"Because,'' Bonds said, "As a left-handed hitter I wiped him out. And in the baseball world Babe Ruth is everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and
I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more.''

Here is what Killion wrote on that quote, then reread Barry's words as if you were him and you'll see that he was talking more like a friend or peer, talking trash with another friend/peer:

He made his remarks in a ballroom packed with reporters. Many included the quotes in the next day's papers, some adding that Bonds was laughing as he spoke.

This is typical Bonds. Maybe not smooth or public-relations savvy, but typical. He says something interesting but pushes it toward the outrageous.

He probably knew it was pure blasphemy to say "Don't talk about him no more,''
and he obviously knows (apparently better than Mr. Gibbons) that Ruth won't fade
from public consciousness.

Despite his reputation for not speaking to the press, when Bonds does talk he enjoys being provocative.

I think that makes pretty clear what Ann Killion thought about the quote and the context surrounding that quote. That comes from years of following Bonds and the Giants, parts of which as a fan, because, as she wrote in a column a while back, her grandfather was a huge Giants fan, and parts of it as a professional sports journalist, which she has been doing for many years - and very well, I might add - at the San Jose Mercury. She clearly shows that she knows his idiocyncrasies and can make the proper interpretation of what happened during that press conference.

"The Chronicle was there and taped it and published it."

Now comes the interesting part of Ann Killion's column, as she, in hindsight, apparently gives her colleagues at the Chronicle more credit than they deserve:

Apparently, everyone who actually heard Bonds' comments understood the context. But a national sports online service posted the story under the juicy headline: "Dissin' the Babe? Bonds Takes Whack at Ruth.'' Several writers around the country took the bait. After all, there's no easier column on a slow news day than to rip Bonds. And Mr. Gibbons worked himself up into a righteous lather, forgetting to hit the delete button before sending his diatribe from coast to oast.

I have to repeat these words for emphasis: "Apparently, everyone who actually heard Bonds' comments understood the context." I guess apparently John Shea of the Chronicle negates that statement. I am guessing but since he made the point that the Chronicle was there and taped it, HE was not there and, oops, missed the context of the spoken words, his bad, but he's just a journalist, we couldn't expect him to be objective and perhaps check to see what the context was. Then again, given the Chronicle's obvious Bonds' bashing, perhaps that was their takeaway from that press conference and that's what they fed him.

"The Chronicle was there and taped it and published it." Says it all, doesn't it? Obviously, by that defensive statement, the Chronicle (or at least John Shea, whose writing I generally like) is aware that there is a feeling among readers that they are Bonds Bashers and so they needed to "prove" that they were being above board with their interpretation of that press conference. It is almost like they are saying, "Hey, you can't knock us now, we can play you the tape and you can hear it yourself, no fooling. And we PUBLISHED it - there, we wouldn't print any lies, would we?"

No, but it doesn't make it the truth either, without the context. And, sadly, journalists have been giving themselves a black eye with their either biased or, worse, unfettered disregard for the context, in their coverage of Bonds. What happened to the journalism that I grew up admiring? Objective reporting of the events as they occur without the reporter's bias. They haven't had a scandal of Watergate proportions to mark their fall and decline - maybe the Jayson Blair scandal at the NY Times where he made up an entire story about some poor child - but they clearly are nowhere close to the lofty aspirations that one would think would have been inspired by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward with their coverage of the Watergate coverup.

Or maybe that was a peak too high for anyone to reach and thus discouraged anyone else from trying to meet it, and instead they just settle for what we got today: mediocrity. Of course, it would help if there were scandals to cover, like, say, a homerun hitting firstbaseman caught with substances (Andro) clearly not good for kids to take who just broke the home run record set eons ago by Roger Maris, but hey, who wants to ruin a feel-good story like that? Instead, we'll just pick on the curmudgeon homerun hitter and then pile on him when some stuff hits the fan. That's much more juicy, ain't it? And it sells many more newspaper, for sure.

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