Friday, May 08, 2009

The Short-Cut and The Damage Done

In our online travels, we seldom get the whole truth. We get a glimmer of truth, or a slice of it, or we get a half-waxing moon of it. We never see the entire picture. And typically, depending on the source for whom we entrust to provide us with whatever fraction of truth we eventually absorb, that truth has undergone so much mutation between source and recipient that it rarely, if ever, fully resembles its own original form.

The point of this is not to tsk-tsk the internet or Rupert Murdoch's plan to start charging for online media/content and change our Internet Culture forever. Quick sidetrack: Rupert Murdoch is a self-aggrandizing tool whose grandiose, inflated self-worth is only exceeded by the excess by which he lives his daily life.

But I digress.

The real meat and potatoes of this post, if we can assume there is something worthy of consumption herein, is not to knock the system but to show how these lines of gray can randomly and subtly appear between what is black and what is white.

A very good example of this is the recently-published book by Selena Roberts on A-Rod, entitled "A-Rod: The Many Faces of Alex Rodriguez," and the subsequent fallout that she has endured courtesy of author Jason Whitlock, who has, piece by piece, torn her a new one and who has a lot of legitimate links and points in the guns he's aimed squarely at her.

First and foremost, despite the fact I am an unabashed and lifetime Yankee fan, I'm far from an A-Rod supporter. I think the guy has talent but I was thoroughly satisfied watching that talent from afar (ie Seattle, Texas, or wherever else there was an owner dumb enough to pay a guy $25 or more million a year to put up great numbers without appearing in the playoffs). So while I have respected the guy's abilities and been impressed by his consistency, I was never an A-Rod fan.

Having said all that, Ms. Roberts decided to publish her book to coincide with new allegations about A-Rod's admitted and denied steroid use. Considering that Manny Ramirez was, just yesterday, suspended for fifty games for a positive test regarding some banned substance -- who knows, thus far, what that substance is/was -- the timing of this book is interesting. And frankly, the book isn't about steroids, it's about A-Rod being shallow, plastic and phony.

Thanks for the newsflash, Ms. Roberts. Pardon my yawning, good luck with the book sales.

Put another way, I think Ms. Roberts is a bottom-feeder looking to capitalize on the cult of personality Alex Rodriguez has fomented in the New York spotlight. Sure, the guy is and should be a target of focus. He's making ungodly sums of money to do -- relatively speaking -- nothing special. Personally, I think his presence on the Yankees has adversely affected the team in a number of ways, but since this is not about baseball but about the bottom-feeders of society going after people, what he has or hasn't done for the Yankees is relatively inconsequential.

What is consequential is the fact that he did, in fact, take steroids. When, from whom and how are questions which -- if you care about the answers -- are still out there for conjecture. But let's face it -- who really cares? I'm not letting him off the hook -- I think a cheater should be punished. My take on the matter is thus: I don't know or care why he did it, I think he cheated and I have an even greater distaste for the guy than I did prior to discovering that he did, in fact, juice.

But what is even more disdainful, in my opinion, is the fact that Ms. Roberts has basically sprayed her stink over the entire story -- psycho-analyzing A-Rod, telling the tale of why he took steroids, prying up the floorboards of his legacy from high school and before, and talking about his persona as if she has a clue. To me, she not only doesn't, but the fact that she's throwing this crap onto paper and talking it up on talkshows makes it all the more irresponsible. Why? Because most of her "sources" are either anonymous or non-existent. Does this make her book worthless? No, it doesn't. Does it make it untrue. No. Does it leave her opportunistic, ambulance-chasing tactics suspect?

In a word, yes.

Jason Whitlock's piece about this whole mess sums it up fairly nicely, so I won't clutter the situation with further retelling of the whole she-wrote, he-wrote festival. If you're so inclined, head over there if you'd like a pretty concise disassembly of her whole take on this particular situation. The thing to remember is that it's not just what is in those pages of her book, it's also her credibility -- or a lack thereof -- that is at issue.

The point of this long-winded ramble is not that she's a bottom-feeding, ambulance-chasing shyster. Those descriptors may very well be accurate. The point, however, is that we as a society seem to be increasingly content being spoon-fed news and fact and we, as a society, seem to be increasingly disinterested with questioning that which is plated for our consumption. Mr. Whitlock may be far off, but the fact is that I'm more inclined to agree with his take on this situation if only because my initial reaction -- and my gut reaction -- essentially mirrors what he has to say about this whole thing. Is Selena Roberts entitled to her opinion on A-Rod, the soup of the day or whether 30 Rock is an entertaining comedy? Certainly. But should we accept the spew and take a big bite? My feeling is we shouldn't.

Incidentally, part of Mr. Whitlock's criticism of Ms. Roberts' brand of "journalism" was her characterization of the gentlemen that were involved in the Duke lacrosse scandal. Long-time HoB readers may recall my take on the matter and acknowledge I was pretty repulsed by the bandwagon effect that essentially scarred these guys for life, despite the fact they really did little, if anything, that could be described as "wrong."

The fact is that we are so amped up to rip into people, places and/or institutions that we seldom insure we have the facts. Sure, A-Rod -- eventually -- admitted he used steroids, but do we need a mean-spirited book describing him down to the last inch and giving his psyche a colonoscopy in the process? Even if it was done properly, with journalistic integrity, we don't need it. But the fact that it was done out of greed or opportunity in a shitty, low-end way, simply adds shit-flavored icing on a horseshit cake (I have the application in for the trademark on that phrase, so caveat emptor).

The point being that rather than absorb and trust as fact everything we see in print -- especially online -- we should stop and think rather than consume and react. It's interesting to me that as we debate and discuss this latest celebrity expose -- by someone whose pedigree clearly is at question -- we also have Rupert Murdoch discussing the likelihood that media will someday soon be pay-for-play.

And as the shortcuts abound, doesn't anyone care that there are increasingly frequent typos on CNN's and The New York Times' web sites? Okay, that might be pushing it (there are lots of typos, but whether some web proofer can properly spell secretary is admittedly secondary to the story disclosing that a secretary hacked her boss to death with a letter-opener and then jumped out of a tenth-floor window).

Yet again I digress.

The point being that this story -- Ms. Roberts' book about A-Rod, rather than the story of A-Rod himself -- should be looked on not as simply another example of greed and the almighty short-cut but how we as a culture can learn to cut through much of the bullshit rather than swallowing it whole. And, for Mr. Murdoch's part, knowing better than to be bothered paying for the privilege.

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