Being a (liberal) journalist means never having to say you’re sorry.
This disheartening truth found itself confirmed yet again in an unexpected way: via the story that broke last weekend about New York Yankees’ superstar Alex Rodriguez’s use of steroids. Selena Roberts, one of the two Sports Illustrated reporters behind it, has been widely celebrated for her initiative and aggressiveness; and, in the wake of Rodriguez’s bitter characterization of her as a “stalker,” her media colleagues have vigorously defended her ethics and honesty.
Roberts herself has been spirited in her own defense. “You hear a lot of rumor, and a lot of garbage, quite frankly, so you want to make sure you know the difference between reality and rumor,” she told ESPN radio’s Michael Kay, “(so) what we tried to do is be very specific about what we heard and make sure that we found credible information and reliable people, and that we buttoned up every single hole to make sure to be absolutely right. Because, let’s face it, Alex is a human being, you don’t want to toy with the guy and just throw something out there, because that would be so destructive. It’s like being in court—once you say something, you can’t just strike it.”
Almost no one, including the normally insightful Kay, has been impolite enough to recall that Roberts was a key player in the most notorious smear in recent sports history. As a New York Times columnist in 2006, she led the media mob panting to string up the three Duke University lacrosse players charged with raping a black woman. The case ultimately proved an ideologically driven fantasy. As observed legal reporter Stuart Taylor, who co-wrote Presumed Guilty, the definitive account of the case: “Roberts wrote commentary seething with hatred for ‘a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings.’ All but presuming guilt, Roberts parroted false prosecution claims that all team members had observed a ‘code of silence.’ She likened them to ‘drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.’”
Indeed, even after the evidence had established the rape tale as bogus, Roberts, practically alone among media heavyweights, stayed at it, excoriating “the culture of white privilege.” In a column entitled “Closing a Case Will Not Mean Closure at Duke,” which appeared shortly before all charges against the three lacrosse players were dropped, she sneered at “the ubiquitous ‘innocent’ wristbands” of the players’ supporters and railed against “the irrefutable culture of misogyny, racial animus and athlete entitlement that went unrestrained that night. . . . To many, the alleged crime and culture are intertwined.”
Speaking of “irrefutable” culture, in that of the mainstream liberal newsroom, such a view of race and class is so much the norm that even when in a particular instance it is unsubstantiated—or decisively countered by the facts—it is seen as not merely reasonable, but unassailable. In another notorious case of recent years, a posse of liberal journalists, including three Times columnists, helped sink the nomination of Bush appointee Charles Pickering to the Court of Appeals by branding the conservative Mississippian “soft on cross burners.” They managed this feat despite the fact—as a vast cadre of black citizens who were there at the time attested—that back in the sixties, Pickering not only stood with them, but risked his own safety by testifying against a powerful Klan leader.
In that instance, as usual, the journalists paid no price, their ugly untruths swirling down the memory hole. So it’s hardly surprising that Roberts’s recent history, too, has been so widely overlooked. “Nobody wants to hurt anybody,” she piously told Kay. “That’s why it’s so critical to be right. Nobody wants to destroy anybody else or be destructive, and that’s the bottom line.”
A terrific sentiment, one every responsible journalist should bear in mind. Coming from Selena Roberts, though, it’s the very height of gall.