Skip Bayless, one of ESPN's resident gasbags, shot his mouth off about Derek Jeter yesterday afternoon. As quoted in an Associated Press story:
"You would have to have your head in the sand or your head somewhere else not to at least wonder, `How is he doing this?' ...I would have to be sight and hearing impaired not to at least wonder, because there is no HGH test in the sport of baseball ... They do not blood test. They do it one time in spring training for HGH, not again the rest of the year. How could I not wonder is he using something? If you're Derek Jeter, would you think about using HGH right now because I would. How would you not? Would you not think about it? ... I'm not saying he uses a thing. I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you're remiss if you don't at least think about this."
It's the worst kind of accusation. It's a non-accusation accusation. It's not backed by any data, or supported by conversations from people within baseball. It's the "Hey, I'm not saying he's doing it, I'm just raising the question ..." point of view that you hear in every crazy conspiracy theory. It's a guy being a loudmouth for no reason other than that's what ESPN pays him to be, what they think drives ratings.
But that's not the biggest sin here.
The biggest sin is references in my first paragraph. "As quoted in an Associated Press story."
The AP filed a story on Bayless' claims and Jeter's predictable reaction. Credit to The Big Lead, where I apparently get all my blog ideas, for pointing this out to me.
1. Asking Jeter about this seems kind of pointless, because really, what's he going to say? "Wow, Skip got me ... yep, I'm totally using HGH. Have been all year." You know exactly what Jeter's going to say - the clean-cut deflection, the sharp humor, the poise that makes him a media darling.
2. More importantly - why is the AP writing this story?
Because one guy on ESPN made a non-accusation accusation? Because it was suddenly "out there"? Why is there no reference in the story to Bayless making these claims with no backing, no data, no confirmation? Why is it presented simply as he-said, he-said (with Bayless' comments taking up most of the story, therefore having more weight?" All this story does is perpetuate a heretofore baseless allegation.
Jay Rosen, an NYU professor who's been influential in how I see and think about the media, has written often about the View from Nowhere. Put basically, it's the journalism norm of presenting both sides of an issue without looking at the veracity of the statements. You know the political stories you see where "Romney says Obama ruined the economy." and then just has quotes from both sides? That's what Rosen's talking about. It's bland, safe reporting cloaked in the notion of objectivity. The way journalism should work is you write down what someone says, but also tell your readers if it's based in reality or not.
That's what happened here. Reporters saw or heard about Bayless' comments and decided they needed a comment from Jeter. They got the comment, and then turned it into a story. They felt compelled to do so. But apparently, nowhere in that story ideation process did the AP reporters and editors think: "Why are we doing this? Is this even a thing? Is this anything more than Skip Bayless being a gasbag on ESPN? And if it's not, is it fair for us to write an entire story that effectively accuses Derek Jeter of being an HGH user with no evidence besides the fact that he's having a good year? Does this serve the readers at all, in any way?"
Skip Bayless is entitled to be a gasbag on the air. It makes him a lot of money. But that doesn't mean his gasbaggery should be the basis for real journalism.