It took AOL Sports’ Jay Mariotti a couple of weeks to weigh in on Jerod Morris’ much-maligned essay on Raul Ibanez’ pre-DL offensive explosion, claiming “Morris made a fool of himself during a panel discussion on ESPN’s Outside The Lines.” That’s not exactly how I remember it, but the former Sun-Times Mascara Fiend would like the world to know he’s far above this naming-and-shaming sans evidence, bragging, “I don’t have to STRRRRRETTTTCCH THE TRUTH or make something up to be noticed as a columnist.” He can, however, cite the very moment sports journalism went down the toilet.
The irresponsibility began three years ago when blogger Will Leitch wrote on a Web site that he had “80 percent” faith in a source who said a Kansas City-based strength and conditioning coach was one of the redacted names in the Jason Grimsley report. “Does (the trainer’s) name sound familiar?” Leitch wrote. “If it doesn’t, he — and we assure you, this gives us no pleasure to write this — has been Albert Pujols’ personal trainer since before Pujols was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft.” A photo of Pujols was included in the blog item.
Here’s the problem: The trainer’s name wasn’t found anywhere in the report, meaning Leitch smeared the trainer and Pujols in one inaccurate swoop based on an “80 percent” certainty rate. I think we learn in our 11th-grade journalism class, if not out of the womb, that it’s irresponsible to tell a potentially damaging story if you’re not entirely certain it’s true. Eighty percent may as well be zero percent. The mess was exacerbated by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who ran with the story and caused a national feeding frenzy, and not until Pujols threatened legal action did a shamed, humiliated Leitch emerge with a correction titled, “A Deeply Regrettable Wrong,” apologizing to the trainer in the process.
A reputable Web company would have fired him on the spot. Unfortunately, Leitch worked for a company that enjoyed the attention and allowed him to spew more lies about people. He profited from his fraudulence by writing a book read by a few of his blogging buddies.
What he did was open the door to the Jerod Morrises of the world.
I remember the incident in question rather well, particuarly as I commented on it at the time, as well as acknowledging Leitch’s subsequent apology (“a rare stand-up act from someone who has virtually redefined gutless over the past 12 months”). However, much as I enjoy Jay Mariotti calling out Will Leitch nearly three years after the fact, it goes beyond mere hyperbole to claim what even Will characterized as a huge gaffe, served as any sort of inspiration to Morris. The former threw leaked information (from a less than reputable source) into a public forum and watched the shit hit the fan. The latter engaged in what was meant to be a fairly reasoned analysis of Ibanez’ career trajectory and at no point directly accused the Phillies OF of anything other than getting off to an especially hot start. While Leitch received relatively little flack from the mainstream media or his blog bro’s at the time, Morris was fed to the wolves on national TV.
Of course, there’s something rather quaint about Mariotti accusing bloggers of not knowing their libel laws. What are these other “lies” Leitch was allowed to spew, and is Mariotti prepared to back up such an allegation? I’m not gonna nominate Will for any ethics awards, but that doesn’t excuse fabricating charges against him. And as Hugging Harold Reynolds accurately points out, regardless of where he made his name, Leitch is more of a peer of Mariotti’s than he is to the vast majority of sports bloggers.
While Leitch is widely praised as the poster boy of the sports blogosphere, he couldn’t be a further example of your typical blogger. Rather, Leitch’s educational background and career more closely reflect that of yours, Mr. Mariotti. A former editor at his college paper, he is/was a contributing editor at New York, and a contributor to The New York Times, GQ, Fast Company and Slate, and prior to that book you referenced, had already been twice published. The fact that he is deemed a blogger because he founded Deadspin is akin to you being deemed a blogger because you opine at FanHouse.