08.28.09

No Smearing in the Press Box IV: Is Michael S. Schmidt Baseball’s Judith Miller?

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 8:45 am by

[This is what a working reporter looks like ...].

Thanks to Jason Cohen for fwd’ing Maury Brown’s analysis of the recent Federal ruling forcing the government to return illegally confiscated test results of Major League Baseball players.  Unlike most of us, Brown read the whole thing.  Thanks to him, we know it contains some news regarding CSTB’s favorite cub reporter, Michael Schmidt of The New York Times.  Brown writes:

As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority in yesterday™s ruling, the leaking of names from documents that were under court seal, has done harm to baseball™s drug testing policy.

“The risk to the players associated with disclosure, and with that the ability of the Players Association to obtain voluntary compliance with drug testing from its members in the future, is very high. Indeed, some players appear to have already suffered this very harm as a result of the government™s seizure.”

The ruling then points a direct finger at The New York Times, citing examples:

See, e.g., Michael S. Schmidt, Ortiz and Ramirez Said to Be on 2003 Doping List, N.Y. Times, July 31, 2009, at A1; Michael S. Schmidt, Sosa Is Said to Have Tested Positive in 2003, N.Y. Times, June 17, 2009, at B11; Michael S. Schmidt, Rodriguez Said to Test Positive in 2003, N.Y. Times, February 8, 2009¦

At the heart of Schmidt and Roberts™ stories are one or more individuals (Schmidt cited unnamed lawyers) that had access to the œlist created by a federal investigator believed to be Novitzky (the list was created from an illegally seized spreadsheet in a mountain of other documents in what has been labeled the œTracey directory). Those individuals will now become the focus, as opposed to the players. As Donald Fehr and Michael Weiner said in a joint statement after the Ninth™s ruling, œAnyone who leaks information purporting to contain those 2003 test results is committing a crime.

Me, I don’t disagree that Schmidt might be on the receiving end of some legal ballistics, not that I want reporters to go through that. Confidential sourcing is vital to whistle blowing stories that make very positive differences in people’s lives.  That said, Schmidt’s stories appear to be nothing more than a mix of amoral ambition (his) and an embittered, failed prosecution (the Novitzky team, facing an Obama future).   If they go after Schmidt, he’ll be elevated to a status of 1st Amendment freedom fighter, obscuring something else:  The New York Times can’t back up anything he has said regarding Sosa or Ramirez.  That is, a reporters rights story will overshadow his incompetence.  The players union disputes Schmidt’s 104 list at the heart of his stories.  Schmidt himself stated he has never seen any testing or evidence.  Players Association lawyer Elliot Peters now states that the 104 list is nothing but a spread-sheet concocted by Federal investigator Jeff Novitzky himself.  If Novitzky created it, it’s hard to see how the players union, informants at the testing labs, or any “lawyers” (as per Schmidt), could have leaked “the list,” except the people who created it.  As stated here several times, Schmidt looks to have been played by his sources and their agenda.  I will also ask again:  why were the 2009 names “ Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez “ all Latino? Why did each leak happen after notable, and typically arrogant (or shall we say, “uppity”)  behavior by Rodriguez, Sosa, and Ramirez? Right now, it looks like someone with some real issues was out to get these guys.

Jason and I were e-mailing about the Scooter Libby/Judith Miller parallel to this (in how the gov’t fed Miller stories to their own advantage to appear in The Times) as well as the Howell Raines/Jayson Blair factor of a young reporter pushed up the ladder too fast.  While I don’t think Schmidt in any way sought to deceive like Blair, it’s just too familiar a scenario coming from the NY Times.  Schmidt’s done real damage to people’s careers here.  Hopefully any civil suits coming will be paid by the Times, as I doubt he has the resources to pay off Sosa, Ortiz, and Ramirez.  Still, once Judith Miller did her jail stretch, the Times went through her stories and bounced her.  After Schmidt based so much of his reporting on Novitzky’s 104 “dirty names” spread sheet, I hope he gets the same thorough review.

Btw, my offer to The New York Times still stands:  Out any member of the 2005 “world champion” White Sox as a steroid user, and all is forgiven.

3 Responses to “No Smearing in the Press Box IV: Is Michael S. Schmidt Baseball’s Judith Miller?”

  1. Rock says:

    60 + million spent on this circus with government minions like Novitzky running around like the constitution never existed. What a country.

  2. MODI says:

    Ben, way to stay on this, and great points all around

    IMHO the likes of michael schmidt, Selena roberts, and Fainaru wada/Williams should all face jail time. If it had happened to the Game of Shadows authors, then we wouldn’t have leaks from Roberts and Schmidt. They are aiding and abetting a crime, just like if you robbed a liquor store and I drove the getaway car. There are very good reasons for court orders, and the open defiance of them can have very real consequences for future cases.

    As far as whistleblowing and all those nonsensical “Deep throat” comparisons, there are special circumstances (usually national security) where defying that court order is justified. Steroids in baseball ain’t one of them.

    In fact it is necessary for the reporter to risk the threat of jail to report the story. In that way, it filters out the BS stories from those that are of grave importance. Reporters MUST have to make this very difficult decision. It will separate what is being done for “public good” vs, simply advancing their own career on the backs of another black or Dominican player…

  3. ben schwartz says:

    Thanks, MODI, much appreciated. Not only does the NYT trash these players using private medical records, they then crow about their gossip-boy wonder like they just published the Pentagon Papers. What exactly are they accomplishing by smearing Sosa a week after he retires, Ramirez after his 50-game suspension, and Ortiz – who only tested “inconclusive?” Beats me. I don’t know who decided Sosa, for example, needed a smackdown after he announced he would retire and wait for his Hall induction. Was it a riled gov’t lawyer who called Schmidt or did Schmidt take it upon himself to smear Sosa because for the first time in two years, Sammy was a headline?

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