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No Excuse for Sleazy Journalism

Mike SteffanosFriday, June 1, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Alex Rodriguez has a way of finding negative publicity, whether on the field or off. The sordid photographs of A-Rod walking into a strip club with a large-breasted woman he wasn't married to that the New York Post deemed newsworthy are Alex's latest brush with infamy. Although it's hard not to fault Rodriguez for falling victim to Gary Hart disease (being stupid in public), it's even harder to understand why major papers in the greatest city in the world devoted so much effort and space to this "story".

In his Surfing the Mets blog for the other tabloid in town, Mets beat writer Adam Rubin has this to say in a post titled "Sad, But True: Scandal Sells Papers":

Don't snicker too much at A-Rod's personal life being splashed on tabloid covers. The Mets aren't immune from that arguably over-the-line scrutiny, either. And I'm not just talking about the Paul Lo Duca divorce headlines generated last year.

David Wright was, let's say, less than thrilled not too long ago when a reporter from that other tabloid started chatting up the third baseman's doorman, trying to get dirt on when Wright gets home at night and who might be accompanying him.

Wright may be single, unlike A-Rod. Regardless, you'd hope his personal life remains private.

That said, any indignation from the public over the A-Rod reporting is hypocritical, just like booing Barry Bonds and cheering Guillermo Mota is. After all, the other newspaper wouldn't have splashed the sensationalism on the cover had it not known it would have resulted in a circulation spike that day. [my emphasis]

First off, I hope Adam would be happy to know that I for one am not snickering over A-Rod's personal life being used to sell newspapers. We spent a lot of time in this space last year lambasting the same tabloids for the Lo Duca feeding frenzy. I don't need to be a fan of the Yankees to feel the same revulsion over A-Rod's situation. Whenever a legitimate newspaper -- and it's a stretch labeling the Daily News and Post as such these days -- elects to try to cash in on what is going on in an athlete's personal life, they are selling out on morality merely to sell papers.

At least with Lo Duca and A-Rod you could make the argument that, by committing their indiscretions in public, they were fair game for sordid paparazzi and their scandal-chasing print counterparts. I'd argue that trying to bribe David Wright's doorman crosses a dangerous line into invasion of privacy. Sadly, though, I doubt if public figures like athletes and entertainers have any expectation of privacy in any area of their lives these days. That being said, I can't help but agree with Rubin in wishing that Wright's personal life remains private, particularly when he is in his own home.

I part company with the last paragraph of Rubin's post that I bolded for emphasis above. I don't buy into his premise that it is hypocritical to fault the tabloids for their willingness to try to cash in on sleazy photos and innuendo. Yes, we are a voyeuristic people, and this stuff does indeed sell more papers. However, to absolve the papers of any moral responsibility for what they elect to cover simply because the public will eat it up is beyond silly.

Put it this way. If I'm an arsonist and elect to go around setting my neighbors houses on fire, does the fact that people will come from miles around to gawk at these conflagrations absolve me of guilt for what I chose to do? After all, I was just giving these people what they want -- someone else's misery for their entertainment. Don't blame me.

Of course, my example is somewhat absurd. Setting the fires is an actual crime, while capitalizing on someone's personal transgressions is not. They're both morally wrong, however, and that doesn't change just because people like celebrity dirt. The editors and publisher make their choice on what to put in their paper. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to sell papers, and sleaze definitely sells. But selling sleaze is still a moral choice, and a bad one at that. If I make a bad moral choice, I have no one to blame but myself. I don't get to give myself a pass based on the actions of others. Same holds true for the tabloids. Sorry, but I don't believe my disgust and indignation with them is hypocritical at all.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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