Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Debacle

I've been chatting over at Bronx Banter today, and I realized that some of the things I had going there would make for a decent COH post on my feelings today. Here they are, unedited and strung together in a paragraph by paragraph format:

The interesting thing to me is not the content of the report but the existence of the report itself. For months and months the idea of the report as a transformative moment in the sport has permeated discussion. The idea that a bombshell was going to be dropped featuring some of the biggest stars in the sport was common referential context for the whole thing. What it ends up being is a mostly circumstantial, dimly lit path linking a few networks of players. The names are mostly those already suspected or known and the report is going to fizzle into the ether once pitchers and catchers report in February. The importance of the whole research and its place in baseball history is suspect and the hype that has accompanied any discussion of it for all these weeks and months is like everything else in the 24-hour news cycle: sketchy, fleeting trivia.

From the press conference: "Obviously, the players who illegally used performance enhancing substances are responsible for their actions. But they did not act in a vacuum. Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades – Commissioners, club officials, the Players Association, and players – shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroids era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on. As a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread."

That quote is a perfect illustration of the political whitewashing that the report represents. It does what the 911 Commission did. It does what any politically motivated document does in the current media climate. It provides a catharsis for a societal crisis, perceived or real, by naming a few names, slapping a few wrists, and eventually blaming everyone and no one all at once. That's why I said that the existence of the report is more interesting than the content. It is less a piece of paper with information than a symbolic cleansing of the public palate. It's a facilitator of purgation that allows us to move on. That is the only importance of the document.

The idea is that the report's only value is in the purgative. It draws a picture based largely on filling in the gaps between legal evidence and pure hearsay by insinuation. If that's the best you can do, you should avoid naming names at all. From a legal perspective, I'd guess that the players have no recourse for slander, but from a purely ethical standpoint, with the knowledge that what is printed in the mass media becomes truth via repetition, it would be better to avoid names without hard, damning evidence. The discussion here about Pettitte illustrates that better than anything. Score another one for the corporate government media complex.

This whole thing feels like masturbation, only without the pleasure.

Would this report as a PUBLIC document still have served the same purpose had the names been "redacted"? As a private document, used only for MLB's internal debate on drugs, it may be instructive to have anecdotal evidence linking specific teams and players to the problem. As a PUBLIC document, the only value in naming names is to sexy up the issue for the 24-hour news cycle, blogs, and random water cooler chatter. If you have shaky legal evidence linking a player to this issue, then you have shaky grounds to try him in the court of public opinion as well. If I were the union, I'd make a HUGE HUGE stink over the naming of names on these grounds.

The problem with this report and its release to the public is that it produces a mythology about steroids and baseball in which the main characters are now set in stone. There was no legal basis for the naming of these names, but by mass-mediated communication the mythology becomes ubiquitous. If anyone has the stomach for reading Roland Barthes "Mythologies", he breaks down how the whole process of mythologization works. Wikipedia's entry on his book states, "Barthes refers to the tendency of socially constructed notions, narratives, and assumptions to become "naturalized" in the process, that is, taken unquestioningly as given within a particular culture." I would argue that this is what's happening to Clemens and Pettitte here. Particularly Pettitte. Bonds is a man with direct legal links to this issue. Giambi is also an admitted user, as is (apparently) Sheff. There are others. Pettitte has been linked by this report to performance enhancing drugs with only the most circumstantial evidence, if you can even call it evidence, yet he is lumped in with the legally damned. His name is all over the headlines today. Mass-mediated communication channels have now fueled the mythologization of Pettitte as a PED monster, and he will never be able to extricate himself from it. It's over. That's why the names should have been redacted for public use.


Benchwarmer said...

Committee-Hearing-Investigation is Latin for Bury-Under-the-Rug...

I think 2 things come from this report:

(1) Must be real hard to be a steroid dealer today. Did you see some of those names? Man, obviosuly the drug doesn't make you a better player.

(2) How do you spend 26-65 million dollars when you interview 20 people, do a few google searches and investigate the claims of 2 sources? Man, I would love to see the budget of expenses... Typical outrageous lawyer fees I imagine: 600 dollars to dial a number, 36K for lunch, 2,800 an hour fee!

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