Friday, August 25, 2006

Do I Really Want To Go There?

Dusty Baker was discussing Carlos Marmol's high pitch counts when he referenced Greg Maddux's early career, claiming Maddux once threw 167 pitches in a start. "If I left somebody out there 167 pitches, you'd lynch me," Baker said. But that's not how the quote read the next day in the Chicago Tribune. "If I left somebody out there 167 pitches, you'd [criticize] me," the Trib read. And thus began something of a firestorm about both race and journalistic integrity. You know I usually don't view the Cubs as a Chicago sports team, but rather as the live entertainment at a great beer garden. This, however deserves some discussion.

Did Baker intentionally bring race into the conversation by using the word "lynch"? Obviously, only Baker knows whether he intentionally brought race into the conversation by using the word "lynch". To argue he didn't is to denigrate Baker. He's a smart man. He may be overly committed to over-the-hill veteran ballplayers and no-hit middle infielders, ignorant of the benefits of drawing a walk, and yes, careless with young pitchers' arms, but he's no dummy. It seems to me that "lynch" is an unusual word choice there -- one that requires thought and is unlikely to occur carelessly or randomly. I suspect Baker used that word for a reason. And, I suspect that the connotation he was seeking was racial.

Again, only Baker knows why he brought race into the conversation, if in fact it was a conscious decision. Some have speculated that Baker is engaging in a long-term plan to racialize his eventual firing by the Cubs. Maybe he is, although I'm not sure how that would benefit him. Still, people wonder why else Baker would have discussed details of racist hate mail with USA Today earlier this week. But as some prominent scholars have pointed out, race and racism are dialogues in which this country needs to engage. There's no reason Baker should sit quietly when told, "'N-----, why don't you get another job?" Maybe Baker's revelations to USA Today weren't part of an effort to racialize his inevitable firing, but rather an intelligent, prominent black man participating in the important national discussion of race in American society and sports. Or, maybe not.

Either way, it's still not clear how, or even if, Baker's use of the word "lynch" is related to the earlier interviews. It could be a continuation or just coincidence, or maybe race was on Baker's mind after those earlier interviews, so "lynch" was a natural and casual word to surface in Baker's mind at that moment. Certainly, the Tribune should have run the quote unaltered so that readers could judge for themselves how the pieces fit together, and whether they even care. Better still, the reporter should have asked a follow-up question about why Baker, given the current environment in which race has become part of the conversation about the Cubs' manager, chose to use the word "lynch". Maybe he would have explained his usage. Maybe he would have expanded on the idea he was hinting at by using the word. Maybe he would have backed away. For now, we just don't know. But we do know the Tribune mishandled the situation.

An editor at the Trib said the word was changed to avoid injecting racial overtones into a minor baseball story. But who was the Trib protecting by making that decision? The readers? I hope the paper wasn't insulting it's readers so boldly. Dusty Baker? There's no incentive to do so. He'll be let go by the Tribune Corporation after the season. The Cubs' image? Now, we may be on to something. The Trib, of course, owns the Cubs. They have every reason to protect the Cubs' image as a warm, fuzzy, family-friendly entertainment option. An extended discourse on race in society and sports, focused on the Cubs' manager, probably runs counter to that image. Maybe the thinking was more innocent than that. But it points to a serious problem: as a reader, one can basically never trust anything the Trib says when discussing the Cubs -- their corporate interests are just too intertwined.

Honestly, I don't know how much Tribune's corporate interests infect the newsroom. I've worked in newsrooms where the editorial content was well protected from ownership's business interests, and I've seen situations where stories were squashed for all the wrong reasons. I'm also not sure how big a deal it is if we can't trust the local paper's coverage of the local team. But it is an example of the larger problem in America's current media landscape. Corporate interests have consolidated so many media outlets into so few hands, that we can rarely trust the independence of the voices we're hearing anywhere. Do we trust ABC's reporting on Disney, one of America's larger corporations? Do we trust CBS's reporting on Disney, or is there an incentive for CBS to lay off Disney, so that ABC lays off CBS's corporate overseers? The problem is even worse in smaller markets, where there are fewer voices. Local affiliates in small markets may be owned by less influential, out-of-market corporations, but if they are protecting local corporate or political interests with which they have ties, there are few alternative voices to discuss those interests honestly. If the FCC allows increased cross-ownership of television, radio and newspaper outlets within one market, then the problem gets even worse. Diverse, independent media voices are integral to the nation's civic life, and they are disappearing.

That's the end of my rant, but if you want to learn more about the fight to preserve independence and diversity in the media, visit here or here.


Blogger Smoking Pope said...

Personally, I wonder why the hell we can't just assume innocuous words like "lynch" mean what they're defined to mean:

"(verb) to put to death, esp. by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority."

This from

Anyway, the Tribune (or more likely an over-zealous editor) should pull his head out of his PC ass a bit, and everyone should give Dusty the benefit of the doubt on this. There's plenty of other reasons to go after Dusty Baker without having to invent one.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Criminal Appeal said...

The Tribune was meant to be the real target of my angst, not Baker. I'm not sure if that was clear from my post since I clearly buried my lead.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Smoking Pope said...

Yeah, I got that. That's where my ire was pointed as well. I was (and am) in agreement with you.

4:09 PM  
Blogger the wolf said...

Agree all the way around. "Lynch" doesn't necessarily imply a racial overtone and the context in which Dusty used it suggests he didn't intend one either. Clearly, the Tribune felt there was one however. And if the Trib felt there was a racial angle, whey did they see fit to whitewash it for Dusty? It couldn't be because Dusty is effectively employed by the Cubune, would it?

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whitewash? no no

"why did they see fit to [cover it up] for Dusty . . ."

1:05 PM  
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3:31 PM  

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