COMMENTS: National Pastime’s Steroids Era

Sports was the Story of the Day. The Mitchell Report on the abuse of steroids by major league baseball players was the lead item on all three of the network newscasts. George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader, led the investigation into performance enhancing drugs at the request of Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball. Mitchell listed 77 major leaguers as cheats by name, including the preeminent pitcher and hitter of the past decade--Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Cheating superstars certainly are newsworthy but so is the United Nations Bali Conference on global warming. In a display of warped priorities, no network has so far seen fit to assign a correspondent to cover that meeting. On the three newscasts combined steroids (17 min v 1) entirely outmuscles Bali.

"Players cheated. Teams profited. The union dodged. And the league looked the other way," was the precis of the report by ABC's John Berman (no link). He called the list of cheats "breathtaking--the greatest hitter of a generation, the greatest pitcher of a generation, a searing indictment of a generation." The Mitchell Report "did not so much end one era in baseball as pry it wide open," commented CBS' Armen Keteyian. "Illegal drugs were part of the line-up of every team in baseball beginning in the mid '90s."

On NBC, Mike Taibbi pointed out that "there were just a few sources providing most of the names"--Brian McNamee, a New York Yankees fitness coach, and Kurt Radomski, a New York Mets clubhouse attendant--"so this is just a piece of the story." CBS anchor Katie Couric (no link) was on assignment for 60 Minutes to profile Yankees' slugger Alex Rodriguez. "What is your reaction to the investigation?" "Well Katie, you are putting me in a tough spot. I mean these are guys that I play with. They are my teammates, friends and people that I respect, people that I play with every day." They include pitcher Clemens, whose lawyer officially denied that McNamee had been injecting him in the buttocks with the steroid Winstrol since 1998.

Both NBC and CBS followed up with interviews for perspective. Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim told CBS substitute anchor Harry Smith that steroids abuse has abated in the major leagues but cheating has not: "The new drug of choice is Human Growth Hormone." On NBC, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown suggested to anchor Brian Williams that the motive for Mitchell's suggestion that Commissioner Selig should not punish the cheats was in order to "shame the union into going along with actual blood testing" for HGH.

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