COMMENTS: All Eyes on Roger Clemens

In a collective swoon, all three networks abandoned measured news judgment and led their newscasts with a celebrity showdown. Baseball's Roger Clemens, the star pitcher, appeared on Capitol Hill along with Brian McNamee, his onetime trainer, to engage in mutual contradiction about whether Clemens was a cheat. The trainer testified that, at Clemens' direction, he injected him with steroids and hormones. Clemens swore it never happened. Here was controversy to be sure--but little consequence. It was not clear what urgent public policy the House committee was pursuing by staging the hearings nor what newsworthy insights they exposed to justify their status as Story of the Day.

Even if the hearings lacked consequence they certainly had a buzz about them. CBS' Bob Orr called it "the toughest ticket in town" while NBC anchor Brian Williams noted that the confrontation had been aired live on "millions of televisions across this country." Oddly, the interrogating politicians "divided along party lines," observed NBC's Tom Costello, but he did not explain the ideology behind Democrats' decision to believe the trainer's version or the Republicans' siding with the pitcher. CBS' Orr could not decide either way: "The hearing ended where it started, a he said, she said dispute with no clear cut winner." ABC's John Berman (embargoed link) seemed mystified by the spectacle. He noted the "sparks and shouting…so much drama but the question is: to what end?"

ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg stated that one of the two must be lying--"but which one? I mean! They cannot prosecute both." She did not explain why the Justice Department should prosecute either. Are fibs about cheating at sports really serious enough to warrant such expenditure? CBS' Armen Keteyian called McNamee's trash--bloody gauze pads, vials, syringes with traces of DNA--the "best physical evidence against Clemens" but he admitted that the seven-year-old garbage would be inadmissible at trial so "we are really talking about the court of public opinion here not the court of law." Bob Costas, NBC Sports' veteran baseball play-by-play announcer, speculated to anchor Williams that during the Clemens era "more than half the players in the game" were dopers. Pitcher Clemens and slugger Barry Bonds "have their Hall of Fame credentials called into question and at least the possibility, however remote, that either or both could go to prison."

Attention baseball fans! When NBC's Costello called this "baseball's biggest scandal in 100 years" he was obviously caught up in the hype. This is bigger than the Black Sox of 1919? Or the fact that the major leagues enforced Jim Crow segregation for decades until Jackie Robinson arrived? Or that it bound its players as indentured servants until the reserve clause was overturned? What other scandalous behavior am I forgetting that put steroids in perspective?


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