The wife said I shouldn’t blog about John Rocker.
But, really, I’m not blogging about John Rocker here. I’m blogging about journalism. Which is, truly, my passion.
Yesterday afternoon, somebody Tweeted me the link to a recent segment on Vice, the HBO news series that I absolutely love. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s 100-percent worthwhile. The pieces are edgy, hard-nosed, informative, sharp. My sister-in-law’s boyfriend first told me about Vice a couple of years ago, and his raves were right. It’s sort of like 60 Minutes meets Rage Against the Machine, if that makes any sense. Quality journalism with a pronounced oomph.
Anyhow, the new segment (you can watch it above) is about Rocker, the apparently misunderstood inspiration behind the Kenny Powers character in Eastbound and Down. And it’s entertaining. The reporter, a woman named Gianna Toboni, follows Rocker around for (it seems) a couple of days. She shows a side to him the public hasn’t seen. He’s thoughtful, he’s caring, he’s charitable. And, truly, I have no problem with this. Yeah, I’m skeptical. But maybe, just maybe, John Rocker: 2014 is thoughtful and caring and charitable. It’s certainly a possibility.
But then, 14 minutes into the piece, Rocker sits across from Toboni and says this: “If people just wanna be so rudimentary, so naive, so sheepish that they just want to read that SI article and just accept what Jeff Pearlman has to say and ignore the fact that … that Mr. Pearlman has done to me, maybe not in the vein of racism or bigotry or whatever, he has done to me what he’s done to 30 other subjects that he’s written about. And take it with a grain of salt. And how about a little more research into what John Rocker has to say, and not the cut-and-splice version that Jeff Pearlman tries to portray.”
Here’s the thing: Rocker has every right to say this and think this. He does. And if he views my journalism career as one long effort to bait athletes into calling black teammates “fat monkeys” (as, ahem, he did), that’s OK. I have, indeed, written biographies that contained some spicy (for lack of a better word) material. Walter Payton’s infidelity. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds’ PED usage. Michael Irvin slicing a teammate’s neck with scissors. This comes with interviewing hundreds of people, and not simply wanting to tell the brainless stories of glorious on-field battles performed by our perfect heroes (or, Vice, telling the story of an athlete’s long, hard journey without mentioning that he was a non-prospect before PED).
I am not mad at John Rocker. Not at all.
But if you’re Vice, how do you allow this comment (“He’s done to me what he’s done to 30 other people.”) without so much as a call? Without a five-second, “We spoke to Pearlman, and he called Rocker’s depiction ____________”? I truly don’t get it. I assure you, 60 Minutes makes the call. The New York Times makes the call. And not because I’m a journalist. You call because, when someone attacks another’s record or professionalism and it airs, you are required—by journalistic code—to give the targeted a chance to defend himself.