>>> Casual Misanthropy
By staff writer JD Rebello

September 27, 2006

If you're a journalist or hope to be a journalist, this should piss you off. If you're a sports fan or someone conscious of the health crisis surrounding steroids, this should piss you off. If you're an actual American and you believe in the freedom of the press, this should piss you off.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams were sentenced to 18 months in prison last week after refusing to reveal a source that leaked a grand jury testimony, used in their book Game of Shadows. For those not in the know, Game of Shadows was an unabashed account of Barry Bonds’ steroid usage in the late 90’s. The book and series of articles published in the San Francisco Chronicle and Sports Illustrated brought the steroids debate to the national forefront, which wouldn’t seem that important, except for the vast majority of teenaged athletes using them, and then seeing their balls shrink and kind of die.

“This whole scenario is like outsmarting a fat kid on the playground who then threatens to beat you up.”

Now, it's illegal to withhold sources in a court of law. On one level, that makes sense. If a plot to assassinate Justin Timberlake were to arise, and you happened to know who was going to do it and when, and were asked to testify, you could be instrumental in saving Timberlake's life. This is important because if Timberlake were dead, who would bring sexy back? Honestly, who? So yes, if someone's life hangs in the balance, then yes you should provide any knowledge you have even if that includes giving up a source. However, we're not on that level and the staircase to that level has poop all over it, and nobody likes to walk through poop.

On this level, Barry Bonds may or may not be tried for perjury and may serve jail time. I'll save you the suspense, Barry Bonds is not going to jail. Bonds makes around $15 million per year, and people who make $15 million don't go to jail for little things like lying in federal court. Furthermore, as much as I despise Bonds, he shouldn't go to jail. Not as long as McGwire and Sosa and Palmeiro, who also lied under oath, are allowed to run free. The entire steroids investigation is designed as a witch hunt to destroy Bonds, even though all Bonds did allegedly was take steroids. According to Jose Canseco's shockingly accurate book, 80% of Major Leaguers at one time or another dabbled in steroids, including Jason Giambi, who won Comeback Player of the Year and is the apparent leader in the Yankees clubhouse, and nobody says peep. So no, I don't think Bonds should be persecuted so long as 600 alleged Major Leaguers live their lives and collect their paychecks.

But we're not talking about Bonds, we're talking about two journalists who were assigned a story, reported it brilliantly, and finally brought the steroids issue to light. For Christ's sake, for over a decade, managers, trainers, owners, and possibly even Bud Selig knew there was rampant steroid usage in baseball, and it was dealt with about as effectively as O.J.'s search for the real killers. Bonds has yet to sue the writers for what they wrote (which is odd, because if someone wrote a book about my rampant masturbation and I felt even the slightest shred was exaggerated, I'd be on the phone with Johnnie Cochran lickety-split—I don't even care if Cochran is dead, I'd still call).

Also, there's yet to be any conclusive proof that there were any inaccuracies in the book. But it's not about the book's accuracy, it's about the government wanting to know how they found a leaked grand jury testimony for use in publication. Instead of investigating the leaks in the system, they prosecuted two writers who only took advantage of shoddy confidentiality.

The two journalists had a choice, give up their source or go to jail. Now, for non-journalists, this seems an easy call. But let me tell you, journalists who reveal sources are essentially committing career suicide. If you were a witness to corruption or mob activity and wanted to make your story public, but didn't want to get hurt, would you ever go anywhere near a journalist who had already given up the source? In fact, would you go to any reporter, knowing there's a 50-50 shot said reporter could be put in a situation to sacrifice you for their freedom? Of course not.

And therein lies the stink of this issue. By sending Fainaru-Wada and Williams to County, the government has completely discredited the media. Every time something like this happens, we're reminded that the government could control the media anytime it wants. Fine if you like the Fox News White House public relations brigade; not so nice if you know anything about history and appreciate that the media's job is to perform checks and balances on the government. Without Fainaru-Wada and Williams, the government wouldn't be doing dick about steroids. That's the point of media, to bring these issues to the forefront. How else would old white fucks from Virginia know what to do about gays or minorities or anyone else not in their brandy, cigars, and cashmere circle of aristocracy? Do you think there's a giant think tank in Congress that just comes up with these issues? Like Arlen Spector and his ilk just sit in a room and think, “Hey, you know what we should go after? Steroids!” Imagine if there was no media, and conservatives and liberals were forced to invent their own issues. We'd have Republicans and Democrats parading around CSPAN arguing about the correct way to circumcise a rabbit.

The media's job is to check the government and not vice versa. And with the indictment of the two reporters, we're one step closer to a government-controlled media. Is that what you want? Anytime the government dislikes a story they could just take down the reporter and the publication. Imagine if every time Bill O'Reilly felt angered by a story in the New York Times, he could actually do something about it. Imagine a world where we weren't allowed to make Bill O'Reilly angry? I'd rather live knee-deep in a pile of dogshit.

The bigger issue is whether or not journalists should be granted amnesty in terms of not revealing a source, and the answer is they should. Lawyers are allowed to do that. If there was a murder case, the defendant's lawyer couldn't be put on the stand and forced to say whether or not his or her client was actually guilty. That would make things a hell of a lot easier, but that's not how it works.

“But wait, Justin. Journalists aren't lawyers you self-important fuck!” Right, but they serve much the same purpose to aid in protecting the truth, and protecting the rights of Americans. The protection of sources is why we know about priests molesting children, and corruption in big business, and the dangerous activities in the highest level of crime. Source protection brought down a corrupt Nixon White House and police brutality in Los Angeles and abused prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Source protection is the reason we can now save thousands of young athletes who turn to a dangerous drug in order to leapfrog into professional sports.

Source protection also indirectly exposes the laziness of the U.S. Government. This whole scenario is like outsmarting a fat kid on the playground who then threatens to beat you up. What kind of government imprisons reporters for doing their job because they were able to exploit a shaky system? Probably the same government that taps your phones on the off-chance your Nana and Pop Pop are Al Qaeda terrorists.

Journalists are not an easy lot to like, not when people like Geraldo Rivera and Jayson Blair and Jay Mariotti parade around under the guise of a tape recorder and notebook. But the vast majority, like Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, are trying to tell a good and accurate story and doing whatever it takes to do so. If that's against the law, we might as well get rid of a free media and just do whatever the government tells us. Hey, it worked fine in Iraq all those years, right?