I know this probably isn't a revelation. Last time I was on ESPNews, someone emailed in a question that they used, regarding steroids, asking if I thought players told the truth when I talked to them. My answer was that yes, some lied, but for the most part, when they were anonymous and trusting, they'd give me enough information to tell what was what. In Zora Neale Hurston's books, she'd often talk about people coming together on porches to tell lies. It's something like that, the past usage of the word, that I don't mind. If it's the lies of the barbershop or barstool, the sourced insider can live with those. At some point, there's a difference between a lie and a fiction.
It's not always that way when it comes to day to day stuff. With UTK, I talk to probably fifty people a day, either by phone or email. Some of these people lie to me. Sometimes its by omission they don't give me all the facts of a situation. That's fine. I'll take those and I think it's part of my job to "see the holes" and fill them in with other sources or in some cases, forensic analysis. Most of my work is puzzles and patterns.
There are two other types of lies that I see those bold-faced ones of protection and those that are meant to send me in a direction that the other person wants. Very few people will out and out lie telling me something isn't that is or vice versa. For me, the protective lies have to do with medical privacy or bumping up against the bounds of the trust I've built up with a source. Some tell me everything, some tell me nothing, but most are somewhere in between. The levels are always changing, but for the most part, I know where I stand with most of them.
Where it gets most interesting is when someone tries to direct or misdirect me. Michael Lewis did a great job of showing how it happens from the other end in Moneyball. I don't fault these people at all; it's a two-way street, as long as it's done honestly. There are some people in baseball that I have spoken with (check the tense there) that were interested in using me as an instrument of disinformation. If someone wants to float a trade, talk up a player, or get something whispering, there's a couple central points in that system of which I'm just a small one, but I do have my uses.
The problem is that I can't lie or even the lesser included offense of fabrication. As a journalist, I'm bound by not only personal ethics and morals, but by the morals, ethics, and biases of my readers. When the Pete Rose story didn't come to fruition exactly as we stated back in August 2003, people immediately said that we were "wrong." Since then, over and over, Rose himself has stated that between his meeting with the Commissioner and the release of his book, things changed. It went from a done deal, discussing action items and schedules, to its current state of perpetual limbo. On the day we published, it was right. Almost the second it hit the air, the story itself changed the facts of the story as reported.
Yet people continue to insist that I was wrong or worse, lying. If I were to take one of the lies that is given to me as knowing lies, I would burn at least a portion of the credibility I have built. Yet it's perfectly fine for sources to dance circles around the truth. There are variations on this, but all seem to be functions of news. Someone tells me something in hopes of putting an idea in either the fans or another team's head. Someone might want to get a reaction. There are times when I've done this when facts didn't quite check out or more usually, meet my standards of confirmation. Instead of ignoring what seems to be real yet substandard information, I'll toss something out as qualified "I'm hearing " or "People are talking about ", often in hopes of getting a better reaction, even if it's pure denial.
With Judith Miller sitting in jail while Karl Rove walks free and no, I'm not going to get into the politics or ethics of the situation in this space I am often left yearning for the time when what I wrote was fiction. I started my UTK journey not because I wanted to write a column about injuries, but because I was taking time to write what I thought would be a novel. There are days I'm tempted to start typing that again, or a short story about New York that I've had rolling in my brain for the last two months.
In a world where most of it is based on fantasy of another kind, I say gimme fiction.