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Gimme Fiction
2005-07-13 17:13
by Will Carroll

People lie to me.

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.

2005-07-13 18:00:17
1.   Scott Long
I enjoyed this piece by Will, as it gave a unique insight into what he does in writing UTK. Will seems to be in a unique position when it comes to the writing world, as he works like your typical print journalist, calling around to his sources to get the info his UTK column demands. What makes him unique is that he is an internet writer, who also writes for a blog, where he breaks down the wall between the reader. I hope that this is the path journalism takes, using the electronic media to open the process to better understanding to its readers.
2005-07-14 05:18:14
2.   jgpyke
I know this is a blog and all, your blog, but in a piece about morals, ethics, journalistic standards, etc., did you even attempt to resist showing your lefty stripes with the totally unnecessary comment, "With Judith Miller sitting in jail while Karl Rove walks free..."?

I love your stuff, but only when you stay out of politics. From a marketing standpoint, you are basically defecating on the heads of a portion of your market every time you caterwaul about elections, the Republicans, etc. Why turn off a segment of your readership, just because they may disagree with your beliefs about the government?

Again, your baseball writing, Sir, is excellent. If I want to read about Karl Rove, I can check out zillions of other sources.

2005-07-14 07:08:03
3.   TFD
Yeah Will, jeez, that was so blatanly political. My gosh...I'm offended. After all this blog has always been about reinforcing people's already held beliefs, whether it baseball or music or gasp politics.

I for one always click off this damn blog when you guys parrot the same line(s) from that evil dark-star that is the James/Beane/Podesta/number-cruncher/Darth Sidius think tank.


Joe Morgan

2005-07-14 08:14:29
4.   Scott Long
I guess someone might have some validity in attacking our site for being too partisan on some issues, but Will's mention of Rove in this piece I believe is completely fair, as it is the best example of what can happen to reporters when using a unnamed source, who you would believe has the right answer.

In this particular story, it's Robert Novak not appearing to be affected at all, which bothers me the most. This guy has made a career out of using unnamed sources, but despite being the one who actually outed the CIA agent, he continues to do his thing, while another reporter, Judith Miller, sits in jail because she won't give up a source, even though she never wrote anything on the subject. CRAZY.

2005-07-14 09:14:37
5.   jgpyke
C'mon, man, "attacking" your site? Would you like some fries with your hyperbole?

Like I said, I dig the site.

2005-07-14 09:30:13
6.   onetimer
Novak has almost certainly revealed his information, thus, there's no reason for him to be held in contempt. Will's use of the Plame/Rove thing was fair in this context and not overly hostile.

In any event, it's his blog. He can talk about whatever he wants. Scott, on the other hand, can kiss my big, red, flaming, monkeybutt after Carolina beat Illinois.

2005-07-14 11:22:14
7.   Scott Long
Onetimer, you have waited a long-time to release that bitch-slap on me. I bet you feel really good now. Congrats.

I realize the legal elements to the case, it just is one of those f-ed up moments in life, where the person who doesn't deserve the punishment, has to take the heat for the rest of the class.

2005-07-14 11:28:11
8.   onetimer
Ah, not a bitch slap at all. Enjoy your White Sox, have a coke and a smile, and ...
2005-07-14 13:26:45
9.   chris in illinois
I wouldn't characterize the Rove comment as an attack on Republicans, just a snipe at sleazy Republicans. I admittedly have little use for the GOP, but I do realize that they aren't a monolithic evil empire and that there are 'shades of Republicanism' (if anyone can locate one of those GOP budget hawks, let Washington know, they are sorely missed).

That aside, I don't think it was an 'attack' at all, but an attempt at a comparison to Will's own situation.

Regarding Rove, if one tenth of what he has been rumored to have done/masterminded is true, I can't see how anyone can defend him, unless you believe that the ends always justify the means.

2005-07-14 20:13:34
10.   jgpyke
WILSON: "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."
(CNN, 7/14/05,
2005-07-15 07:29:32
11.   possumbait
I am okay with ANYTHING that gives me pause to think something through. Political discussions come off to me like so much about window dressing.

The problem of truth and falsehood may well be turning into a crisis of our time. Nobody can say much of anything without somebody else (who tunes in with an agenda that is either undermined or simply offended by what is said) conceiving some personal motive and attacking that motive rather than content. It is such an obvious trick, but it is so....PERVASIVE. You can barely argue anything anymore on its intrinsic merits.

Of course this type of thing is not unique...any new frontier in history has had its share of charlatans feeding off of it, and the expansion of available information free of contraint or editing will have charlatans too.

The charlatans are the people inventing motives. Beware of them!!

2005-07-15 12:18:15
12.   dbt
jgpyke -- yes, she was not a clandestine officer that day because her cover was blown. read the whole thing, and maybe you'll get it.

Sorry we got sidetracked, Will. I like the glimpse.

2005-07-16 19:20:30
13.   mlm
Scott, are you privy to such inside info that tells you Miller doesn't deserve the punishment? Rove has cooperated fully with the investigation. Novak apparently has. Cooper has testified. Novak's 2nd source likely has already testified.

Maybe Miller is the one that told Novak's 2nd source and Rove who Wilson's wife was. Maybe the special prosecutor wants to know who told Miller. Miller did a lot of stories regarding WMDs; is it a coincidence that Valerie Plame's job was centered on WMDs?

But that doesn't fit the "I hate Bush" template does it? So Rove is guilty until proven innocent, and then he is still guilty because
"if one tenth of what he has been rumored to have done/masterminded is true, I can't see how anyone can defend him, unless you believe that the ends always justify the means."

2005-07-16 19:36:20
14.   chris in illinois
"if one tenth of what he has been rumored to have done/masterminded is true, I can't see how anyone can defend him, unless you believe that the ends always justify the means."

Ummm......that was me, Chris in Illinois, not Scott Long. You Republicans can't keep your facts straight can you?? Weapons of mass, wait, Umm...9/, wait, Iraqi freedom...ummmmm...not, about reconstructing the mideast??? No?? Doesn't work for you??? Well, let's ask Israel. Making sure that some crazy-ass Biblical prophecy can be fulfulled??? That can't be it. Oil?? Is it oil?? Let's just leave it at oil.

2005-07-16 19:37:25
15.   chris in illinois
For the record:

I don't hate Bush so much as I am sickened by his mendacity.

2005-07-16 19:57:46
16.   mlm
I don't recall ever giving Scott credit for statement; it was a description of the "Sentence first-Verdict afterwards" mentality shared by the left wing kooks in this country. Glad to see you so proud of such deep thoughts though.
2005-07-16 21:07:28
17.   Scott Long

OK, I'm really confused with your accusations, as I haven't made one comment about Rove, except that I think Will's example was fair, as it's the best example of unnamed sources.
As I wrote, the thing that bothers me most about the whole deal is Miller sitting in jail and the king of unnamed sources, Novak still all over the TV and in print, despite being the one who actually publically outed Plame. (I'm not talking about legalities, just that it seems to me that Miller is the one taking the heat to uphold an important element of being an investigative journalist)

To the left-winger charge, I've no problem with the concept, but it's really inaccurate, as my favorite politicians are moderates, like Hagel, Biden, McCain, and Edwards. I've stated this many times, but it's seems everytime the subject of politics is mentioned, all these "left wing kooks" descriptions come out. As I've mentioned before, if you want to slam me, fine, but get your facts straight.

Oh and by the way, personal attacks on me most annoy when they are done by someone who is an anonymous poster. My name, the place I live, the profession I make my living at are all known here, as well as Will's. We do this because we are not afraid of being accountable for what we write. I don't expect people to follow the same exact procedures, but when you flame me, I lose a lot of respect without some identification.
I don't agree with everything he says, but when he signs out with "Chris from Illinois" the comment has more validity to me.

2005-07-17 10:34:55
18.   chris in illinois
In the spirit of what Scott said, I'm really Chris from Central Illinois, just south of the Capitol, who is now 36 years old and has little use for any politician left or right. I do pick on the GOP a little more for two reasons:

1) They are in power right now. (I gave Clinton loads of crap for welching on any number of campaign promises).

2) The GOP tends to lie about weightier issues: Fake wars, torture, selling arms to terrorists and dictators ("...Hello, Saddam? It's me Don Rumsfeld, about those missles you wanted..."), coddling white collar criminals who steal their employees life savings, S&L scandals (Neil Bush), promoting tax relief for the 'middle class' while passing a bill that primarily benefits the uber-rich. The democrats generally get caught lying about their dicks and pot. I know what I think is worse.

Chris from Central Illinois, approox. 7.5 miles SSW of the State Capitol Building.

2005-07-17 16:42:58
19.   TFD

i guess us anonymous posters are longer welcome...

2005-07-17 18:45:42
20.   Scott Long
It's time we leveled with you.... your commenting privileged have been revoked!

Just in case anyone is confused, anonymous fine. Anonymously slamming us, not so fine. Doesn't mean we don't allow it on the forum, as you can see on our site, just that I have more respect from those who offer a little identification.
(Of course, the question would arise, if someone is flaming on us, why would they be interested in our respect? Good point.)
As I reread what I've written, it seems to be getting to the pretentious side of things, so I will stop.

2005-07-18 09:32:25
21.   TFD
That's always an interesting vs. anonymous.

So if someone writes as "Bill Smith from Austin" his slam is somehow more acceptable? Strange logic my friend. With the 'net you never know anyway, unless you are an "out" blogger. Millions of commenters, some with cogent constructive criticism, post with anonymity every day (see dKos); and milllions of "out" commenters post worthless crap every day as well (see Eschaton.)

I think you're using an offline credibilty test, which I totally agree with, but that doesn't work well in the online community. Assessing someone's cred while at a dinner party, meeting, event is much better. However, unless we're talking journalism/blogging of serious consequence (holding Deep Throat's name), I think we're OK to take heat from anonymous commenters as long as their arguments are well-reasoned and apersonal. And hell if people start going personal, they just deserve to be tuned out, anyway, regardless of whether they're anonymous or "out".

2005-07-18 11:28:07
22.   Scott Long
Obviously, you and I have a different thought process on this, considering the moniker you use. It really comes down to a personal preference, as I feel that someone who gives a little up about their person has more at stake and because of this are less likely to flame without some reflection. Of course, this also can be a deterrent in getting to the truth, as some people are in jobs where they worry about speaking out, without being part of the online witness protection group. This is why I've never pushed to require an actual name.

Oh and by the way, I can see the dichotomy in my discussion of unnamed posters in a topic category that was initially focused on unnamed sources. I just want people to realize who comment here that I have more respect for those who offer something about themselves or at least email me and explain where they are coming from. I consider anonymous flaming on internet boards pretty cowardly and it's one reason that most major newspapers require a name and address, before printing a letter to the editor.

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