For all his experience, for all the years spent in public service and in the private sector, Senator George Mitchell still has no idea how the American media works. Right now, this lack of understanding is costing him and his precious report dearly.
Yesterday, during his staid press conference, George Mitchell stressed the future over the past. Pay attention to and follow my recommendations, he said more than once. So the next day, of course, all of the newspapers feature on their front covers pictures of the big guns in the report with nary a mention of his recommendations. Even ESPN, with their limitless internet resources, buried the recommendations underneath a giant picture of the stars named in the report.
And here we arrive at that same point I made yesterday: By naming names, George Mitchell produced a report that was counterproductive to its intent and message. By his own admission, somewhere from at least six to eight percent of Major League Baseball players used steroids. This report captures about 1 percent of all Major Leaguers over the time period identified in it.
So in naming names, Mitchell spoon-fed the media their top stories for a slow Friday. Splashed across newspaper covers nationwide are Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada and Eric Gagne. Never mind that the report seems to cover five of baseball’s 30 teams. Never mind that Mitchell got two sources to talk due to either plea deals with the government or the threat of federal prosecution. Never mind that Sammy Sosa’s name is curiously absent from a story about steroids. Mitchell found a few big names and named them.
Tomorrow, this story will be off the front page. We do have after all some hotly-contested primaries coming up, a climate change conference in Bali, a shaky economy and a war going on. And when the papers arrive tomorrow, we’ll once again see no mention of the recommendations that Mitchell has set forth in the report.
Blame it on George for his naivete or blame it on Bud. Selig wanted his names. He wanted the past to be utterly exposed, and what he got was a media storm and probably around 15 percent of the names of those who used steroids.
Baseball will recover. It always does, but what should have been a day for looking forward and looking at a report that could have been effective with names redacted instead became a day for condemning the past. All we’ve learned is that the media loves to tear down big stars. Somehow, George Mitchell and his crack team of investigators didn’t know that two days ago.