Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SELENA ROBERTS' POISON PEN: AN INOCULATION

How low will Selena go? If history is any guide, she’ll dredge the very bottom.

Ever since the former New York Times sports columnist reported in a story written for Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, the media-entertainment complex has been practically salivating with anticipation over what new, scandalous revelations Roberts’ forthcoming book, "A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez", holds in store.

Set for release on May 12, the book’s product description on Amazon.com intimates it will contain enough salacious and tawdry material to feed the tabloids’ vulgar appetite and to flood the airwaves with toxic static through October. The caption reads as follows:

“Rumored to be on the verge of a personal and professional collapse so profound it would rate as one of the most dramatic falls in major league history. Through exhaustive reporting and interviews, Roberts will detail A-Rod as a plunge-in-progress, a once-in-a-generation baseball talent tortured by an internal struggle between the polished family man he wants to be and the unabashed hedonist he has become. The storyline will include his dalliances with strippers, infatuation with Madonna, details of his record-breaking $315-million contract, shady real estate empire and further evidence of steroid use, but will also tunnel deeper into his behavior. Roberts will reveal the root of Alex's identity crisis - the night his father abandoned him - and, in so doing, answer the question: who is the real A-Rod?”

The vultures already have begun to circle, astir with the stench of blood and the drool of speculation. Has Roberts discovered further evidence of steroid use? Will "Many Live" disclose sordid details of A-Rod's divorce, of his trysts with Madonna, of sinister financial improprieties, of an ambivalent sexuality? Will Roberts answer every loyal Yankee fans' eternal question: where does Alex Rodriguez get those purple lips?

Selena says. Enquiring minds want to know.

In the meantime, don’t let all the reporter and pundits eager to vouch for Roberts' "impeccable credentials" and "irreproachable reputation" fool you. The esteemed New York Times and meretricious Sports Illustrated very well may distinguish her resume. The pen she wields nonetheless drips with poison.

In fact, had A-Rod’s $100,000 crisis management team armed their client for his Gammons interview with Roberts’ columns, A-Rod might not have sabotaged his own cause by turning his nemesis into a sympathetic victim. After all, he didn’t need to smear Selena. He didn't need to embroider allegations of breaking and entering. He didn't need to accuse her of invading his privacy. (Although why Roberts felt compelled to confront A-Rod in person prior to publishing her story still warrants scrutiny. Wouldn't a call either to A-Rod, his agents, or his lawyers have sufficed? Does anyone believe that, with four independent sources to confirm the test results, SI would have withheld a story of such magnitude without its subject's comment?)

No, the zeal with which Roberts has stalked Rodriguez in her columns for the New York Times incriminates her alone. All A-Rod had to do was read a few choice excerpts. The persistent malice they bear him, the tendentious exaggeration her columns indulge and the relentless platitudes the author belabors not only belie her "eminent" reputation, they impugn her motives, impeach her professionalism, and above all, discredit the portrait of him she draws. Indeed, Roberts' A-Rod no more captures the real Alex Rodriguez than Captain Ahab's Moby Dick does the white whale.

DUKE: A PRIMER IN SELENA’S SPLENETICS

Although unlike Ahab, Roberts doesn’t confine her resentment and rancor to a single Leviathan.

Considered beside the onslaught of pious bombast, crude generalization, wanton censure and savage recrimination with which Selena Roberts assails Duke University between March ‘06 and March ’07, her forensic technique suggests something of a method-- the logic of ad hominem argument, of reason via stereotype and of deduction by accusation.

In this instance, the now infamous Duke Lacrosse case that arraigned three players on trumped up charges of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping provoked Roberts’ fusillade. Less significant than what ignited her outrage however was the span of her assault. Her wrath spared no one, whether accountable or not. Dubious allegations, as it turned out, occasioned categorical denunciations of an “irrefutable [‘jock’] culture” of “misogyny, racial animus and athlete entitlement;” of primitive, derogatory locker-room codes; of vulgar, savage, mob-like fans; of the “khaki pants crowd of SAT wonder kids;” of the Cameron Crazies, Coach K. [the basketball, not the lacrosse, coach no less], and Duke’s entire student body.

In fact, this ostensibly epidemic jock culture is so “irrefutable” Selena doesn’t bother to cite any evidence of it. Articles like “When Peer Pressure, Not a Conscience, Is Your Guide” (03/31/2006) to “Closing a Case Will Not Mean Closure at Duke” (03/25/2007) rely not on adduced facts, deductive logic, and reasoned conclusions but on ad hominem argument—that is, the logic of denigration and denunciation. The anathemas fly in every direction.

She writes,

“At the intersection of entitlement and enablement, there is Duke University, virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside. This is the home of Coach K’s white-glove morality and the Cameron Crazies’ celebrated vulgarity. The season is over, but the paradox lives on in Duke’s lacrosse team, a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings” (03/31/06).

What qualifies a campus of 6,000 undergraduates, you ask, as the nexus of “enablement”— complicit if not in the rape itself, then in a supposed “code of silence” that abets its perpetrators? What evidence establishes Duke, collectively, as an institution that is “virtuous on the outside, debauched on the inside?” Well, precisely nothing. Nothing, beyond the accused lacrosse players and Roberts’ insinuation that the Lacrosse team-- in conjunction with Coach K’s “white-glove morality” and the Cameron Crazies’ “celebrated vulgarity”-- indict an entire University.

Leave aside the obvious synecdochic fallacy for a moment—none of her culprits embodies all of Duke. Never mind, besides, the contradictory images of white gloves and vulgar rabble or their ascription without illustration. More importantly, what does Coach K., the basketball coach, have to do with the Lacrosse team? (Hey, I don’t like Republicans much either. Nevertheless, there’s a vast difference between fucking the country and abetting the rape of its citizens.)

Likewise, do the Cameron Crazies even attend lacrosse games? Selena doesn’t say, of course. The vulgarity she deduces, however, from the legend that the Crazies have “derided opponents accused of sex crimes with a sign that reads, ‘Did you send her flowers?’” But again, the logical inconsistency. Their bawdy ridicule hardly sounds like either an apology for rape or an enabling “code of silence.” Quite the contrary, it smacks of a public shaming. If John Demanjanjuk, for example, played for the Tarheels, the Cameron fans probably would skewer him about the soap he uses.

Is it in poor taste? Perhaps. Certainly, if the judge possesses the “white-glove morality” for which she condemns Coach K.? Regardless, when is “vulgarity” tantamount to “debauchery” or taste the arbiter of virtue? Coarse impudence doesn’t signal a taste for violence. Nor are decadence and vulgarity the moral equivalent of rape, whether in committing it or condoning it.

Finally, why is any of this moral hand-wringing apropos for the New York Times’ Sports section? One doesn’t expect any better from the sports world’s equivalent of People magazine. But how did an editor at the “paper of record” decide such sanctimonious drivel qualified as “news fit to print?”

THE ASSASSINATION OF A “PROM KING"

Yet the standard of deliberate, reasoned opinion, one expects from journalism’s polestar, whether on the Op-Ed page or in the Sports section, doesn’t seem to apply to Selena Roberts’ work. And in this regard, A-Rod fares no better than Duke. Her columns, in fact, charge Rodriguez with a similar litany of sins and shower him, likewise, with incessant derision and rebuke in the guise of considered judgment.

If she can’t brand the famously disciplined athlete with the violence, “misogyny”, or “debauchery” of rowdy Lacrosse players—not until her book arrives anyway-- she, certainly, can tar him with the “khaki pants crowds’” ostensible wealth, privilege, and entitlement. And so she does.

Not a column about A-Rod appears with Selena Roberts’ by-line from 2005 to 2007 that his $252 million contract doesn’t figure as the definitive, incriminating proof in an otherwise facile indictment of his character. As with Duke, the money, ipso facto, evidences the crime.

Only with this obvious caveat—the terms of abuse change to accommodate the appropriate class stereotype. A Duke blue-blood’s degenerate “white-glove morality” won’t fit Hispanic A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez, after all, didn’t inherit money or status. Talent and performance won it for him. Roberts tailors the smear accordingly. In her caricature, A-Rod instead embodies all the vices, offenses, and unseemliness we associate with the nouveau-riche—greed, vanity, ambition, self-consciousness, duplicity, pretension, ruthlessness, and naturally, the now prescribed slur ascribed him, fraudulence.

I excerpt a selection of her columns about A-Rod below. The gratuitous malice and rank caricature manifest in 2005 only grows more ugly and contorted with each year.

1) “Rodriguez is a star increasingly strapped with authenticity issues.” [Guess why?] “Contract is at the root of Rodriguez’s plunge from perfect. It’s not how other handled his $252 million deal, but how A-Rod responded to his riches… Rodriguez started to treat his deal as a stamp of superiority.” (‘Rodriguez is Getting Hits’, 02/17/05)

And to illustrate how A-Rod flaunted his status, what evidence does Roberts offer? Well, as you might have suspected, by now, nothing. Zero. She resorts to the banal, tiresome A-Rod-Jeter comparison: in the clutch, Jeter thrives, A-Rod falters. And then adverts, again, to the contract and its perks. In other words, premise proves conclusion. The contract condemns him now and forever.

2) It’s [A-Rod’s] tireless effort at image control that seems to consume him to the point of talent debilitation.” [If the 35 home runs he hit in 2004 qualify as “talent debilitation,” every Yankees should so suffer.] “Rodriguez equated the size of his contract with his self-worth when… the Rangers anointed him the richest athlete in history… He had no idea he’d lose his prom king’s crown [in New York].” (‘No longer the “Prom King,”’ 04/15/05)

Freud would call this a textbook example of projection. Roberts decries A-Rod for a fixation with the very contract she is obsessed about.

3) “There was the shirtless A-Rod, perfectly coiffed, leaning back on a rock in Central Park, flaunting pecs and abs as if awaiting an Abercrombie & Fitch talent scout.” [By this standard, Selena should fancy herself lucky. Preening one’s sex appeal isn’t a sin likely to tempt her much anytime soon.] “A-Rod is polarizing…To lose sight of his contract is to lose sight of his money’s context.” [There’s the contract bugaboo again. So what is the “context” then?] “David Wright is an equal to his teammates. And this has nothing—and everything—to do with contracts.” [Read: strike nothing]. “He is one of the guys, in pay and demeanor. From the moment Rodriguez signed with the Rangers, he wasn’t like any other guy. He has been a misfit ever since, but an outcast of his own making.” ('Splendor in the Park,' 07/19/06)

Why is he an outcast? Well, not the contract, per se: enter subtlety’s empty shell. Alex is pariah, in Selena’s estimation, because he commits the unforgivable transgression of wanting to be a “marketable mainstream icon…[W]ith A-Rod, every graceful movement seems lies a pose, every innocent dip in the sun seems plotted.”

What about Jordan, LeBron, Manning, or Agassi? They don’t cultivate their images? The face they present the world is pure and authentic? Yeah, right. Gambling allegations played no role in Jordan’s first retirement, and Agassi fell down at Wimbledon in exhaustion. More than a year later, the poser charge, nonetheless, recurs.

4) He doesn’t swing for the cameras anymore, yet Alex Rodriguez is still posing, even when he’s not trying to be a poser…Only A-Rod could turn being contrived into a virtue… He has [only] changed the veneer, but the psyches [is] still the same.” (‘Alex Positions Himself for Success,’ 10/05/07)

Selena, perhaps, doesn’t appreciate the irony here. Caricature is as much a pose, and as much a deceit as is false modesty. The difference is that Alex’s MVP season in 2005 justifies his pose. What's Roberts' excuse?

5) “But apparently, salary records are more important than history’s snapshots to Alex. Apparently, Alex’s wife had put signing for ego dough on his honey-do list.” (‘Rodriguez is a Bauble,’ October 29, 2007)

Hmmn, who would thunk that Cynthia Rodriguez and Selena Roberts were on such good terms? Actually, the pettiness speaks for itself; taking a swipe at Alex’s wife descends to a low of contemptibility, if possible, beneath contempt.

THE MANY LIES” ABOUT ALEX RODRIGUEZ: AN OMEN

Selena’s poison pen delivers its coup de grace, however, in the article, titled “A-Rod’s Properties and Charity Suggest Some Stinginess,” dated December 7, 2007. If the feature’s pat judgments, baseless assertions, ad hominem asides and undisguised animus foreshadow “The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez,” then a “hatchet job” of exquisite mendacity awaits.

Evidently, where A-Rod is the subject, the New York Times suspends protocol. Because our shining exemplar of journalism actually printed Roberts’ tract on its front-page. In the guise of a sensational expose revealing the superstar’s alleged greed, callousness, and frugality off-the-field—as illustrated by the squalid apartment dwellings he owns and the charitable foundation he stints— we read yet more venomous, plangent editorial about A-Rod and the evils of his money.

This time, Roberts merely dresses the caricature in a few anecdotal facts-- facts neither telling nor even incriminating-- and embellishes it with more of the same unsupported inflammatory rhetoric. The very first sentence encapsulates what follows:

“The veneer of Alex Rodriguez’s real estate empire of working-class housing is staged to disguise his inner Mr. Potter.”

The evidence then of this so-called “apartment tycoon’s” rapacity and avarice?

Title to Newport Riverside Apartments, a rickety and dilapidated housing complex, is registered to Newport Property Ventures, a real estate holding company that lists Rodriguez as its owner, operator, and chief executive. (Sure, in between his off-season’s daily, ten to twelve hour workouts, A-Rod likes to play Donald Trump besides.)

The flagrant dishonesty resides, however, in what the article conveniently omits. That is, it never addresses whether Newport Apartment’s disrepair typifies the Newport holding company’s other properties or how Newport Apartments compare to the rest of the real estate A-Rod owns. Is the Newport complex the exception or the rule? Oddly, Roberts, instead, cites a minor detail that belies the comparison to Mr. Potter. Since 2004, Newport Holdings, evidently, underwent a $12 million dollar drop in its assets' value-- a loss hardly indicative of a shrewd and cunning “apartment tycoon.”

Which may account for why, throughout a supposed, objective news article, Roberts feels constrained to inject discursive commentary to bolster an invidious profile her facts don’t support,

“An examination of his high-rolling corporate side… reveals a portrait of Rodriguez as a player about to enter Yankee Take II [] primarily as a branding tool. He emerges as an obsessive pursuer of cold, hard numbers on and off the bases, with serially disingenuous nods to his ever-challenged image.”

Yet for all the ruthlessness charged him, A-Rod’s real estate holdings and charity donations-- donating that include a $2.9 million gift to the University of Miami-- simply never add up to the nefarious image Roberts’ assertion promises. No more do all of the trite and catty observations Roberts has made about A-Rod over the years illuminate the enigmatic man.

One is left to conclude that the prosaic journalistic mind cannot imagine or grasp a life or a personality so unlike its own and so, willy-nilly, to render the man, it debunks the image he contrives and substitutes, for it, a fictitious caricature of its own, reproducing the distortion often until it acquires the currency of received opinion.

But ah, here’s the rub. It’s a phenomenon our astute, contemplative President realized long ago.

(And before dismissing the comparison to A-Rod, consider the parallels between two prodigiously successful, talented bi-racial men whose fathers abandoned them.)

President Obama discovered the power of his own inscrutability, the value of the mask. By concealing his real self—if such a thing exists— he could turn himself into blank projection screen. (The more public the figure, of course, the more receptive the screen.)

As such, what the public makes of the masked man's identity-- from his fiercest detractor to his most adoring enthusiasts-- is a reflection of their own fantasies-- fantasies that represent not the fantasized but, pace Freud, actually project their own personality and character. "What one's imagination makes of other people is dictated, of course, by the laws of one's own personality," in the words of the immortal James Baldwin.

By accusing A-Rod of greed for money and a lust for fame, then, by conceiving of his personality as calculated affectation and cultivated imposture, Roberts, accordingly, less A-Rod than the woman called Selena.

About her forthcoming book’s merit, accordingly, I cannot judge. Of this, however, I know, “The Many Lives of Selena Roberts” is not a title I’d envy reading anytime soon.

6 comments:

wrveres said...

great read.

i can't help but think, we just saw a similar character assisantion played out, oh about 10 years ago?

see Barry Bonds vs. the SF Media.

Bonds only crime, (he may, or may not own apartments) was he didn't like the media members. He didn't like the way they treated his dad either.

What a crime.

mahnu.uterna said...

Absolutely effin fabulous. How anyone could be familiar with Roberts past "coverage" of Alex Rodriguez and still list professionalism and fairness among her attributes as a journalist is beyond me. Thanks for all the work it took to present a cross-section of the "real" Selena Roberts.

Matthew S Schweber said...

Thanks all for the considered commentary, appreciation, and above all, for taking the time to read the post.

Joseph said...

Amazing article.Compelling and uh...chilling actually. Selena Roberts obviously has many demons residing between her ears to make her want to lash out at people in such a hateful, twisted manner.

In the Costas interview, I was struck by the number of times she insisted that none of her many anonymous sources had any kind of dislike or animosity for ARod. No sort of axe to grind. They were just "concerned" for him. Yeah, riiiiight.

One can only hope, and I'm starting to see some signs, that Selena Robert's true colors will become evident to more of the casual observers of this situation and she and her psychotic hatchet attack of a book will be outed and die a quick, irrelevent death on the literary garbage dump of worthless, stinking trash.

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