Whitlock on Sterling Scandal; Dalla – Defending the Indefensible; Investigating Investigators

 

donald sterling

 

Culture Clash   Removing Sterling will not fix the systemic racism that gave birth to his attitudes  

By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

Lifetime Ban For Donald Sterling

Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life in response to racist comments the league says he acknowledged he made in a recorded conversation.

In our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry, a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge turned Donald T. Sterling — a victim of privacy invasion and white supremacy — from villain to martyr.

In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.   When private conversations become public, it’s important to react with logic and not emotion.

On Tuesday, just 72 hours after the release of Sterling’s Pillow Talk Tapes by TMZ, a rookie commissioner imposed a lifetime ban on a flawed man whose rights were violated.

Mob rule is dangerous. Well-intentioned, TV-baited mobs are the most dangerous. They do not consider the consequences of their actions, and they’re prone to take a simple-minded, instant-gratification approach to justice rather than a strategic one.

Removing Donald Sterling from the NBA solves nothing. It sets a precedent that will likely boomerang and harm the black players and coaches who are shocked and outraged that an 80-year-old man with a documented history of bigoted actions also has bigoted private thoughts.

Let’s be careful here. From the owner’s box to the locker room, professional sports are overrun with wealthy men in complicated, volatile sexual relationships. If TMZ plans to make “pillow talk” public and the standard is set that “pillow talk” is actionable, it won’t be long before a parade of athletes joins Sterling on Ignorance Island.

A right to privacy is at the very foundation of American freedoms. It’s a core value. It’s a mistake to undermine a core value because we don’t like the way a billionaire exercises it. What happens when a disgruntled lover gives TMZ a tape of a millionaire athlete expressing a homophobic or anti-Semitic or anti-white perspective?

Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who called for Clippers fans to boycott Game 5, seems quite vulnerable to mob rule. Jackson is super-religious. He’s previously been extorted by a stripper he kept as a mistress. And some of the LGBT community views Jackson as homophobic.

The conversation revolving around Donald Sterling is unsophisticated, and so was the heavy-handed punishment. They’re driven by emotion rather than logic. It does not serve the greater good of the offended black community. Sterling is a scapegoat. He is an easy target, a decoy so that we do not address the elephant he walked into his mistress’ bedroom.

“We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong,” Sterling is heard telling his black-and-Latina mistress when she asked if it was right to treat black as less than white. “We live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.”

Sterling adheres to a pervasive culture, the hierarchy established by global white supremacy.

“I don’t want to change the culture because I can’t,” Sterling says. “It’s too big.”

This was Sterling’s one moment of clarity. The culture of white supremacy created Donald Sterling. He did not create the culture.   Donald Sterling is only a symptom of a larger problem that needs to be addressed.

Much of what Sterling said on the tape is a rambling mess that can be interpreted many ways by sophisticated, mature and objective ears. To my ears, he doesn’t care that his mistress has black friends. He doesn’t care if she has sexual relationships with black men. He’s married. They’re not in a monogamous relationship. He simply does not want her extracurricular activities, particularly when they might involve black men, flaunted at his basketball games or all over Instagram.

This conversation, while grotesque and abhorrent, is not remotely unique or limited to old white men. My father was hood-rich, good looking and a playa who enjoyed the company of a younger, kept woman. Many of his friends had similar tastes. Their private conversations about dating could sound every bit as abhorrent and grotesque as Sterling’s. I’ve heard young black men and women engage in equally grotesque and abhorrent private conversations, particularly when their feelings are hurt or they feel betrayed.

No. The substantive meat of Sterling’s Sex, Lies and Audiotape is his point about the culture that created his worldview. He is adhering to the standards of his peer group. He is adhering to the standards of the world he lives in. It’s a world inhabited by all of us. It’s a culture that shapes everyone’s worldview on some level. It fuels the black self-hatred at the core of commercialized hip-hop culture,   and is at the root of the NAACP’s initial plan to twice honor an unrepentant bigot with a lifetime achievement award.

White-supremacy culture is created, maintained and run by rich white men, Sterling’s peers. He is the longest-tenured owner in the NBA. Former commissioner David Stern had multiple opportunities to run Sterling out of the league for his bigoted actions. Sterling’s peers have always protected him … until he had the audacity and stupidity to be caught on tape explaining the culture they maintain.

It’s comical to watch the well-intentioned mob circle around Sterling as if his unintended transparency says nothing about his peer group.  It’s equally comical seeing this issue framed as a “black issue,” with black people running to suggest ways to clean up Sterling’s mess.

White people should be wearing black socks, turning their T-shirts inside out, protesting outside the Staples Center. This is their culture, their Frankenstein. Or maybe they agree with Donald T. Sterling.

“I don’t want to change the culture because I can’t. It’s too big.”

It’s also too beneficial. It’s too comfortable.

Well-intentioned white people should be holding nationally televised panel discussions focusing on ways to lessen the damaging impact of white-supremacy culture. Well-intentioned white people who work within or support the NBA should be demanding that the NBA power structure cede some of its governing power to men and women who look like the overwhelming majority of the league’s players.

Instead, the mainstream fanned the flames, enraging the angry black mob looking for a quick solution, a sacrificial lamb — and now, by the end of the week, we’ll be back to business as usual, pretending the stoning of Sterling harmed the culture that created him.

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sterling and v

Defending the Indefensible — NBA Owner Donald Sterling and His Racist Comments  

by Nolan Dalla www.nolandall.com  

The right of an individual to conduct intimate relationships in the intimacy of his or her own home seems to me to be the heart of the Constitution’s protection of privacy.

– Harry A. Blackmun (Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court)

Privacy is not something that I’m merely entitled to, it’s an absolute prerequisite.

– Marlon Brando (Academy Award-Winning Actor)

*     *     *

By now, just about everyone has heard the outrageous remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, first reported a few days ago.

Sterling, who owns the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers franchise, made some shockingly insensitive verbal remarks with highly-offensive racial overtones during a private telephone call, which was secretly recorded by a former girlfriend.  Now estranged from her former sugar daddy, the gold-digger went public with an abbreviated audio segment of a heated conversation between the two, which included Sterling’s ghastly rant against Black people.

The comments speak for themselves.  They’re as appalling as they are indefensible.  No one can possibly justify the content nor the context in which they were made.  Moreover, they’re consistent with Sterling’s well-documented pattern of discrimination and racial insensitivity as a businessman.

Nevertheless, Sterling does have one credible mode of defense in his corner, and that’s his inherent right to personal privacy.

Let’s get one thing straight.  This was a discrete, off-the-record, behind closed doors telephone call between just two people — namely Sterling and his then-girlfriend/mistress.  She recorded the conversation completely without his knowledge.  California State law is quite clear about this.  The law reads as follows:  California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.  READ MORE HERE

That the former girlfriend not only recorded a private telephone call, but then later released it publicly (for her own selfish purposes) seems like solid ground for serious monetary damages.  Were I in a position to advise Sterling, I’d suggest filing a civil lawsuit immediately and attach a lot of zeroes to the damages.

Of course, the NBA and its fans are better off knowing Sterling is an avowed racist.  But the law makes no distinction between recording confidential communications for the sake of the common good, versus other motives.

Beyond the cries of “what in the hell do we do with this guy now?” which must be bouncing off the walls at NBA headquarters, this controversy is intriguing because of the potentially-dangerous precedent for future exposures of a similar kind.  All people are entitled to some degree of privacy — especially within their own homes and workplaces, as well as while talking on their telephones.  All people should enjoy the right to speak freely in private conversations without any fear their words will be intercepted, recorded, and disseminated publicly.  After all, who among us hasn’t uttered a foolish remark we wish could be taken back?  Fortunately, most of our telephone conversations aren’t recorded by anyone (aside from the National Security Agency) and won’t ever be used to humiliate us.  No one really cares what we do or what we say — which I suppose has some advantages.

Yet, imagine if you will, the people closest to you secretly recording what you say without your knowledge or consent.  Then sometime later, during a moment of bitterness, a former employee or wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend or in-law or business partner or ex-friend or whoever decides to release an audio recording containing your voice.  Careers could be ruined.  Lives might even be in danger.

Think about it.  Is this really the world we want to live in?  Where we have to fear cameras and microphones?  Where we can’t freely express our emotions to the people who are closest to, even though some of those things we say and believe might be vile?

It’s not enough to simply advise people to watch what they say, even in private.  Fact is, we must be able to vent frustrations and partake in open dialogue.  It’s essential to living in a free society.  We shouldn’t have to worry about listening devices all around us, or former lovers becoming turncoats holding the smoking guns of scandalous recordings.  That’s downright Orwellian.

Even celebrities and public officials are entitled to some measure of personal privacy.  While Sterling is neither a celebrity nor a public official, he is undoubtedly in the public eye, by choice.  But simply being rich and powerful doesn’t disqualify someone from rightful legal protections.

We’ve clearly become a world of voyeurs, with outlets like TMZ (which profit from scandal) as our eyes and ears.  We’re obsessed with celebrities and what they do and say.  With cameras and recording devices now in the palm of every single hand via millions of smart phones, anyone who’s famous must constantly be on guard.  Everyone must be careful.  Nothing is private anymore.  Everyone stands the remote chance that something they say will be recorded and later played back and revealed to the world.  With the explosion of social media, these dangers are multiplied more so since any eyebrow-raising remark is likely to get plastered all over Twitter and Facebook within seconds.  And once it’s said and out there, there’s no way to put the genie back into the bottle.

I don’t see this as a good thing.  Not at all.  Our conversations should be private.  Our phone calls should be protected by law.  The things we say to others within a relationship should be confidential.

Yes, everyone deserves the same right to personal privacy.  This goes for presidents.  This goes for royalty.  This goes for movie stars.  This even goes for bigots.

Postscript:  It was brought to my attention that some if not all of the recordings were made during a face-to-face conversation, and Sterling had expressed his consent to record everything that was said.  Details remain sketchy at the moment and I don’t know if this is true.  But I do want to set the record straight as more details are released.

Note:  Since the issue is likely to come up, let me address it in advance.  Critics may charge me with hypocrisy, defending Sterling while attacking Cliven Bundy, the outlaw rancher who made remarks of a similar nature last week.  However, Bundy’s comments were said publicly in front of reporters, which makes them fair game.  Bundy knew his comments would be heard and reported.  Conversely, Sterling was speaking privately without the knowledge his comments were being recorded.  In my opinion, that makes this a very different case.

 

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inspector clouseous

Investigating the investigators at ESPN

 By Robert Lipsyte | ESPN Ombudsman

ESPN’s investigative unit is a SEAL Team of American journalism, and Don Van Natta Jr. is one of its top operatives. His reports cut deep and often evoke cries of outrage. His most recent story for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com was a profile of Mike McQueary, one of the most intriguing characters in the Penn State sexual assault scandal.

After its publication last month, Van Natta’s story was praised by many, but also attacked by some for its outing of a sexual abuse survivor, use of anonymous sources, naming of a source who requested anonymity and its perceived bias against the convicted rapist Jerry Sandusky and the late coach Joe Paterno.   This would seem like piling on — a 7,000-word story — except that McQueary is expected to be a key witness in the upcoming trial of three top university officials accused of a cover-up. Not only may his credibility determine the fate of defendants threatened by long prison terms, it could reflect on the past actions of various interests in the university community and the media. Attacks on McQueary and/or Van Natta may thus signal those interests at work.   Which is not to say the attacks should be dismissed.

It seemed like an opportunity to examine the anatomy of an investigative report, arguably the most important form of journalism, and one whose techniques can sometimes seem slippery. Throughout several long conversations Van Natta was unfailingly professional, cooperative and yet assertive in defense of his methods. He also went on and off the record.

My interest in the Van Natta story was piqued in part by writer/filmmaker John Ziegler, who protested that Van Natta violated an agreement with him not to use the name of a grand juror he interviewed. The name of Ziegler’s site, Framingpaterno.com, is an accurate description of his perspective, and he theorizes ESPN’s choices in the story were dictated by a commitment to a simple narrative.

I was also alerted by several mailbag correspondents, who complained that McQueary’s admission of his sexual abuse was reported without his direct permission. That disclosure was the most sensational in Van Natta’s article, “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand.” As a 26-year-old graduate assistant coach, McQueary had walked in on Sandusky and a young boy in a Penn State football shower room on Feb. 9, 2001. A strapping 6-foot-5 former quarterback, McQueary was subsequently criticized for neither disrupting the action nor notifying the police. He said he informed his father that night and Paterno the next day.

A PAST TRAUMA SHARED

More than 10 years later, by then a Penn State assistant coach, McQueary cried as he told more than a dozen wide receivers and tight ends in his position group, according to Van Natta’s story, that “he could relate to the fear and helplessness felt by the boy in the shower because he too was sexually abused as a boy.”

According to his story, Van Natta interviewed “two players who were there and others familiar with the 40-minute session” and later in the piece quoted Patrick Flanagan, who had been a redshirt freshman receiver on the team, saying that “[McQueary] said he had some regret that he didn’t stop it.”

It was not made clear in the article whether Flanagan was one of the two players there or one of the others, familiar with the 40-minute session, who spoke to Van Natta.   That kind of imprecision, presumably to protect sources who demanded anonymity, gives the impression of cutting corners. The confession itself was paraphrased, never offered as a direct quote. Despite alluding to long, mostly off-the-record conversations with McQueary himself, Van Natta never states whether or not the coach actually confirmed his locker-room declaration, much less gave the reporter permission to reveal it.

For some, that was unacceptable. Typical was an e-mail from Marcia Wright-Soika of Wilmington, Del., who wrote: “The reporter revealed that Mike McQueary privately told members of the Penn State football team in 2011 that he was a victim of sexual abuse. … The magazine went ahead and printed it anyway, violating a long-time journalistic principle that protects the privacy of sexual abuse and rape victims.”

Ethicist Kelly McBride, who previously served in an ombudsman role at ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project, expressed her criticism on the Poynter Institute site. She wrote that Van Natta had not put the sexual abuse issue in context with enough reporting and concluded, “The threshold for identifying someone as a sexual assault survivor against his or her wishes should be exceedingly high. … Is there reason to doubt McQueary’s truthfulness about the abuse?  There’s no reporting that supports or undermines his claim. The writer could have at the very least revealed McQueary’s reaction and McQueary’s father’s reaction, when they learned that ESPN was going to publish the story of the abuse.”

Her original story was later revised to include a response by Chad Millman, editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, who expressed confidence in the reporting and described a carefully reached decision to print McQueary’s declaration. ESPN guidelines clearly prohibit identifying a victim of sexual abuse unless the victim publicly steps forward, as in a legal setting such as a civil suit, or if the story has a higher editorial imperative. It is not clear whether McQueary speaking to players in a position meeting can be interpreted as a public disclosure.   Said Millman, “Given that he is a central figure in the upcoming trial of Penn State officials and his own whistleblower lawsuit, a big focus is on what he saw, what he said and who he said it to. As a result, we carefully considered that if he was a victim of sexual abuse, that may have affected how he processed what he saw and what his reaction and statements were in the aftermath.”

BASIC QUESTIONS

Whatever the setting, reporters need to answer the basic question, “Who told you that?” And in particularly sensitive stories, there is an accompanying question, “Why did that person tell you that?”

That second question applies here and includes the motivation of Ziegler for sharing information with Van Natta, in this case the grand juror’s contact information, and the motivation of the grand juror for speaking to either of them. The tricky relationship between reporter and source is at play here, especially complex when the source has an axe to grind, as does Ziegler.

It was Ziegler who levied perhaps the most serious charge against Van Natta — exposing the identity of the grand juror. Ziegler believed that Sandusky, Paterno and the former university officials facing trial had been victims of a rush to judgment, and he saw Van Natta as “a great white hope” whose story would “get to the truth” and “eviscerate” McQueary’s credibility.   Van Natta was aware of Ziegler’s take, and in one e-mail exchange with Ziegler, he agreed to keep the name anonymous. The grand juror (who asked me not to use his name for this story despite it already being on ESPN.com) had his own reason to talk; he was a Penn State graduate, a Paterno loyalist who, he told me, “almost cried at the attacks on Joe.” He told Van Natta, according to the magazine article, that “he was skeptical of McQueary’s claim that sexual acts were going on between the boy and Sandusky.”

In his story, Van Natta mentioned the grand juror’s name, hometown and workplace. Van Natta told me that was justified because the promise of anonymity was between Ziegler and the grand juror, not between him and the grand juror — and the juror became Van Natta’s source once they made contact. During their conversation, Van Natta told me, the grand juror never requested anonymity, even when the reporter asked for such specific details as the spelling of his name, his address and where he worked.   The grand juror told me he had never requested anonymity from Van Natta because he assumed it had been promised; it was the reason he allowed Ziegler to offer up his e-mail and phone number. He said he was shocked after the story appeared and he began getting calls at work.

Van Natta’s response: “A few days later, the grand juror sent an unsolicited follow-up email with additional comments, presumably for the record because, once again, he didn’t say those remarks were on background or that he should not be quoted by name. I came away from all my communications with the grand juror convinced that he was not only willing to go on the record, but he was eager to do so.”   There appears to have been a miscommunication between Van Natta and the grand juror, who made clear to me he was anxious to get his opinion on ESPN, but not with his name attached.

THE GAMBLING QUARTERBACK

Beating up on Van Natta for naming a source is ironic since the basic rap on journalists, certainly including ESPN investigative reporters, is the overuse of anonymous sources. Van Natta, among others, is quick to admit that he would be out of business without them. He said: “Without anonymous sources I could not have done this piece or most of my pieces.”

Anonymous sources are the only sources in Van Natta’s recounting of McQueary’s “compulsive gambling habit” as an undergraduate football player. People referred to as “some who knew him then” and “several of his classmates and teammates” and “former coaches” and “a woman who worked for years in the football office” describe his “façade” as a “model guy” while he was “fooling fans” and “pulling the wool over on Paterno,” who was “clueless” to the thousands of dollars McQueary lost to a bookie betting on his own game.

ESPN is rightly proud of tightening its guidelines on the use of anonymous sources in recent years, but the system seems to have slipped a gear here. Editors might have sent Van Natta back to find at least one identifiable voice. Van Natta contends that the entire issue is so “toxic” and the inhabitants of Happy Valley so sensitive that people simply refuse to go on the record even though what he was asking them about had happened 18 years earlier.   ESPN policy requires reporters to identify their anonymous sources to their supervising editors, which Van Natta says happened here. Millman seems to have been satisfied with the result. In answer to my question about why the gambling information was so important, he replied: “It revealed elements of McQueary’s character and judgment from an early age and established, through comments of those in the football office, that Paterno could be unaware. Also, there is newsworthiness in discovering a college player and former starting quarterback for a high-profile program reportedly gambled on games, including his own when he was a backup.”

WHO DO WE TRUST?

Among the critics were those who argued ESPN and Van Natta left out details that could have countered that point of view. That’s all part of the deal for investigative reporters in the murky “Spy vs. Spy” world in which they operate. Because they usually know more — or imply such — than they can directly state or attribute, they often leave the reader/viewer with the choice of whether or not to trust the reporter. This is not always easy in an era of some infamous journalistic transgressions. Reporters become targets for those with special interests.

In politics, it becomes more intense. In conflict zones, it can become deadly.   I wish Van Natta had come up with at least one on-the-record source for the gambling accusations; actually, I’d like to know whether McQueary kicked that habit or is still gambling. I wish Van Natta had clearly stated to the grand juror that their conversation was on-the-record, but I can understand the confusion; also, considering that the grand juror had a special interest in supporting the image of Paterno, I don’t think he was badly used.   And then there is the big hole in the story: Did Van Natta’s off-the-record conversations with McQueary confirm to him all those shards of information that, to the reader, could seem like rumor or speculation? Why was McQueary willing to talk so much to Van Natta yet not to the rest of us?

Obviously we don’t know everything that Van Natta knows, but do we know everything we need to know to understand a tormented man with a key role in a terrible scandal?   Van Natta expects us to trust him. It’s what investigative reporters depend on. I happen to trust Don Van Natta Jr., but I feel forced to do so, and I’m not happy about that.

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