The Instant Historian: July Doldrums and Gawker Outing

ON THE JULY DOLDRUMS

Covering sports media, the second week of July is godawful. Baseball shuts down. Football remains dormant. Domestic soccer, for some reason, does not close the gap. The summer is already down time. This week, sports news stops.

It would be sensible for us all to throw up the Gone Fishin’ sign for the week.

Though, one would never accuse the relentless news cycle of sense. We still get major holidays, for now. Since life offered little fodder, the sports media stepped in to provide it.

ESPN holds the ESPYs. The fake awards provide a pretense to “bring the sports community together.” More accurately, the show creates a fictive space, where ESPN personalities can bask in the reflected coolness of celebrities and athletes they purportedly cover. ESPN can assemble a B-plus list party. It’s a triumph for the company’s entertainment wing.

SEC Media Days happened as well. That’s four days of breezy press conferences broken down like sporting events. A thousand media members descend on Hoover, Alabama. Apparently, one must be on site to huddle over a phone live tweeting and complaining about other media members.

The former offered red carpet pictures. The latter gave us hot sneaker talk, Steve Spurrier eating fast food and a borderline glimpse into Bret Bielema’s sexual predilections. This was news last week. It was nonsense. But, it was content. In the July doldrums, that’s anything that keeps the sails full.

ON GAWKER OUTING

Gawker took social media flak last night. The website outed Condé Nast CFO David Geithner for soliciting sex from a gay pornstar. Look alive, journalism ethics students.

Journalism is not a profession. There are few hard, fast rules, besides, of course, not referring to a home run as a “dinger” in print. Publishing in the grey area comes down to a judgement call: does the news value outweigh any scruples?

Most journalists would say you never out someone for being gay (or transgender). Though, that’s a policy not a commandment from on high.

SI wanted to break “the Michael Sam story” by outing him. Gawker, as openly gay Nick Denton has explained, does not shy away from outing public figures.

In a sense, yes, if equality is real, sexual orientation should not be hermetically sealed from gossip reporting. Gawker’s EIC Max Read claimed the story was no different than any other executive cheating on their wife. (If this indeed falls under the realm of cheating.) That’s more theory than reality.

Whether Geithner is a public figure is debatable. The definition is fluid. He’s not someone known to the greater public. Being the brother of a public figure does not quite meet that threshold. But, there are many contexts in which the CFO of a major corporation would be a public figure.

Harm committed by publication here is great. Beyond prurience, the public interest is negligible. It is keeping a lens on a powerful figure, albeit a powerful figure who did not use his power or influence in any untoward fashion. Being a party to a, possibly unstable, scorned party’s public vengeance should have raised scruples.

The trouble with journalism ethics is they differ from human ethics. Actions can be justified in the journalism abstract, but, nonetheless, be shitty in real life.

Chasing a story it’s easy to lose sight of the latter.

Callous in real life is callous, even if the story is true.

[Photos via Getty]