"People in the Bay Area years ago concluded Barry Bonds was using steroids," McManus notes. "Whether he did or didn't or whether he perjured himself probably will not change the quality of San Francisco's schools, the economy, the air, or water quality," McManus continues with a laugh. "It's absurd by any standard of ethical journalism to let a story like that take over the front page."
The San Francisco Chronicle broke the Bonds -- and larger BALCO -- stories
, so McManus understands the paper's drive to "own" the story and keep aggressively covering it. Yet he mocked the paper for its belief that the investigation was Pulitzer-worthy -- and worth keeping the paper's top investigative talent on the steroids beat and away from those in the city and state getting away with malfeasance that actually affected the lives of everyday people.
"The nation is in crisis. This is where the newsmedia ought to be pointing our attention -- not at a has-been baseball great being dragged into court."
Other media figures were more copacetic with the local coverage of Bonds' ongoing legal oddyssey. Paul Steiger, who heads the New York-based investigative jouralism outfit Pro Publica, described the situation as "a very legitimate subject for coverage, and I think the Chronicle did a good job. It is't just what athletes are doing, but what is the spinoff from what athletes are doing?"
This would appear to be the "What about the Kids?" argument -- that is, high school athletes could start a massive doping orgy because they watched Bonds break home run records. There are legions of problems with this argument, but we'll limit our scope to an analysis of journalistic motives. And, in short, Steiger concedes that Saving Our Children was probably not the Chronicle's motive for its aggressive coverage of Bonds and the BALCO case.
When asked if Pro Publica -- which describes itself as covering journalism in the public interest -- is following baseball's steroids revelations, Steiger noted he only had 17 reporters. Evidently the menace of steroidal athletes is not one of the 17 most important issues nationwide (and a quick trip to Steiger's Web site reveals storeis about the billions tied up in the stimulus package, a lack of criminal background checks for nurses, threats to our drinking water -- stuff, in short, that affects everyday people's lives).
The Barry Bonds story "Is not Watergate," admits Steiger. "But neither is it unimportant."