I find this twitter outburst and Lynn Bruce's facebook post to be a compelling reminder of how careful we all need to be about drawing conclusions solely based on what reporters say or write and especially from what they opine. I think this is especially true of sports writer's opinion pieces that take on a piling-on rush to go on the record as being on the right side of a social issue that is a hot-button topic at the time.
I am a long-time lawyer who works on the plaintiff side of fraud cases. One of the things I warned junior lawyers about is the natural and powerful tendency of people (including lawyers whose job is to represent one side of a dispute) to seize on any evidence or testimony that supports their preconception of a dispute, to immediately credit that evidence as reliable, and thus possibly to biased against any evidence or explanations that do not meet our own (or our client's) view of the case. This obligation to be vigilant in open-mindedness is more than just about normal due diligence. It really IS about being aware that bias that we all bring with us to our interpretation of any situation is natural and unavoidable, especially when it permits us to feel entitled to come to moral judgments about someone in a situation we abstractly think of as being straight-forward and absolute.
The risk is not only that we are too quick to accept the reliability of evidence that supports what we expect or want the outcome to be, but also that in doing so we are too quick to stop digging deeper to find out if there is an important part of the story that we do not yet see or know.
Really good investigative journalists can do a really great job of exposing the truth about even very complicated issues of wrongdoing. But they need to really work hard to make sure that they are mindful of their biases and doing whatever they can to test the conclusions they are reaching before they offer opinions on what conclusions should be drawn. And they need to state the verified facts on which they rely and be willing to consider new evidence that emerges and admit when they are wrong or fall back into serious doubt about what the truth really is.
Additionally, they and we need to realize that there are serious limits to the tools reporters can bring to any investigation. They do not have subpoena power to require documents to be produced or to make people knowledgeable about the facts give their version of the story under oath. And they do not face opposing counsel whose interest in proving the opposite or their view is equally powerful and equipped (at least in general theory).
Things are almost never as simple and straightforward as we see them, even when all the evidence is available to us.
A big problem I have with sportswriters' opinion pieces on situations of this kind, is that sports writers often seem more caught up in proving themselves relevant, important, and serious journalists and opinion leaders than they have the time, resources, or outlook to be. I don't like to hear them lecturing heavy-handedly about very complicated situations as if the right thing to do under all the relevant considerations should have been easy to do even in the real time of the events. 20/20 hindsight that is truly fair and balanced is often hard to do even when all the evidence has been gathered and thoroughly reviewed and debated.
So, I invite them to stop and evaluate for themselves why they feel compelled to write lecturing and/or morally condemning articles and, before they do so, whether they have really have fulfilled their own moral obligation to make sure that they have continued to dig for more of the story, and adequately tested their own natural and normal biases so as to be able to fairly be able to lecture and condemn. Be a wise and just thought leader if you decide that you are going to presume to take on that role -- wise and just not only to the side you naturally sympathize with or understand but also to the side you presume to judge and condemn.
Isn't that how you would want to be treated? Aren't those the only kind of opinions on social issues that are really worthy of stepping out of the role of reporter and into the role of moral lecturer?