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On Raul Ibanez, and media accountability

I have a little brother. At this point in time in our lives, he isn't much littler than me. He did two tours of duty in Iraq. I did a tours of duty in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Hernando County, Fla. He carried a gun. The closest I have come to risking my life is driving up Roosevelt Boulevard. So the metaphor I am about to relay does not hold true today.

But 15 years ago, he was the little brother, and I was the big brother. Little brothers are in an unenviable position. They come out of the womb with a chip on their shoulder. They want badly to be accepted in the same manner as the older brother. Yet thanks to the difference in years -- two, in our case, which in early childhood might as well be a decade -- they never really can. Not only the basketball court, not in the classroom, and not in social circles. Ours were the typical little brother/big brother squabbles -- a fight during a video game, or on the school bus, or in the backyard. And every now and then, when I would run to mom or dad with a complaint, or react to typical little brother antagonism, I would be met with this advice: You are older. Act older. By reacting, you only legitimize. Ignore it, and it will go away.

I have spent much of the previous couple of days in deep internal deliberation about what by now has become the well-known situation of Raul Ibanez, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and a blogger whom I will not identify. And I relay the previous life experience because I think it illustrates what I believe to be the latest in a serious mishandling of the blogosphere by the mainstream media.

As you all now know, Blogger X  recently self-published a treatise on Ibanez's power surge to start this season. In it, the blogger stated that, thanks to the Steroid Era, performance-enhancing drugs must be considered as a potential cause of Ibanez's club record home run pace. Now, forget the fact that this deductive reasoning is flawed at a fundamental level. After all, the blogger is not raising the possibility that Ibanez has been on performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. Only the possibility that performance-enhancing drugs are the new variable that has caused his home run total to jump this season. The suggestion, that a 37-year-old athlete with a wife and children and a better grasp on his own mortality than he had when he was a 24-year-old athlete struggling through the minor leagues, would choose to start using performance-enhancing drugs AFTER signing a three-year, $31.5 million contract that will very likely be the last big deal of his career, does not make sense when it comes to basic logic. All of that is besides the point.

The point is that most bloggers are not trained in such analysis, and thus can not be expected to produce rational examinations of professional sports. Most bloggers have not spent years in college studying the craft of writing, reporting and analyzing. Most bloggers have not spent years embedded in the world of athletic competition, interacting with athletes and trainers and coaches, learning the people and their sports, learning their motivations, and their insecurities, and their foibles, and their strengths. Most bloggers view the athletic arena through two-dimensional objects -- television, newspapers, the Internet, radio -- and thus have a two-dimensional perspective, much like a person viewing a museum exhibit about another culture and attempting to relay his observations in the manner of a person who has spent years living in that culture. This, in a nutshell, is the blogosphere.

Like the little brother, it would like to gain a foothold in the world of the older brother, to be accepted like the older brother, rather than being content within it's own world. I'm sure there is a sociologist who can apply some scientific term to what I am describing. But I am not a sociologist, only a sports writer.

On its own, the blogosphere is not a bad thing. But it can become a bad thing when the older brother reacts, when for a moment he forgets that he is older, and more mature, and bound by expectations of accountability that the little brother does not always face.

And this brings us to the firestorm.

When the Philadelphia Inquirer, who shares a little piece of cyber space with this humble sports writer, chose to publish a column about Blogger X's treatise, it forgot the basic distinction that sets professional media outlets apart from amateur bloggers. Even though the column attempted to excoriate the blogger, in doing so, it placed itself on the same level of that blogger. It told readers that the Blogger was worth reading, and reacting to, and that his thoughts deserved a legitimate place in public discourse. Yesterday, I watched an episode of Outside the Lines on ESPN that featured both the Blogger and the author of the Inquirer column. The professional writer lectured the Blogger on the need for accountability, given the blurring of the lines between professional and amateur opinion and analysis.

Therein lies the fallacy. Bloggers are not bound by standards of accountability. They are not professionals. They can not be expected to abide by the same rules that make professionals professional. Bloggers are not the ones blurring the lines. Professional media outlets who give credence to those bloggers are the ones who blur the lines.

Ignore it, and it will go away.

In this day and age, when opinions can be dispersed to the masses for the price of an Internet connection, publications such as ours need to be even more careful of what they put in print. Accountability is our bedrock. It is what makes the words that we publish worth reading. We need to be a refuge in a world of misinformation, a place where people can turn to separate the fact from the bullcrap. If it appears in our pages, we deem it significant enough for our readers to take notice, to consider, and ponder, and accept or reject.

The professionals are the only ones who have the power to blur the lines. We have spent generations building our brands, and to respond to every hair-brained blog post, and every Internet rumor, and every conspiracy theory that amateur pundits put forth, is to cheapen that brand, and erode the public trust behind it.

Forget the steroid witch hunt. Forget the question about whether Blogger X should have raised the questions that he did without any concrete basis.

We are the older brother. And we must act like it.