Some of us remember the scandal and the snickers over Ball Four, a book about the 1969 Major League season written by pitcher Jim Bouton.
Baseball players were revealed in their most private moments (usually sexually starving). Players were shown to be heavy drinkers, carefree towards the game…Managers were not too bright.
After the book came out, amid all of the sound & fury, the most insightful remark I ever heard was from a former Major Leaguer. If I remember correctly, it was Leo Durocher. He remarked, “ANYBODY could have written that book.”
What made Ball Four so scandalous was: Jim Bouton didn’t play fair. He took notes about teammates without telling them that he was compiling information for a book. He caught them at their most candid (like one player who didn’t wear underwear).
Now the same thing is happening to NBC news anchor Brian Williams. He has been caught unguarded. He didn’t take the time to research as thoroughly as he might have the story about being grounded in a helicopter during the second war in Iraq. He wasn’t lying–he was just mistaken. And it was easy to rush over his own memory because the focus of the story wasn’t himself–it was the soldiers who protected him and other correspondents. THAT part of the story was true.
Reporters all over the country must be holding their breath. Because, truth be told, they themselves could be unveiled doing likewise. Not many put themselves into the story, as Brian Williams did. But inaccuracy of memory occurs, and sometimes other things that the public would decry as all the worse
What a journalist could reveal if writing a book like Ball Four about one’s own profession!
Leo Durocher was right. ANYBODY could have written Ball Four who played in the Major Leagues. And ANYBODY could write a similar book about ANY profession that one is a member of.
Take fire fighters. I know of a fire fighter–a captain–who said that there was a type of “short-hand” language that fire fighters used. When returning to the station from a call in which the driver of a vehicle had been burned beyond recognition, one fire fighter returning wearily to the station house would say to another just arriving on the shift, “Crispy critter.” That explained what type of call he had just fielded.
Imagine if THAT got out into the public! “The insensitivity! The crudeness!” There would be an investigation. People’s careers would be on line.
But this kind of “revelation” could happen in ANY profession. How about ministers? ANY of us could write a book like Ball Four about our own profession: like a minister smoking in his office before the worship service–or drinking; a minister cussing a blue streak right before a worship service because the ushers can’t get the “mood” lighting just the way the minister wanted it for–Christmas Eve; ministers getting together once a week to gripe about how nutty some members of their congregation are; an organist saying to a minister, “I could KILL you!” in a staff meeting…
The same thing could be revealed in the news media. I have been involved in the media since the age of 15–in newspapers, radio, television and public relations. I could write the same thing about the news media that Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four. The uproar over Brian Williams is only a big deal for people who are not in the profession. Among the writers and reporters themselves, many could confess something similar. I know of writers who put things into a story that never happened, but what they wrote fit perfectly to set the atmosphere for what did happen. The practice was acceptable poetic license–mainly because nobody but the reporter knew what he had done.
Not that many years ago, newspaper offices were outposts for sexy photos of women and crude postings (like a bumper sticker on somebody’s desk advertising the 1980 Democratic ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro as “Fritz and Tits”). How about even jokes about the Challenger disaster?
Any of those items–gone public–would end careers.
Today, newspaper offices are a lot cleaner. But other matters would surprise those who aren’t in the profession.
Within each profession, there is behavior that is rougher than is shown to the public. The reason is: Each profession takes short-cuts in order to get things done. Language isn’t used as politely and formally as would be expected in public. Conduct isn’t as angelic, because the people are among their own, and give each other the grace to be human.