Doylestown Daily Intelligencer

Press Ethics Crumble in Phillies Drug Use Story


by Matt Corso


There's a common fault among green news reporters whereby a cub writer gets all the facts but fails to tell the story.


That is because news reporting requires more than listing facts; it requires ordering those facts, and including background information, to make a story a coherent whole.


Sometimes a story can imply much by what it leaves out.


You would think that a newspaper such as The Philadelphia Inquirer which has won five consecutive Pulitzer prizes and considers itself a first-class journalistic product would beimmune to lapses of sound reporting principles.


But the lead story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday clearly is a case whereby journalistic principle was sacrificed to something as petty as newsroom jealousy.


The story purported to punch holes in a widely-publicized Page 1 article in The Trenton Times several weeks ago.


That story disclosed that the state Justice Department is conducting a probe into possible illegal drug use by several Philadelphia Phillies players and possible illegal dispensation of drugs by unnamed doctors.


The drug involved is amphetamine, commonly known as "speed," which gets its name from the fact that it jolts the body into better endurance and strength in some players.


The Times named a number of players allegedly implicated in the probe, including Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski.


The story caused a stir, of course, because it raised the specter of highly-paid athletes getting "juiced up" before games.


To its credit. The Inquirer has in the past decade not been shy about rooting out corruption and conflicts of interests and unethical deeds.


But it apparently found The Trenton Times story too great a blow to the Inky ego to aggressively track down the story.


What The Inquirer's Sunday story did, in effect, was to whitewash the whole issue by saying that there is little proof that any player strictly violated the law.


Curiously, The Inquirer story never questions the ethical or moral implcations of the drug use.


This is puzzling because The Inquirer has in the past splashed its Page 1 with ethical-moral stories, such as its lengthy investigative stories regarding proxy voting among state legislators in Pennsylvania.


Now, proxy voting is legal but that clearly did not curb The Inquirer irons expressing shocked outrage with the procedure.


So it was not the nature of the story that led The Inquirer to pooh-pooh the Phillies-drug story.


The judgment here is that The Inquirer was stung deeply by the fact that a much smaller and peripheral competitor beat it to an important story with sociological and ethical overtones that go beyond the legality of the question.


The Inquirer's own story, for example, reports that some players have received prescriptions for speed without getting physical examinations. And the story corroborates another Times fact: that apparently a "runner" was used to pick up the drugs in Reaciuig. where the drugs were prescribed by a physician associated with the Phillies' farm club in that Berks County city.


The prize-winning Inquirer is satisfied to quote a Berks County prosecutor — who admits that he has not even seen the prescriptions- that such activity is not illegal.


The Inquirer also verified that the names of six Phillie playen and two wives of playen are on the prescriptions and that those prescriptions were written within two years. The Phillies mentioned in the probe have all long left the Reading team, those who have even been to Reading.


But guess what? The Inquirer's conscience was not disturbed enough to ask: Is it right (if strictly legal) for a player or his wife to arrange for a "runner" to bring supplies of speed to them from a town 50 miles from Philadelphia and not prescribed by the major league team doctor?


My 10-year-old boy, who worships professional athletes and has dreams of someday becoming a big leaguer, asked me plaintively, "Is it true, Dad? Are the Phillies taking pills?"


Sure, kid, but just read The Inquirer and you'll see that it's strictly legal, honest.