An Apology to Carlos Marmol, to the Chicago Cubs, and to You

Today I learned a hard, valuable lesson about what I do here at Bleacher Nation. I know some of you will think that I’m being dramatic or too hard on myself, but I’m not. I screwed up today, and I have some explaining and apologizing to do.

For those who missed it, I wrote today about an alleged conversation that a BN’er overheard in his apartment building. The conversation involved Carlos Marmol and his agents, and the possibility of him being traded from the Cubs. The BN’er tweeted the information, and after considering its newsworthiness, I ran with it. As I do with that kind of thing, I threw up the usual caveats: I can’t verify this. I wasn’t there. The BN’er may have misheard. Etc., etc. Given the seriousness of the quotes involved, that’s when my red flag should have gone up.

To my mind, what I was writing about was the simple fact that someone out there in the Twitterverse says he heard these things. I was not writing about the fact that Marmol definitely did say them. It was like writing that someone says he saw Theo Epstein in a Starbucks, even if I can’t verify that he was actually there. The mere fact that someone is saying it is interesting and newsworthy.

But that was completely unfair of me. When I write something like that, I have to understand that it will be read as “Marmol did say these things, because I’m a professional writer and I wouldn’t write it if he didn’t say it.” It was read that way by many people, in large part because, after weighing the evidence, I said I had no reason to doubt that Marmol had actually said these things or had this meeting. The truth, of course, is that I don’t *really* know it, and I said as much. I know only that someone Tweeted it. And shouldn’t I hold myself to a higher standard than that?

Here’s the bottom line:

It is unfair for me to hide behind “well, I was simply writing about what someone else said, not claiming that the person actually said it,” and then simultaneously ask to be treated as a professional. I can have one or the other, but not both. This dichotomy didn’t occur to me until I was getting blasted for what I’d done, and that is my biggest failing: I just didn’t get it. We learn from our mistakes, and I’m learning. But this is a lesson I probably should have already understood. I should have been the second guy, not the first guy. For that, I apologize to Carlos Marmol, to the Cubs, and to you. I will do better next time.

The truth is, navigating this new media landscape is really freaking hard.

I started this site more than four years ago, when I was an anonymous lawyer in Ohio just having some fun in his spare time. You write from a very, very different perspective when that’s the case. And that lasted for several years. I grew up as a blogger in a world where I was divorced, by one layer, from the people/stories/rumors/whatever that I was writing about. I didn’t have, and couldn’t have, access, and that informed the way I wrote. If something was out there to be discussed, well, damnit, I was going to discuss it. This is the Internet, right? The Cubs didn’t have a clue who I was or care a lick about what I said, so I could write whatever and however I wanted. I think I was always fair, but I probably wasn’t always thoughtful. I had that freedom.

It can be hard to unlearn your previous process, especially when the “learning” is so very public.

Bleacher Nation has grown very large. It is widely read, both in the volume of Cubs fans, and the types of people who read it. I wouldn’t say that I sometimes forget that fact, but sometimes I don’t consider the implications of that fact when I write. As I swiftly move to cover something breaking or fresh, I often reside inside my “blogger” helmet, where I’m just writing for a concentrated contingent of hardcore fans who understand that I’m just shooting from the hip, because that’s what “bloggers” do.

I can’t keep doing that. Sure, I can – and will – still write “differently” about the Cubs than traditional media, but I’ve got to stop thinking of myself as operating in an insular bubble. When I write something – especially something about a player allegedly saying he wants out of town – I have to realize that it’s going to spread widely. That means I have certain responsibilities, whether I choose them or not. The greatest responsibility I have is to be fair in everything I write. That’s a responsibility I failed today, and I’m getting slapped with a hard lesson as a result.

If I had an opportunity to do today all over, I would have figured out a way to get in contact with someone, anyone about the alleged meeting, and I would have asked some questions. The fact that I’m not entirely sure who I would have contacted – I don’t have a lengthy rolodex of numbers, but I’m sure I could have figured something out – is just an excuse, and I’m not going to make it. In my do-over, I would have found someone at the Cubs to offer a comment, or someone at Marmol’s agency. Yes, they would have likely denied the story and suggested that there was no meat there to write about. They might have been right, and the story might never have been written. But at least then, if I chose to write the story anyway, it would have been fair. What I wrote today was not fair to Carlos Marmol, the Cubs, or to you.

For that, I am sorry. I’m always learning and trying to do my best.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

169 responses to “An Apology to Carlos Marmol, to the Chicago Cubs, and to You”

  1. Overheard: Carlos Marmol “Can’t Wait” to Get Out of Chicago (UPDATE: Marmol Denies) | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    [...] you will see updates as I worked through where I screwed up on this story. Separately, I’ve written a long apology for failing to be fair. You can still read this story for posterity, but know that, had I an opportunity to do it all over [...]

  2. TWC

    Meh. I think the Fernando Perez thing was a much bigger deal.

  3. Sandberg

    I was about to say that it’s ridiculous you’re apologizing, but after reading the last paragraph, I understand. Shit happens, but man, you could use (and deserve) some more sources.

  4. DarthHater

    I reject your apology, Brett. You didn’t do anything wrong and should not let yourself be intimidated into changing the way you provide fast-breaking information to your readers. Fans don’t need yet another guy who’s always looking over his shoulder about everything he says because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his insider status.

    1. TWC

      “I reject your apology, Brett. … Fans don’t need yet another guy who’s always looking over his shoulder about everything he says because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his insider status.”

      Yes.

    2. Internet Random

      Agreed.

    3. jj

      Agree to the extent there’s nothing to apologize for, Marmol’s denial was frankly assumed. However, if you want credentials as a reporter, you need to at least obtain a response. What if Marmol had denied it was him, rather than just deny the quote? That said, do not believe you must follow media’s unwritten rules (that is, covering for a player when,reporting a story would hinder future exclusives). All of that is separate from how newsworthy the whole topic is.

  5. DarthHater

    Seriously, man, if you want to go down the road you’re intimating, you should shut the blog down for a couple years while you go get a degree in journalism.

    1. Internet Random

      “get a degree in journalism”

      Catapult repair would be more relevant.

    2. Kyle

      I’ll sell him mine for 5 cents on the dollar.

      1. DarthHater

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Brett soon starts getting interview requests from sociologists who study the developing relationship between journalism and social media. It’s really kind of an interesting case study.

  6. Rian

    Brett,

    You’re right in your criticism of yourself. You do have more of a responsibility now. But don’t forget *why* you have more responsibility: it’s because you’ve done a very, very good job over a sustained period of time. This was a hiccup, sure. But this is what playing at the level you’re playing at now is all about. It’s a sign of tremendous growth and possibility.

    You made a mistake. You owned up to it. You’ve earned the right to move on.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Rian

  7. Cyranojoe

    Salute. I’m inclined to say the apology’s not necessary, but it’s definitely classy, as you’ve proven yourself at every turn. In the end, I’m glad to see you holding yourself to an ever-higher standard. That can only mean good things for BN and your audience. Thanks, Brett.

  8. Internet Random

    “What I wrote today was not fair to Carlos Marmol, the Cubs, or to you.”

    For the record, I don’t feel that I’ve been treated at all unfairly.

    1. Internet Random

      If anything, I think maybe you owe me an apology for treating me like I’m too stupid to understand multiple caveats in plain English.

      Suck on that, Taylor.

      1. DarthHater

        I second that emotion. ;-)

      2. Andrewmoore4isu

        Are you “marmol” “cubs” or “you” if this is marmol, well nevermind

        1. Internet Random

          I recognize that these are English words, mostly, but they’re not put together in a way that makes any sense.

          “Are you … ‘you’”?

          Last I checked, yes.

          1. DarthHater

            He’s referring to “was not fair to Carlos Marmol, the Cubs, or to you.” You are correct that you are “you.”

          2. TWC

            You LIE!

            1. Internet Random

              I think I just had a flashback.

  9. Bill

    Not a big deal. A bigger sin has been your trying to justify the Ian Stewart signing. That’s unforgivable.:-) This? Not a big deal.

  10. Die hard

    Protect your sources even if jailed and you will be respected

    1. Bric

      Die Hard, my man! You are the moral compass of this site :)

      Brett, we all know this is the best site for cubs talk on the internet. Apologize If you think it’s necessary. I honestly don’t, but it’s not my site. Just keep doing what you’re doing because there are many, many Cub fans that rely on it for all the material it presents.

      1. DarthHater

        This has nothing to to do with protecting a source since, in this instance, the “source” had already publicly posted the matter on Twitter for the whole world to see. As usual, the moral compass is pointing straight to cloud-cuckoo-land.

  11. mtcubfan

    Brett,

    Wow – in our society today we don’t find too many individuals willing to take responsibility. Good job on holding yourself out to a higher standard and then taking responsibility for not meeting this higher standard. I suspect you were well within the standard of care with all your caveats about the source of the information, but I am glad you are willing to hold yourself out to a higher standard. It confirms why I enjoy reading this blog.

    Paul

  12. Kyle

    You were just trying to do your job, made a goof, and now you’re part of the story.

    Congratulations, Brett, it’s the final rite of passage. You are officially a sports journalist.

  13. Butcher

    Never trust Big Gabby as a source…

    1. Sandberg

      Oh man, this is gold.

  14. DarthHater

    If nightengale hasn’t tweeted it, it didn’t happen. … Upon further reflection, if nightengale HAS tweeted it, it also probably didn’t happen. :-p

  15. mudge

    The question I’d ask myself in your shoes is, if the story is worth making someone’s (Marmol’s) life harder. It’s not, with or without more sources. We all say stuff in one context that isn’t even completely how we feel, a shorthand, that’s got a whole different torque when it goes public; in that sense, it isn’t really possible to report the story accurately, because the publication of a private comment is an inherent distortion.

  16. Mike F

    hmm…. I’m still trying to figure out what you did wrong. I wonder how many athletes today really ever apologize for anything? I’m fine with your courage and humility here and applaud you for it. That said, I honestly feel its unnecessary. Your site is great and you really owe no one an apology in my view.

    1. caryatid62

      Reporting that a player said something when the information was gathered, secondhand, from a random person who may or may not have not even seen that player today, without verifying that it actually took place or giving the focus of the story a chance to respond, maybe?

      I think Brett was right to apologize–he made a mistake and, due to his own success, is now rightfully held to a higher standard than some dude with a blog and 5 readers. If online journalists want to be considered more than just “that guy in his mom’s basement,” they need to hold themselves to higher standards for reporting. Brett did the right thing here in apologizing. Kudos.

      1. DarthHater

        Well, Brett, maybe your apologies weren’t really insulting our intelligence since some of us apparently really are too stupid to understand multiple caveats in plain English.

        1. caryatid62

          And others are too stupid or morally bankrupt to understand that there are ethical rules that are essential characteristics of journalism.

          Based on this post, Brett clearly understands that he made a mistake. I’m sure he doesn’t need the fellatio from his readers.

          1. DarthHater

            “Fellatio.” Very classy, but not really surprising since you already demonstrated that your sophisticated conceptual vocabulary includes “mom’s basement.” What’s next? “U mad bro?”

            As for moral bankruptcy, I read the caveats, understood and accepted them, and never assumed for a moment that Brett was indicating that Marmol actually had said what some dude on Twitter was reporting. I really don’t need any bloviating lessons on moral bankruptcy from some pissant on a chat board.

            1. caryatid62

              Your reading comprehension sucks.

              That is all.

      2. Kyle

        Yeah, it may not seem that way sometimes, but there is a reason journalists made up all the rules that now get ignored in the rush to tweet first. One of them was always give the subject of a negative story a chance to comment before publication.

  17. N8 the Gr8

    I’m just gonna consider this whole thing yet another blown save for Carlos Marmol. Brett Taylor just happened to be the starting pitcher.

  18. DarthHater

    I hereby move that any discussion of this topic in any future podcast be limited to no more than 5-7 minutes, tops. All in favor, say “aye.”

  19. Chad

    This is why I love this blog. We all live, hopefully we all learn. Well done, Brett.

  20. D.G.Lang

    I have no problem with what was written or why it was written. I can fully understand Carlos wanting to be elsewhere due to all the heat he has been getting from the fans and I don’t fault him either especially considering the history of the Cubs almost trading him earlier and his current struggles.

    His public meeting was his and his agents fault, not the fault of the person sitting in his own home (lobby) who witnessed it. I don’t feel that Brett was at fault for reporting it either, that’s his job and he should report what he receives which he did including all the appropriate warnings.

    I have NO PROBLEM with Brett or what he reported, my only concern is that Brett should know better to even remotely accept any blame for any wrong doing. He should simply stand with what he reported and especially HOW he reported it. He explained himself in the original article and that was and is more than sufficient for any honorable person.

    Brett being a lawyer should be familiar with what every lawyer says, in that it is “DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO ANYONE” after the accident, etc. because that WILL be taken out of context by those who would take advantage of whatever he would say and distort it. Whatever needed to be said was correctly stated up front in the article and there is no more needed.

    I believe that most of us who visit this site daily realize Brett is trying to be a good and decent person and live honorably and not deceitfully or evilly. Sometimes trying too hard to be good carries some adverse side effects with it that those less honorable would try to take advantage of. The bottom line, the less said at this point, the better

  21. Canadian Cubs Fan

    The pitfalls of social media. You’re not alone in jumping the gun on something. CNN wrongly reported that the Boston Marathon bomber was in custody, when clearly that wasn’t the case.

    Glad you’re owning it, but as many have said, it’s not necessary. Most of the people here are well aware of the fact that not all of this stuff is ironclad. You even warned that it was just one person’s account.

    Let it go and learn from it. Anyone that really takes you to task on it needs to check themselves, and think about what’s involved in maintaining a blog like this. Yours is the first place I go for Cub news. Thanks for all your efforts!

  22. Tim Sheedy

    I admire your follow up on it very much. Verification of sources. You seem pretty concientious about it and that’s cool. Love your reports. Better than Kap Certainly better than Chet.

  23. Webb

    It could be worse. You could be Jonah Lehrer.

    The thoughtful response is encouraging and appreciated.

  24. Die hard

    Alan Dershowitz to defend you at trial— if convicted then Barry Scheck to get you out on DNA evidence- but don’t defend self as you know axiom when a lawyer represents self has fool for a client

  25. cjdubbya

    Holy crap, it’s not like Brett named the wrong effin’ shooter at Newtown like so many media news sources. CNN’s made a effin’ joke of itself reporting fake news, for crying out loud.

    I think you’ve officially arrived, bro. Congrats.

  26. ltdan001

    This apology is completely unnecessary. You heard a relevant RUMOR and passed it along to your audience, whom you know EXPECT you to pass along EVERYTHING you can get your hands on. This is why we love you and your site. You are one of us and we want to hear your perspective because we can really relate to it. You gave us all the FACTS you had along with all the necessary doubts and caveats.

    This is NOT a traditional journalism site and we need to embrace it. I love your work and refuse to apologize for its style. You shouldn’t either. You exceed the expectations of your target customer and treat all other stakeholders with respect. ALL the time.

  27. Dustin S

    It may have been a bit quick to run with the story, but good job on the equally fast apology. I wouldn’t take it overly hard though. So many things are like that though and most rumors can’t always be easily verified. The main thing is don’t be afraid to say things that might potentially perceived as negative. Just might have to wait a tad longer next time.

  28. Yoga Master

    I thought this story would end with Scott Hutchison checking himself into rehab for meth.

  29. adam

    Come on. We know Marmol wants out. Cubs should just flat out cut him.

    Keep doing your thing Brett

  30. 5412

    Hi Brett,

    Kudos to you and how you have handled things. If you want press credentials, and want to be an insider you have to earn their respect. There are times when your choice will be to violate trust and confidence for the sake of a story, and that is a choice you have to make.

    Much like an elephant however, when the trust bridge is breached, the person who is harmed will have a long, long memory.

    Honestly Brett there are times we may have to apologize because it makes us feel better because we fessed up to something that, if we had a do-over, we would have done differently.

    A good jouralist is trusted by both his sources and his readers.

    regards,
    5412

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