Ballot pic via Deadspin
Dan Le Batard's decision to turn his baseball Hall of Fame ballot over to Deadspin and the subsequent one-year suspension he earned from the Baseball Writers' Association of America has sparked plenty of reaction, including debates about how good the resulting ballot was, the nature of the Hall of Fame itself, the place of the BBWAA, Deadspin as a site and more. However, there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to Le Batard's actions from a media ethics standpoint. That's a worthwhile lens to use, and it's one that suggests his actions are problematic.
There's a lot of noise clouding this issue given the controversial nature of the BBWAA, the Hall of Fame and Deadspin itself, but there's a basic exchange at the core of this. Le Batard received a ballot according to the BBWAA's rules (10 years of membership), and he elected to submit that ballot not with his own selections, but with the selections of a different group (in this case, Deadspin readers).
That isn't great from an ethical standpoint. Misrepresentation, or presenting others' work or results as your own, has created significant problems for both individual journalists and companies (through plagiarism and sourcing controversies), and it's one of the most-criticized errors in journalism.
At first glance, some may say Le Batard's actions aren't on that level; after all, this is a ballot, not a column. However, the core of what makes plagiarism problematic is misrepresentation – claiming another's work, thoughts or arguments as your own. That's what Le Batard did when he sent in his ballot. He essentially said "I am a voter who meets the Hall of Fame's standards; here's who I think deserves induction." However, the selections he actually offered weren't his own, but rather those collected from Deadspin's readers.
In Le Batard's defence, it's worth noting that not every ballot submitted is always one person's original thoughts. Some writers poll their readers for input, while others opt for the results of various statistical calcuations. And the BBWAA may have ceded the moral high ground after reports that one of its executives has crowdsourced his vote as well.
Le Batard ceded complete control of his ballot to a Deadspin poll. It's laudable that he didn't actually accept money for that, as Deadspin made it very clear that they were willing to pay for a ballot. One of the pro-Le Batard arguments advanced has been that he was just trying to demonstrate the flaws in Hall of Fame voting. There's some merit to that; after all, this is a voting process that saw one ballot choose Armando Benitez and another very publicly called into question for only having Jack Morris.
It's not like LeBatard can't make that case without turning in a ballot with someone else's selections, though. That's why his employers haven't exactly endorsed this tactic.
From the Herald:
“Whatever issues might be raised about the Hall of Fame voting process, we do not condone misrepresentation of any kind,” Herald executive sports editor Jorge Rojas said in a statement. “Dan had a point to make. We think there are other ways he could have made it.”
“We respect and appreciate Dan’s opinions and passion about Hall of Fame voting. He received his vote while at the Miami Herald. We wouldn’t have advocated his voting approach, which we were just made aware of today.”
CBS' Gregg Doyel also made this good point:
"I judge this vote, what he did, as shortsighted and stupid, shockingly so for someone so intelligent. Le Batard's too smart to believe what he did will effect actual change, which tells me he did it for the attention he'd get. Being "that" guy, the one who raises a middle finger to the dorks in the BBWAA, is a great way to get street cred with the hipsters and bros in our readership, and guess what? This being the Internet age, the hipsters and the bros are the most crucial segment of our readership. They are the Internet's version of the 25-54 age bracket sought by radio and TV. By giving his vote to Deadspin and letting them unveil his identity, Le Batard made like Captain Morgan and painted a red moustache on the BBWAA while hoisting a drink to all the hipsters and bros out there. A toast, to your new Ironic God.
But what did he accomplish? By making a mockery of the BBWAA vote, he told us what we already know. We know it's a mockery. We know the system is bogus, half-past broken, complicated by steroids in the game and varying piousness in the votership."
Le Batard was never going to get the change he desired through giving his vote to Deadspin because he was preaching to the choir in pointing out the broken Hall of Fame system. In going that route, Le Batard didn't really change anyone's opinion; the same people that criticized the BBWAA before are doing it now and if anything, the sportswriting establishment is digging its heels in further.
From a journalistic standpoint, the bigger issue here isn't any debate about the Hall of Fame or stodgy sportswriters versus new media. It's conceding your agency to outside parties and representing others' work as your own.
Consider other potential deals along the same lines. A newspaper that allowed a corporation or organization's content to run in its pages without any editorial oversight would be pilloried, and rightfully so. A columnist who posted another person's writing as his or her own would be in serious trouble. Manufactured opinions is troubling too as it's long been one of the criticisms of ESPN's Embrace Debate phenomenon.
The biggest journalistic issue with Dan Le Batard's Hall of Fame ballot had nothing to do with any establishment versus anti-establishment turf war, it was presenting his ballot as his own when it was really someone else's work.