When disgraced, resigned former President Richard Nixon decided to give his first major post-scandal interview in 1976, he was specific about the type of man who was to interview him. Originally he wanted Merv Griffin, the talk show host and media mogul, but eventually settled on British entertainer David Frost. (It helped that Frost paid nearly $1 million.) Nixon's decision on this turned out to be incorrect; Frost was a much tougher interviewer than Nixon had expected, and the interviews helped further solidify the country's negative image of him and his misdeeds in office. He probably should have stuck with Merv Griffin.
His instincts weren't wrong, though. Throughout the years, when a public figure has to work on repairing his or her reputation, they spin through the rolodex of journalistic contacts to find the one they think will best get their message across -- will help them get back in the public's good graces. Larry King, essentially, made a whole career out of this.
Decisions on whom to choose for an interview are an art to themselves. When Michael Vick gave his first interview after the dog fighting scandal, he chose James Brown, a nice man and a pleasant broadcaster, but not anyone you'll confuse with Walter Cronkite. Brown has the cadence and disposition of a morning talk-show host -- which I guess he sort of is -- and morning shows seem to be an ideal format for reputation clean up.
It's that soft news feel under the umbrella of a credible news organization. You can say you did an interview with NBC News, but you know that when they're gonna toss to Al Roker making a soufflé in a few minutes, it can't get that dark. This has always made Matt Lauer an ideal interviewer, from Eliot Spitzer to Paula Deen to Kanye West. (I happen to think Lauer is good at this job.) This was also Sarah Palin's thinking, when she was doing her first set of interviews after being selected as John McCain's running mate and chose Katie Couric as the journalist to help her with the rollout. This turned out to be a poor decision. (Lance Armstrong made the same poor decision with Oprah Winfrey.)
In the world of baseball over the last half decade, there's nothing worse than a suspected PED cheat. It is the worst possible thing that can happen to your reputation (unless you are a player no one knows all that well, or you are Andy Pettitte). You can make an argument that being accused of using PEDs in baseball is the equivalent of being a sitting governor who paid prostitutes for sex: It requires roughly the same level of damage control. And it is fascinating to see how the process of choosing interviewers has devolved.
First up was Roger Clemens in 2008, right after he was listed in the Mitchell Report. This was early enough in the process that getting ahead of the story meant picking someone tough; Clemens needed to show that he was facing the charges head-on. So he picked the late Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes," a man whose reputation as a tough interviewer was unparalleled. (That reputation was a bit blown out of proportion, all told.) Wallace, whom Jose Canseco claimed asked about getting HGH himself after a 2005 interview, didn't let Clemens off the hook, exactly, but he didn't destroy him either. There was no need, really: Clemens always found a way to do that himself. The interview was no help.
Then came A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez, after Selena Roberts reported that he'd failed a (supposedly anonymous) steroid test in the early aughts, picked Peter Gammons of ESPN. He chose Gammons because he was respected and because A-Rod had known him his whole career. Gammons received a little heat for the interview, mostly because he didn't counter A-Rod's claims that Roberts had broken into his house (Gammons later told Deadspin he regretted not defending Roberts more), and even the ESPN ombudsman dressed him down. Not that it mattered: The interview didn't do A-Rod a lick of good.
The next big high-profile PED scandal target in need of a reputation-boosting interview was Mark McGwire. (McGwire was about to take a job as hitting coach of the Cardinals but needed to clear the PED decks first.) His choice was a logical one: Bob Costas, on the MLB Network. Costas is excellent at these sort of interviews -- even if his view on PEDs is a little too baby-boomer scolding for my taste -- and McGwire answered Costas' tough, reasoned questions, to my eyes, them as thoroughly as he could. The apology interview didn't do him much good either, but it at least allowed him to travel with the Cardinals without having to answer a million questions every road trip. Still: McGwire is never getting into the Hall of Fame and remains one of the faces of the supposed "steroid era." I'm not sure that interview was worth it.
The only person who never gave a big "I'm sorry, forgive me" confessional interview from that time? Barry Bonds. He just did what Bonds does: Gave everyone the finger and pointed at the record books.
Which brings me to Ryan Braun. Now, it was obvious that Braun was going to have to say something after he agreed to be suspended the rest of this season. In the past, he would have given a big interview, cried, apologized, begged forgiveness: This guy, unlike Bonds, still has a career to get back to after all. But, amazingly -- and smartly, I bet -- Braun didn't even bother.
Braun simply released a statement. In nearly 1,000 of his own (or his lawyers' own) words, Braun attempted to explain himself. Now, I don't think he did a particularly good job of explaining himself, but I'm not sure that's possible. More to the point: Braun recognized that an interview, honestly, just wasn't worth the hassle. None of those interviews really helped any of the participants: The only person who came out of any of them looking halfway decent was Costas, and you can argue that Clemens, McGwire and A-Rod all ended up worse off. (Like Armstrong and Palin and Deen and Nixon.)
So Braun just decided, "screw it." Don't bother with an interview: Just release the statement. It probably didn't help Braun any, but an interview wouldn't have either, and that would have been a lot of work and flop sweat. If no one's gonna to give you any slack anyway, just type out your "explanation," and go about your day. Braun simply skipped the confessional interview step. It's weasely, like just about everything Braun has done in this whole process, and probably a little cowardly. But it's difficult to claim it wasn't smart. No one's ever going to forgive Braun, no matter what he says. So what's the point of putting himself through that? Give 'em the finger and point at the record book. Journalists are just nothing but trouble. He's not wrong.
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