Interview courtesy of MLB Homeplate - XM 175, and Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner
Friday, Mark Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the Game of Shadows made his first public appearance since the subpoenas were dropped Thursday, for an exclusive interview on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner. Fainaru-Wada discussed being free from subpoenas to report who their source was from the leaked Grand Jury testimony. Lance Williams was unavailable to join Baseball Beat.
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Rick Telander joined the show to chat with Mark for the first time publicly or privately. Telander was the one of the chief supporters for Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams and led a group of writers to San Francisco to show their support by wearing “Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press” t-shirts.
Below is a transcript of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Charley Steiner’s chat as well Rick Telander.
Charley Steiner: We welcome you back to the second hour of the Beat here on XM 175. I’m Charley Steiner in Los Angeles on this Friday, February 16th and we are joined by Mark Fainaru-Wada, who along of course with Lance Williams, has had many uneasy nights, days, weeks, and months. I suppose when Mark… Number one thanks for coming on and two, I suppose when you woke up this morning I suspect you woke up with a different feeling in the pit of your belly.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Hey, Charley. How are you? Thanks for having me.
Charley Steiner: I’m terrific. How are you?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: I’m good, thanks. Yeah. It’s certainly been uh, uh a quite, you know there’s a lot of exhaling going on out here and we are really relieved were not facing the prospect of jail and we’re not facing the prospect of continuing to refuse to testify before a Grand Jury. You know, we felt really strongly about this throughout. We still do. And, um, we are grateful for all of the support we’ve had. You know, the Hearst Company that owns the paper was just phenomenal in backing us. And, the paper’s been phenomenal in backing us. And, you know, we’re really grateful to be out from under it. Now, of course, the question is how do we move forward and can the country ever get itself a federal shield law so we don’t have to be back in this situation again?
Charley Steiner: Many of those issues we can talk about over the next several minutes.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Great.
Charley Steiner: Let’s talk about this morning when you woke up or last night when you went to bed. Just a sense of piece of mind within. What has this last, how long has this been? A year? Been like?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah, it’s been. You know, we got issued our subpoenas last May so, I’d be lying to say it’s weighed heavily on us and our families for all of that time. I have to tell you as we were approaching a hearing, a Federal Appeals hearing next month than I certainly spent a lot more time thinking about jail in the last month than I had. And, thinking about my family and all that stuff so. It was fairly, you know as Lance likes to say, “A lot of people going through a lot worst than we were.” But, it was not pleasant and certainly the last 36 hours um, you know, there’s just a lot more, it’s a lot easier to go about your business. I’m pretty good at denial, so I was living in denial a lot for the last several months. You know, it’s certainly a lot, you know, more enjoyable to get up and be with the kids and to be with my wife and my family and all of that. We got together last night. You know, just a lot of smiling and happiness that, that we’re not going to jail.
Charley Steiner: Alright, this all came as a surprise to most of us. Obviously, we are not in your shoes. When did it seem as if this issue was going to be resolved as it finally was yesterday?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Well, I have to tell you it was a shock to us, too. I mean, we… I got a call the day before yesterday in the afternoon from a wire reporter saying, “Hey, there’s a story moving that the government is going to drop your subpoenas and their working on this plea agreement. What do you, what do you say?” I said, you know, I gotta tell you I don’t know anything about that and I immediately got on the phone to our lawyer who, of course. She didn’t know anything about it either. We spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out what the heck was going on. And, then the Justice Department issued this press release said they intend to drop the subpoenas. And, of course, we’re pretty paranoid throughout this whole thing. So, until they actually dropped the subpoenas yesterday and had a conversation with our lawyer, in which they said it was dropped, uh, we didn’t feel completely secure. Um, it’s all really happened in the past, you know, 36 hours for us as well. We were gearing up for that March 7th hearing both from a legal standpoint as well as emotionally. And, um, this is, you know, in some ways it’s still sort of numb to the system you’re adjusting to an entirely new world.
Charley Steiner: To the best of your knowledge how did this come to pass?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Well, you know, I don’t really know anything. You know, I don’t much more than what I read uh, in the, the statement by the government. They issued a statement. You know, we, we know they continue to investigate. And, that was there deal. We always said we were going to stick to our guns and, and we were protecting sources and we’ve continue to do that. We are never going to talk about the issue of anonymous sources and that remains true right now. The government had its own business to take care of and we always said that, uh, there are some serious dangers to start to come after reporters that would impact the way that people could do reporting. And, frankly and the public would gather information. We kept our focus on that. And, uh, the government had its own business to take care of and we had ours.
Charley Steiner: Troy Ellerman is the name who once represented Balco and Conti. Uh, entered guilty pleas on four felony charges yesterday. Does that now free you as a reporter and your confidentiality connection to talk about him at all?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: You know, no. We’ve said the same thing throughout for the past eight months now or even beyond that when asked the question about anything that had to do with potential anonymous sources, anonymous sources, how we gathered the information. That was just that we’re not going to talk about that. We made a promise and we’re keeping the promise. Nothing has changed.
Charley Steiner: Okay that line of questioning can go by the boards for now. [Laughs]
Mark Fainaru-Wada: [Laughs]
Charley Steiner: You are no longer a newsmaker. Those of us in our business that’s the last place we want to be.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah, absolutely.
Charley Steiner: Now you can go back to work again. However, you and Lance, for better or worse will always have the tattoo. And this is one of those tattoos where you can… Its not a Scarlett Letter, but this is a tattoo of pride to have stuck by your guns and I guess just the relief of going back to being a reporter again is tantamount here.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: It’s huge. You know, I think… I am so glad you mentioned it because I think, there’s so many issues we’ve not really been able to focus on. You know, most importantly our families and in many ways it’s been totally distracting. You know, it’s such a relief to be able to go back and focus on our work entirely, uh, and get back to trying to do some decent, you know, investigative journalism. Uh, you know, Lance did the math at one point and he estimated we were probably spending a couple days of week total dealing with stuff surrounding the legal issue. And, that didn’t incorporate the question of how much time we were just spending thinking about it. But, you know, between calls to the lawyers and going over documents and all of the sort of random things that would come up in the middle of the day, of course, never in any sort of consistency. Um, it was quite distracting. So, uh, you know, there were many things I didn’t like about the experience um, and the worse was the sort of question of how it would impact my family, but right up there was becoming a newsmaker and being a part of the story. We never wanted that. We never wanted to be viewed as martyrs. We never wanted people to be sort of looking to us. We just wanted to be able to continue to do the work and talk about the work. And so, it’s a huge relief to be able to get back to doing that.
Charley Steiner: You were talking about the Shield Law.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah.
Charley Steiner: And, the whole notion, you know this is, this is democracy at work and occasionally democracy can be a messy business. Your alleged source, Troy Ellerman, committed a crime at least from the government’s point of view. The government also thought you and Lance had committed a crime.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: No, no, no they didn’t.
Charley Steiner: Correct me, then.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah. No. There was. We were never charged with a crime. There was never any allegation that we’d committed a crime. In fact, they were clear in court in saying that we hadn’t committed a crime. I just wanted to make that point, you know, clear.
Charley Steiner: And, your point is well taken. You could have gone to jail for not revealing the source.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah.
Charley Steiner: So, this is the beauty and occasionally the messiness of democracy at work?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Well, and frankly it’s worked well for 200 years pretty darned well as it relates to the 1st Amendment. I mean, you know, I think the frightening thing about our case, uh, is that, you know, the government seems to be working; the Justice Department seems to be working on a social contract with the press for 30 years. They have guidelines in which they say we are not going to issue subpoenas to reporters unless under exigent circumstances. Exigent is defined as a national security issues, threat to someone’s life. Clearly our case didn’t fit any of those guidelines and for years the Justice Department followed those guidelines and did not issue subpoenas because they recognized that this was not a press issue rather a public issue. Unfortunately, that dynamic seems to have changed under Attorney General Gonzales and the result was us and others receiving subpoenas. And that’s why we’ve been so vehement in talking about the need for a federal shield law. You know, we’re not absolutists about this. We recognize that the media has its warts. We recognize that there are going to be times where, you know, the issue of confidentiality is not absolute. Um, but, you can’t ask reporters to do this kind of work and fear jail or have whistleblowers fear being exposed without it having some chilling affect if you have the government coming after you.
Charley Steiner: We, uh, have a little surprise for your Mark.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: [Laughs]
Charley Steiner: First time, long time and good friends of yours and mine, Rick Telander with the Chicago Sun-Times is on the phone now. Hello, Mr. Telander.
Rick Telander: How you doing guys?
Charley Steiner: Well, we’re fine. You know, Lance and Mark have been in our minds and hearts and one this broadcast a lot over the past year. And, I know you, Rick have been a champion of theirs and a friend of theirs. I just wanted to get you guys together a little bit and you know and hug and kiss and do what everyone does on the radio on a day like this.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: [Laughs]
Rick Telander: [Laughs]
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Let me just say before Rick says anything. I’m really glad, I’m glad we got to do this. I’m kicking myself that I haven’t had a chance to talk to Rick in the past 36 hours. You know, as you said, champion is the perfect word because, you know, among the many good things that have happened as a result of this is that there is a number of journalists and sportswriters and people around the country that have stepped up on our behalf. And, no one did it more vociferously and eloquently than Rick did. He had a bunch of sportswriters on planes flying out here to our hearing in San Francisco wearing “Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press” t-shirts. We are just so grateful that somebody of his stature was willing to put himself out there and continue to stand-up for us. Rick, how’s it going? And, I’m sorry we haven’t talked sooner.
Rick Telander: Well, thank you for that Mark. And, I just want to say, uh... I know you guys have been busy and I want to say first of all, congratulations. I mean if this is the time to celebrate at least… I know the battle goes on and I think the shield bill is something that I want to throw as much of my energy in as I can into. When it’s appropriate remaining a sportswriter. I did talk to Eve Burton, you know, the counsel for Hearst, who is just a wonderful person, who has explained the minutia of this whole case. You know, you can’t take this thing simply as like its right or wrong. These are things that have to be taken on under merit and this is a very complicated issue and it’s a very important issue because many of the people, scholars that I’ve spoken to. Cause I had to do research, cause you know I am not a First Amendment expert. I’ve tried to know as much as I can, but it is probably our most important Amendment. And, it is one that a scholar in Virginia told me that they, when they framed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it is the only profession, journalism, that is given special consideration. Not being a lawyer. Not being a doctor. Not other things that are very important. Not the clergy, nothing. Just journalist because it is so incredibly important to a free country. Whether your right wing, left wing, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, none of that matters. The free press is our friend and that’s what separates us from other countries and other places. And, Mark and Lance are guys with such high integrity. That this thing just blew me away, Charley. The possibility of them going to jail for a year and a half. Well, it’s a very real possibility. They’ve been sentenced to a year and a half and it was on appeal. I could not, I personally could not go on being a sports columnist and say, “Yeah, those guys are in jail moldering away because of the great work that they did that they even were lauded by President Bush.” And, I just go about my daily business. These guys are such quality writers and class people that I think the one thing everyone has to remember what they were dealing with was the truth. They weren’t dealing with lies. They weren’t dealing with anything else. And, that is the ultimate justification for all of this in my opinion.
Charley Steiner: Mark, case to follow-up on that?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Nah, I’m too busy blushing? [Laughs]
Charley Steiner: [Laughs]
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Yeah, let’s go have a beer. [Laughs]
Rick Telander: Yeah, plus, we had a good time last time we got together. Lance, mark, and I at the, uh, some place on the Northwestern Campus. And, I had no idea that Mark, I mean Lance was such a big outdoorsman and all he wanted to talk about was grizzly bears. Remember that?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: That’s right, we were talking about the movie Grizzly Man.
Rick Telander: Yeah, I think he was worried most about being eaten by a grizzly bear and I don’t think that’s going to happen in San Francisco.
Charley Steiner: Well see Telander, you’re from Peoria. I just spent four and a half years.
Rick Telander: Yeah, you just passed through.
Charley Steiner: Yeah, so when you talk about bears and hunting and stuff. Here’s my idea of hunting, I got the delicatessen on Sunday morning, I ask for a half a pound of ham. And, that’s it.
Rick Telander: [Laughs] You try to find it there as opposed to the brisket or the tongue.
Charley Steiner: Exactly, and you know, and fishing I get a quarter-pound of locks. And, that’s it. And, I’m good.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: [Laughs]
Rick Telander: [Laughs]
Charley Steiner: Bigger picture of what we have just gone through. In terms, we’ve discussed freedom of the press and how important the First Amendment is. You know, sports has always been the toy department of life. In a bigger picture, does this elevate to a degree what we do for a living?
Rick Telander: Well, are you asking me?
Charley Steiner: I throw that open to whoever?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Go ahead, Rick.
Rick Telander: I would just say this. When it trickled down to the toy department that’s where it got my attention. If I am one of the chief clerks in the toy department, we’ve heard that often about sports, uh, and perhaps in a sense it’s true because sports are largely arbitrary, but we get a lot of joy from them and I think a world without sports would not be a world worth living in.
Charley Steiner: Well, we’d be out of work anyway.
Rick Telander: [Laughs] I mean, look if that’s what it took to get everybody’s attention than I would say this is going to happen sooner or later. And, this one, was just right in our wheelhouse. Anybody who listens to this station, Charley. Anybody who reads the sports section. Anybody who has a child who’s interested in sports. Who plays sports. Him or herself. Because ultimately this comes down to the root of the integrity of games. I mean that’s what Mark and Lance were dealing with. And, you know, the benefit of what they have done is tremendous. And, others have done it, too, but the baseball hearings in Washington, D.C. kind of got some of us rolling on this. And, you know, the steroid abuse has um, there’s educational programs. What in California now Mark, and Texas?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Right.
Rick Telander: You know, just some tremendous things have come from this. So in a way, maybe when the dust settles, I know how unpleasant this was for these guys, maybe something beneficial will have come from this. You know, if it started in the sports department or the sports department was needed to make this statement than so be it.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: I also think. To me, one of the good things about this, Charley, is that it underscores, you know, not just our story, but you know, I know everybody likes to be the escape that it is. And, it is for all of us. I am a huge sports fan. There’s no getting away the fact that its big business just like any other big businesses and because of that there are ample number of investigative stories that need to be done and are not being done. Traditionally, papers have not dedicated the time and space to have reporters do that. And, there are a few papers in the country that do that more than others. The New York Daily News does a fantastic job. They have an entirely group of investigative reporters built around sports. And, others are doing it, too. To me, that’s the message when anyone asks me about journalism and sports journalism and investigative reporting, I just think its fertile ground for a numbers of different kinds of stories on, looking at sports in a much more deep way than we traditionally do with game stories and the like.
Charley Steiner: You know I was just thinking that, because Rick and I are about the same age and I guess Mark you are in the neighborhood too, and it would be unthinkable that this kind of story could have been written, reported, and the process that you guys went through, when we were little bitty baby boys watching the old Brooklyn Dodgers or the always hideous Chicago Cubs, or whoever they were you know when we were five, six, seven, eight years old. That kind of stuff never occurred. And here we are, not only are we reporting in an investigative fashion, but then to some degree being persecuted by the very government that gives us the freedom to do it!
Rick Telander: Well, let me say one thing Charley, Mark is a young pup here so [Mark and Charley laugh]. So, you and I may be old gray beards and you literally, I think your beard is gray. My hair is just gray. Mark’s a, Mark’s a kid, so…
Charley Steiner: Alright.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: [Laughs]
Rick Telander: He doesn’t know about the Brooklyn Dodgers okay?
Charley Steiner: That’s like the band that Paul McCartney was in before Wings.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: They are on the East coast right? The Dodgers? [Laughs]
Charley Steiner: Right. They were. [All Laugh] But I mean, again, how ironic it is that years ago this kind of, this discussion; it would be inconceivable to have this kind of discussion that many years ago.
Rick Telander: Well, I, you know, I would say to kind of reiterate what Mark was getting to. Sports, you know, it’s the old corn-ball cliché to call it the ‘toy department’, but you know where did the issue of race become more focused…
Charley Steiner: Sure.
Rick Telander: …than with Jackie Robinson? Where right at this very moment, is the, is the, eh, issue of homosexuality in s, in society more focused than with John Amaechi and with ah, you know, his eh, right now the current Anti-Christ I guess, eh, Tim Hardaway? You know, uh, you think about things that have to do with drugs, drug issues with, eh, in the country. You have, um, you think about things that have to do with unions, with, eh, as Mark said, with big business, with monopolies, with, um, taxation. Should people pay for stadiums? Should citizens support that? All of these issues come out in the realm of sports, so, sports investigation which these guys were doing, I mean, it’s kind of disingenuous to say that it just had to do with, eh, you know, home run records. Although, home records, you know, I mean those are records that are right up there with some of the most important records we as a society keep.
Charley Steiner: Mark?
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Well, I, I [Laughs]. I don’t know what to add. I mean, you know, Rick is, we. I just think it’s its, this notion, this notion is gone that, and I don’t mean to sound totally young, I’m glad Rick said I was but…
Charley Steiner: [Laughs]
Rick Telander: He’s a kid!
Mark Fainaru-Wada: …I mean I think that, you know, there has always been, there has always been reporting done in the sports world that has been investigative to some degree, I think the dynamic has changed, you know, frankly because of money. And the more money that is in the game, in all of the games, and the more interest there is in circumventing the rules, as there always will be because the money is so, so prevalent, um the more stories that are going to be there. And they’re not just stories about using drugs. They’re stories about unions. They’re stories about how the business is being corrupt. They’re stories about, you know, what athletes do to get through their day. They’re stories about, um you know, how teams circumvent rules. I mean, there, there, they’re all sorts of stories that are there and I think, you know, this is, this is, I mean, I say this, you know when I had a chance to talk to sports writers who’ve asked about this, or young kids who’ve asked about this, I say this is the most fertile ground to go into, and I, I mean I would recommend any chance you have, trying to find stories that, that sort of go beyond uh what you see on the field and the traditional features that we see in sports every day.
Charley Steiner: Mark, you’ve had barely twenty four hours of hindsight, but looking now in the rear-view mirror of the last eight months to a year, what, what do you take away from this experience personally, professionally, emotionally? The canvas is yours.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Huh! Well there’s a lot to cover. I mean I, you know, Lance and I have talked about this a lot about whether we would do anything differently, whether we’d h change what’s happened and, you know, we wouldn’t. Uh, you know, we feel incredibly fortunate to have covered this story. Um, it’s the story of a lifetime I feel like in many ways and, uh, we are so grateful that we had all these people supporting us. Uh, it’s hideous that we got stuck in the situation that we did. We’re glad we’re out of it, um, but, uh, you know, it’s every reporter’s dream to do work that actually feels like it elicits change and we had all these people telling us that the story’s elicited change, from MLB changing it’s policy not once but twice, to congressional hearings, to, um you know, states throughout the country beginning to address the issue of steroids education at the high school level, so, um, I, you know, I feel mostly really good about all of this and the only thing I worry about more than anything right now, beyond the getting back to the normalcy of my life is, can we get ourselves a shield law that protects reporters from having to go through this ordeal and, frankly the big reason is, you know, yes, it was not fun for Lance and me, nor for our families, but you know, the Chronicle and Hearst Corporation spent a lot of money on this, and, you know, newspapers are not the most healthy industry these days, and they can’t afford to continue to do this. It’s going to have a stifling affect on investigative journalism and so, you know, there’s any number of reasons for people to support a federal shield law, um, and again, I just want to emphasize, people always say ‘Oh, well it’s all about journalism. You are just protecting your guys’ and, I mean, this is not about the media. This is about the public’s ability to get information unfettered and, um, anything that can be done for that is a good thing.
Charley Steiner: Well, Mark, uh, congratulations. We couldn’t be any happier. Um, as you know, in lockstep with Rick, he was the leader of this, of this deal and that’s why I wanted to have you guys, eh, come on together, and I’m glad that was the case, and, and, and go celebrate, do whatever you and Lance and the families are going to do because you certainly have earned some time to take a big, deep breath and as always thanks for coming on.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Charley, thanks so much and thanks for the support over the, over all this time. Really appreciate it and, Rick, hopefully we’ll talk soon and we’ll grab a beer for sure.
Rick Telander: That would be great and, you know, one thing I’d like to say. It wasn’t, you know I guess you always find a focal point maybe saying I organized this thing. There were so many guys, eh, and when we were out there the first time in San Francisco before we went out there on the courthouse steps, ah, I mean, geez, people from the Daily News, the New York Daily News, um, oh god, it’s hard even to, to thank them all. Guys from ESPN the Magazine, The Baltimore Sun. Um, we had people from, oh god, Florida. From all over the country, there’s so many writers who I never knew would be so passionate and it was, uh, it was a groundswell thing. I was glad I could be a part of it and, Mark, I couldn’t be happier. I hope you guys, I hope you get to take that deep sigh, that deep breath that you’ve been waiting to take for a long, long time.
Mark Fainaru-Wada: Oh we will. Thanks a lot, Rick. Thanks, Charley. We’ll talk to you guys soon.