'SF Chron' Bonds Coverage Strikes 'A Balance'

By: Joe Strupp In the end, the San Francisco Chronicle gave Barry Bonds? record-breaking home run what Editor Phil Bronstein called ?a finely tailored package? that struck ?an appropriate balance.?

After Bonds? 756th home run Tuesday night broke Hank Aaron?s previous mark, The Chronicle had perhaps one of the most difficult tightropes to walk of any paper. Having exposed Bonds? alleged steroid use in numerous stories dating back several years by reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, which led to a book by the duo and threats of jail time for using leaked court documents, the paper could hardly stand up and cheer with all-celebratory coverage.

But given that the story was a major news event and an historic moment locally, the paper also had to avoid gloating over its disclosures or missing the milestone that it was ? tainted or not.

Included among the news pages was an ?analysis" by the two reporters who broke the Bonds/BALCO case, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. It basically reminded readers of what Bonds had done and what the paper had uncovered. ?You needed to have some of that reflected in the overall coverage,? Williams told E&P. ?Looking back from the future, I think you would want the paper to report on that controversy.?

Williams said he watched the game at home while working on some household chores. ?I didn?t want to go to the game and get my picture on the Jumbotron,? he joked. ?I simply watched it to see what was going on." He said that beating the home run record "wouldn?t have happened without the drugs."

?We really gave a 360-degree view of this,? said Bronstein, who watched the game at his San Francisco home. ?Our view was that, at this particular moment, Barry Bonds, however he did it, is the home run leader. That struck a good balance.?

The Chronicle appears to have been the only daily paper to give the entire front page to Bonds, in a four-page wrap that included a large photo of him with arms raised and a headline screaming, ?Alone at the Top.?

But the only story on that Page One was a column by Gwen Knapp that noted the controversy in the second paragraph, stating, ?Rejected by large portions of the baseball-loving public as a chemically enhanced fraud, Bonds found himself enveloped in an adoring crowd of Giants fans, his family and teammates, plus applauding opponents and, most heartwarmingly, an aristocracy of sluggers.?

The paper had a total of six pages of inside coverage, with three in sports and three in news, said Bronstein. He also said the paper added two pages to sports to accommodate the coverage

Among the pieces was a fairly balanced editorial that offered both recognition of the achievement and reminders of the alleged cheating. ?Bonds is now baseball's all-time home-run king, a remarkable feat even with an asterisk attached. Students of baseball now can spend the next few decades arguing about how Barry's 756-and-counting compares with numbers from eras before and (hopefully) after chemistry so radically altered physiques and the game.?

?It was an inevitable event given the sport and that the federal authorities couldn?t do anything to sideline him,? Lance Williams told E&P. ?It is an achievement, but it is an achievement you have to put into the context of how it was achieved."

Despite the record, Williams stressed that coverage of the steroid story, and other related issues, would continue. ?We are going to continue to follow the federal investigation as long as it lasts,? he said, but added, ?you come to a point and say, ?are you going to cover this story for the rest of your life?? You have to decide you are not. I am also doing other stories.?

But he made clear the paper would not back off of the subject: ?There will continue to be sports doping stories because that is the era we are in.?

Bronstein admitted that he felt a sense of history when he watched the historic dinger. ?A sort of surge,? he said. ?I wasn?t weeping openly, but it was a fascinating historical moment, more fascinating because of all the controversy.?


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