The congressional hearings on steroid use in major league baseball have served as more than a reminder of what Jose Canseco looks like without a mullet. They are evidence of what an incredible impact the San Francisco Chronicle's pack-leading coverage of the BALCO scandal has had. Thanks to investigative reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, we now have this candidate for Bartlett's Familiar Quotations from Giant Barry Bonds: "I can tell you my testicles are the same size. They haven't shrunk. They're the same and work just the same as they always have." Williams and Fainaru-Wada didn't elicit that quote directly, but without their BALCO scoops can you imagine Bonds talking publicly about the size of his sack? (Shrunken testes, by the way, are one side effect of steroid use.) Would baseball have changed its testing policy? Would Congress be holding hearings? No, no, and no.
You figure stories that made such a huge impact would be deserving of journalism's Holy Grail, the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer judges apparently disagree. A list of finalists leaked to Editor & Publisher doesn't identify Williams and Fainaru-Wada, the worst omission since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences snubbed Paul Giamatti for his performance in Sideways.
Feeder can't divine what the jurists were thinking, but perhaps it reflected some of the criticism leveled at the Chron's BALCO coverage. As one writer recently noted, some critics have dismissed the duo as "lucky stenographers" rather than the next coming of Woodward and Bernstein. Lucky? Hardly. If the leaker of the Bonds and Jason Giambi grand jury testimony wanted to make a bigger splash, he or she could have dropped the transcript on the lap of a New York Times reporter or a 60 Minutes producer. But the leaker chose to "send it to the Chronicle," to paraphrase Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's famous dis of the paper in All the President's Men. That's a testament to the time and effort these Chron reporters have spent earning the trust of sources and coaxing information from them.
Despite their hard work, Williams and Fainaru-Wada have piggybacked on the federal BALCO investigation rather than initiating their own. That, explains Chron managing editor Robert Rosenthal, aka Rosie, is why editors didn't enter the steroid stories in the Pulitzer's investigative reporting category. Instead, the story was entered in two other categories: beat reporting and national reporting. These were a decent fit, Rosie reasons, because BALCO has been his reporters' beat for the past year, and the stories have had a national impact. Rosenthal, who has been a Pulitzer judge four times and has edited prizewinning pieces in the past, points out that there's still a chance the Chron could win when the official selections are announced next month. While the judges name the finalists, the Pulitzer board has final say, and has been known to pick winners who weren't among the finalists. "We're keeping our fingers crossed," he says.
Reached at his desk, Williams didn't sound like a guy who just got snubbed. In fact, he and his partner were just honored with a prestigious Polk award. "Not only did we get a Polk award," he jokes, "we have a chance to go to jail." The feds are investigating who leaked the paper secret grand jury testimony.
The other consolation prize: Williams and Fainaru-Wada have scored a book deal to write about the BALCO saga; Williams hopes to have it out by 2006 spring training. Feeder neglected to ask whether he would rather be portrayed by Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford when the made-for-TV movie comes out. BALCO chief Victor Conte will of course be played by Charmin spokesman Mr. Whipple.
Judge and Jewry
Over the past year, the legacy of the late Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde has taken a beating. Golde, who died in 1998, was a man of contradictions. Privately, he felt conflicted about the death penalty; he was a religious man who regularly went to temple. Yet, according to a legal newspaper, Golde was reputed to have handed down more death sentences than any other judge in the county at the time he died. This week, testimony is being heard to determine whether Golde, who was Jewish, advised former county prosecutor John "Jack" Quatman to keep Jews off the jury in a 1987 capital case -- and thus denied condemned inmate Fred Freeman a fair trial. Freeman's appellate lawyers got Quatman to file a sworn declaration in which he says, according to The New York Times, that Golde warned him during jury selection that "no Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber."
Quatman, now a defense lawyer in Montana, is said to be quite the character. According to his friend, Oakland criminal defense attorney and TV legal pundit Daniel Horowitz, the short, "politically incorrect" ex-prosecutor earned the nickname "the poison dwarf." "He was foul-mouthed but brilliant. ... He was as funny as Don Rickles," Horowitz says of Quatman, who worked as a DA for more than two decades. Sometimes, though, Quatman's foul mouth got him into trouble, Horowitz says -- like the time he allegedly called a female subordinate a cunt. Horowitz went head-to-head against Quatman in the 1991 murder trial of Brendell Levi.
This week, once again, the two men are on opposite sides in the courtroom for the Freeman case. Quatman, ironically, is testifying on behalf of the man he sent to death row, while Horowitz is acting as a witness for the prosecution. Horowitz, a regular commentator on cable TV during the Scott Peterson trial, says he has been called to testify because Quatman told him a different version of the Golde story from the one Quatman provided in his written declaration. In the legal document, Quatman makes it sound as if Golde summoned him in the middle of jury selection, Horowitz says. But when Horowitz asked Quatman about the exchange, the prosecutor told him that he and the judge were just "shooting the shit."
"It's a big difference between that and Judge Golde telling some rookie prosecutor, 'Don't you know, everybody else knows? Jews -- no good,'" Horowitz says.
Quatman, of course, was not a rookie but a very experienced prosecutor. And Horowitz finds it hard to believe a veteran DA would need advice about something every death penalty lawyer knows but will rarely admit -- that race and ethnic background play a big role in jury selection. "On a death jury," Horowitz says, "Jew means life."
Kiss Me, I'm Toxic
Excellent story last week in the Oakland Tribune about a crunchy Berkeley family whose twenty-month-old son's body is teeming with fire-retardant chemicals despite their healthy lifestyle. For all you parents out in Feederland now questioning whether you should buy those fire-resistant pajamas for your babies, weigh the risks. Would you rather expose your kid to chemicals that may or may not threaten his health? Or would you rather suffer the tragic consequences when your kid has had a few drinks and falls asleep while smoking?
Think about it.
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