Selena Roberts vs. The New York Times: Behind the Correction

Media minutiae feud alert! The combatants: Selena Roberts, former star NYT sports reporter now at Sports Illustrated; and her former paper. Did the Times try, and fail, to take her down, journalistically? Details! [UPDATED]:

Selena Roberts just wrote the big scandalous book about A-Rod (and the NYT was scooped on its contents, btw). One of her accusations in the book: that, during blowout games, A-Rod used to tip batters on the opposing team to what pitches were on the way, if they would do the same for him.

So last Sunday, the NYT examined A-Rod's stats in a "Keeping Score" column, and found that there was no statistical evidence to back up the allegation (better hitting by A-Rod or the opposing middle infielders late in blowout games, for example). The headline: "Numbers Indicate Rodriguez Didn't Tip Pitches With Rangers."

Which pissed off Selena Roberts, we hear! Her reps contacted the NYT, complaining that the story's writer never contacted her, and, more importantly, that the story's headline wasn't supported by its facts because her book claims that A-Rod was cheating with a select group of buddies, not every opposing middle infielder in baseball.

We hear that the Times acknowledged that the headline was erroneous, but internal debate about whether to run an editor's note—a debate which went all the way up to Bill Keller—took so long that the correction to the story was just added yesterday.

Here it is:

A headline for the Keeping Score column on Sunday, about an analysis of the assertion in a new book that Alex Rodriguez revealed pitches to opposing middle infielders to let them know what was coming with the expectation that they would return the favor, referred incorrectly to the findings. As the column reported, the numbers show that either no so-called tipping of pitches occurred or that it was ineffective; the numbers did not "indicate" that "Rodriguez didn't tip pitches."

But Roberts is still pissed that nothing in the story was changed. Says one of the people who are working with her: "First The Times was beaten by its former reporter with the bombshell story that A-Rod used steroids. Then The Times gets the story about A-Rod cheating during games all wrong. But Bill Keller is too worried about losing readers and losing money to risk losing faith among readers by running an appropriate editor's note or full correction."

That seems a bit overblown. (We've contacted the paper for comment and we'll let you know what we hear. UPDATE: See their response below.) The original headline may have been a stretch, but stats are stats. A-Rod could have gotten tipped off for pitches and still not hit better. He could have done it so infrequently that it didn't show up in his stats. You can both be right! Let's all come together to condemn this rich baseball player as one.

[NYT story with correction here. Selena Roberts also addresses this in a Deadspin podcast today.]

UPDATE: NYT spokesperson Diane McNulty sends us this response:

The article did not take issue with Selena Roberts's assertions about A-Rod. It said that the effects that any tipped pitches would normally be expected to produce did not show up in statistics, which indicated that "either no tipping was going on or it was pathetically ineffective." The headline on the article went beyond that and so we promptly (on Monday for Tuesday's paper, typical for errors in Sunday editions) corrected it. There was no internal debate at all about whether to run an editors' note.