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Anonymous sources, privacy, A-Rod and popcorn

Posted by Mark Leccese  February 10, 2011 11:15 AM

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GK_ARod&Carmen.jpgAs a Fox camera panned the high-end luxury boxes in Cowboys Stadium during the first quarter of Sunday’s Super Bowl, it found football guru John Madden, former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura — and baseball star Alex Rodriguez being fed popcorn by his date, actress Cameron Diaz.

“I’m sure Alex is thrilled that we put the camera on him at that moment, being fed popcorn,” Fox announcer Joe Buck noted drily.

Not only was Rodriguez not thrilled, according to an item posted two days later by veteran entertainment reporter Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times, he “went ballistic” on Fox executives.

A few Fox honchos’ ears were burning Sunday night in Dallas — and it had nothing to do with the action on the Cowboys Stadium field. Turns out Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez wanted to slug a few folks after he spotted himself and his girlfriend Cameron Diaz being shown to the 111 million people watching the game.

“He really went ballistic — thinking the cameraman was out to get them in a paparazzi-like shot. … That’s so crazy,” said my source. “Anyone who knows anything about producing a live sports event — especially something as huge as the Super Bowl — would know that those celebrity shots are purely random. A-Rod, of all people, should know that.”

Oh, yeah, I totally can see why Rodriguez got … what? A man who earns $32 million a year playing for a baseball team in the country’s biggest media market, earns another $10 from endorsements, dates a famous actress and goes to the year’s biggest sporting event (along with 105,000 others) that 111 million people (in just the U.S.) are watching on TV expects popcorn and privacy?

The Ottawa Citizen reported yesterday that a Fox spokesman apologized to Rodriguez.

Dan Bell, a Fox Sports spokesman, said he was not aware of Rodriguez’s expressing his displeasure to the network. He did issue a statement stressing that Fox did not intend to make him look bad.

“In no way, shape or form would we ever intend to show a celebrity in any type of negative manner on this or any other of our broadcasts,” Bell said. “These shots are purely random and were just used to show the audience all of the unique personalities who were in attendance to watch this great game.”

A blogger at the Toronto Globe & Mail sympathized with Rodriguez.

For the rest of us, getting caught holding hands or smooching in public with a new partner might be a little awkward. We can only imagine how embarrassing it might be to have our unintentionally public display of affection broadcast to millions.

Andrew Marchand, a sportswriter for ESPN New York, defended Rodriguez and slammed the Sun-Times writer.

Is it really fair that a thinly sourced story out of Chicago about a New York baseball player at a football game in Dallas should be treated like gospel? A-Rod comes across as a total jerk.

Would you want to be treated that way?

Next week, A-Rod is probably going to deny it that it ever happened. At that point — after Fox and A-Rod have denied it — does he get the ridicule back? Should we still believe the unnamed source out of Chicago?

Any time you read a quote from an anonymous source, you should ask yourself two questions:

  1. What is the source’s motivation for talking to a reporter?
  2. What is the source’s motivation for insisting on remaining anonymous?

I’m guessing here, but reasonable motives could be the source’s surprise and exasperation and at Rodriguez calling Fox brass and “going ballistic” — and probably to get a shot in at Rodriguez, although the quote isn’t a particularly harsh attack on the ballplayer. The reasons the source would want to remain anonymous are obvious: The source did not want to get in trouble with his bosses (who were issuing an apology to Rodriguez) and certainly did not want a rich, temperamental celebrity ticked off at him or her.

If we posit those motivations, can we believe the anonymous source is telling the truth? What motive does the anonymous source have to lie? Why would the source make up a story about Rodriguez calling Fox executives? Is the source a Red Sox fan trying to make Rodriguez look like an idiot? Did Rodriguez once step on the source’s toe and not say “excuse me?”

The law states that even on public property, a photojournalist cannot take a photo of someone who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The usual example given is that you can’t take a photo of someone in a public bathroom. Other than that, though, if you are in a public place, the law says you can be photographed.

The wesbsite Photojojo, in an explanation of the legal rights of photographers, puts it this way:

Anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want. Public places include parks, sidewalks, malls, etc. Malls? Yeah. Even though it’s technically private property, being open to the public makes it public space.

Cowboys Stadium is owned by the City of Arlington, Texas, whose residents approved increases in the city’s sales, hotel occupancy and car rental taxes to help fund its construction. It could not be more of a public place.

Clearly, Rodriguez has no legal basis for complaint. Does he have a legitimate gripe that Fox was trying catch him and Cameron Diaz in a “paparazzi-like shot?”

Please. He sat in a prominent and visible place at the Super Bowl. Any self-respecting paparazzo (there must be some) would be ashamed turn in a shot that was so easy and obvious.

Celebrities can be such jerks.

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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