The Trevor Bauer Mess: Can the Media be Fair to an Asshole it Hates?
What happens when a disliked figure gets accused
One of my main beliefs about our social media journalism age is that it’s an era of social incentives overriding financial incentives. It’s common for athletes to deride the industry as one that’s always “chasing clicks,” but that’s only true some of the time, within specific parameters. I might even argue that the industry would be healthier if it were strictly governed by a pursuit of consumer interest, i.e. chasing stories that people want to click on. Instead, due to social pressure, reporters and their institutions actively avoid clicks.
Here’s yet another example, pertaining to a civil court resolution of the sexual assault accusation that got the then-reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer effectively booted out of Major League Baseball in 2022. It’s the epilogue for this tale of how a top tier MLB pitcher found his way to the Yokohama Baystars of Japan.
Wow, what a boring story, considering the graphic subject. Bauer was accused of sexually assaulting this woman two times back in 2021 (specifically choking her during sex to the point she lost consciousness, repeatedly punching her and non-consensually penetrating her), and this headline seems to insinuate that he paid to make the ugly situation disappear.
Nearly every prestige publication has a similar headline, including my former employer. The villain remains the villain. The victim remains the victim. Looks like the bad rich guy tacitly admitted to wrongdoing by paying the accuser off. Nothing to see here; move along, folks.
Except, there’s an issue with the common framing of this story, and I would argue that it is pretty dishonest. For more context, let’s take a look at the Barstool Sports headline of what happened. You know, Barstool, the bro-friendly shop that remains hugely popular despite prestige publications repeatedly denouncing its president as beyond the pale. In theory, these hungover shock jocks shouldn’t outperform the real media with all its sacred standards, but here we go.