BREATHE EASY, America. Two of the central players in the BALCO steroids scandal look like they're headed for the clink.
One weighs 170 pounds, including glasses, and couldn't bench-press the phone book. The other hasn't lifted a weight since high school.
The criminals? Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke open the story—Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
The juicer athletes never had a chance against these guys. Their pit-bull reporting triggered a national wake-up call about steroid use that led to congressional hearings and, at long last, steroid testing in baseball.
Thanks to Fainaru-Wada and Williams, the authors of Game of Shadows, we learned the nasty truth about the web of steroid-using athletes and trainers spun by BALCO's mastermind, Victor Conte. Without their reporting the compelling evidence of Barry Bonds's steroid use might never have been revealed. Nor would we know that Jason Giambi and former 100-meter record holder Tim Montgomery had admitted their steroid use to a grand jury.
It's the best sports reporting in our lifetime, so impressive that in April 2005, when Fainaru-Wada and Williams met President Bush at a correspondents-dinner reception, he shook their hands and said, "You've done a service." And why wouldn't he? He said in his 2004 State of the Union address that this country must clean up steroids in pro sports, and Fainaru-Wada and Williams started scrubbing. But then Bush allowed his Attorney General to subpoena them to give up the source of grand jury testimony they'd reported or face jail time.
Hold on, hold on. I hear you yelping: Somebody violated a judge's gag order and leaked secret grand jury testimony, and the government is trying to find out who. Fainaru-Wada and Williams obviously know who it is but refuse to say. They must go directly to jail, not pass Go, etc.
No, they uncovered information that had been part of grand jury testimony, but it was then released to the BALCO defense team and the prosecution in the pretrial process, and it wasn't until 11 days later that the gag order was imposed.
Of course, Fainaru-Wada, 41, and Williams, 56, could simply roll on their source, but then no source would ever speak to them again. Already, Williams says, sources "have started double-clutching a little since we were subpoenaed."
The Hearst Corporation, which owns TV stations, magazines and 12 daily newspapers, including the Chronicle, has received 80 subpoenas of reporters over the last 18 months, compared with five over the previous 18. Meanwhile, Bush runs what is arguably the most secretive administration in history. He even signed an executive order designed to keep presidential papers secret beyond the usual 12-year wait.