Luis Castillo became a batboy for the New York Yankees at the age of 15, and for eight baseball seasons shared the clubhouse with his hometown heroes. Now he’s cashing in, having written a tell-all memoir of his experiences that dishes on Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and others, all of whom trusted him to be fair, respectful, and discreet.
The recurrent theme from the media’s commentators, which I heard repeated on CNN this morning as it hosted Castillo in his book-hawking efforts (in this case he told an embarrassing anecdote about Yankee catcher Jose Posada) is that “Castillo is able to divulge Yankee secrets in his new memoir because he was part of the last group of batboys who did not have to sign confidentiality agreements.”
This is accurate, but wrong. It is also typical of what passed today as journalistic ethics.
Castillo may be able to do disclose facts he received in confidence, but it is still unethical and a breach of trust for him to do it. The reporters and CNN hosts who suggest that it is acceptable to betray a trust as long as there isn’t a law or a contract provision prohibiting it are revealing their own ethical deficiencies, which are as significant as Castillo’s. Embarrassing employers, clients, colleagues or lovers when they gave you access to their secrets may be commonplace, frequent and even expected by those who expect money to trump ethical standards, but it is just as wrong whether there are laws or contracts involved or not.
Once again, I am reminded of my friend, the late Robert McElwaine, who was a Hollywood publicist for stars like Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Victor Mature, and most memorably, entertainer Danny Kaye. As an employee who traveled with his clients and knew many of their darkest secrets, he was entrusted with stories that would have made a sensational book. Even after all of his clients had died, however, Bob refused entreaties to publishers to tell all. I asked him if he had signed confidentiality agreements, and he said that he had signed one or two, but for the most part his clients trusted him, both because of his reputation and because it was understood: if an employer have you access to his non-public conduct, you were obligated to keep those secrets…forever.
Greed, the celebrity culture and society’s willingness to encourage and reward unethical conduct for its titillation and entertainment has made Bob’s values quaint and outdated, but quaint and outdated is different from “wrong.” The batboy was given the opportunity of a lifetime by the New York Yankees, and he has chosen to repay their favor with betrayal. Yes, CNN, he will get away with it.
It still isn’t right.