330 Minutes With Selena Roberts

Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

It’s Monday, May 4, and Selena Roberts is sitting in her HarperCollins publicist’s office being called “crazy” on WFAN’s “Boomer & Carton” show. “When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror,” Craig Carton asks her, “are you content with what you see?”

As the WFAN interview wraps up, Roberts, wearing “more makeup than I’ve put on in twenty years,” looks at her watch. “It’s only 9 a.m.?” She has a full day of this left.

Roberts’s new book, A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez, is already being portrayed as a hit job by a woman “out to destroy A-Rod’s life.” So much for a nice promotional tour. The target of one of those media shit storms that our city does better than anyone else is no longer Rodriguez; it’s Roberts.

Only three months ago, Roberts, 42, shook the sports world with a scoop that Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonell called “the biggest news break since I arrived in 2002”: A-Rod had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. All hell quickly broke loose. A-Rod dished out murky apologies, “a-roid” headlines led every tabloid, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called the third baseman an “asset in crisis,” the implication being that if he could drop that asset right now, he certainly would.

But that was then. Now Yankees manager Joe Girardi is wondering why anyone would write “a book like this anyway.” And Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock is calling her a “hard-core feminist” and saying, “I don’t think she understands men that well.”

“Anytime that you take on an icon, people are going to have their own point of view about who the messenger is. Is the messenger an outsider? Is she one of us?” Roberts says en route to an interview with WABC-7. (She has to go local because ESPN, which has filled hours of airtime with A-Rod steroid discussions, declined to have her on.) She checks her BlackBerry: “Here comes another one. More advice.” Throughout the day, she will keep receiving suggestions from friends and colleagues on how better to defend herself in confrontational interviews (which seems to be every interview; even Matt Lauer goes after her).

Someone suggests that she start pushing back by comparing A-Rod to Barry Bonds, pointing out that A-Rod has admitted to steroid use, yet is being considered—in this media go-around, anyway—more sympathetic. But Roberts tells her publicist that going on the offensive would be a mistake. “I can’t do it; I’ll start to sound like the shrill, crazy woman. That’s how it works with these sports guys.”

A-Rod wasn’t conceived as gotcha journalism. It began as a straight biography, and Roberts ended up discovering the steroid use. (“If I had known I’d find that, I’d have gone for a bigger advance,” she jokes.) While there’s no smoking gun, the book has plenty of circumstantial smoke. But, in a news cycle primed for an A-Rod Redemption Arc, it’s proven far too circumstantial for most. During one elevator ride, a fellow traveler notices a copy of Roberts’s tome: “Oh, is that that book?” he asks with a sneer.

Much of the criticism has been of Roberts’s use of anonymous sources, and she spends most of the day pointing out to interviewers that no one had a problem with those sources a few months ago. (She also keeps defending her record on the Duke lacrosse “rape” case.)

For her part, Roberts thinks the real source of her troubles is A-Rod’s comments to ESPN’s Peter Gammons in February, when he claimed that Roberts—or “that lady”—had been “stalking” him and trespassing on his property. None of this was true (as every journalist on the story discovered within minutes), but “it still sticks in people’s minds,” says Roberts. “There’s a part of them that says, ‘You know what? I bet she did break into his house,’ ” she adds, laughing. “For Alex, I don’t think he was thinking it was a strategy, but it probably ended up being a strategy for him.”

Roberts seems to be sticking to her own media strategy for the time being. But during the last interview I see her do, I can’t help but notice that her response, for the first time all day, contains a reference to Barry Bonds.

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330 Minutes With Selena Roberts