Where there’s smoke…someone might be smoking.  And something doesn’t quite smell right here.

The Miami New Times, a weekly free “alternative” newspaper, reported on Tuesday that Alex Rodriguez had used prohibited substances on a regular basis over the past several years.  Immediately the media, including the New York Times, latched onto the story, which swiftly went viral on the internet.  And not one person, not one publication — no one — seems to entertain the notion that the “dope” on Rodriguez could be a bunch of crap.

This wouldn’t be the first time the New Times has run a story that turned out to be hogwash.  Several years ago, they got caught with something very similar that turned out to be nothing more than a blackmail attempt disguised as a tell-all expose, and there are some eerie parallels here.

Here are the actual facts:

The A-Rod story runs at some length describing the people and activities, clients and histories of Biogenesis, a clinic in Miami that ostensibly provides anti-aging treatment.  In reality, the story very convincingly asserts, it is a front for dealing banned steroid and similar drugs to ordinary people and a range of well-known professional athletes, including Melky Cabrera, Manny Ramirez and other disgraced baseball players caught using banned substances.

But the evidence that actually fingers A-Rod comprises a series of “personal notebooks” and other records that purportedly belonged to Anthony Bosch, Biogenesis’s owner and a shadowy figure from the sports doping underworld.  These records were “found” by Juan Garcia, an” investor” in and salesman for Biogenesis.   According to Tim Elfrink, the MNT reporter who broke the story:

The names are all included in an extraordinary batch of records from Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic tucked into a two-story office building just a hard line drive’s distance from the UM campus. They were given to New Times by an employee who worked at Biogenesis before it closed last month and its owner abruptly disappeared. The records are clear in describing the firm’s real business: selling performance-enhancing drugs, from human growth hormone (HGH) to testosterone to anabolic steroids.

Elfrink also spoke to several people connected to the operation:

Interviews with six customers and two former employees corroborate the tale told by the patient files, the payment records, and the handwritten notebooks kept by the clinic’s chief, 49-year-old Anthony Bosch.

“Corroborate” what tale?  Most of what is in the article seems plausible, and is likely true.  The article is lengthy and well-researched.  But almost none of it concerns A-Rod.   And without A-Rod it’s just another drug den story, of no interest to anyone.   Other than some notebooks — which even the reporter acknowledges may or may not actually have been written by Bosch — found by a disgruntled investor in the seamy business, who seems to be the primary source for the article, and turned over to Elfrink, the only other connection to Rodriguez is this:

“He [Bosch] was always talking about A-Rod,” says one former employee who asked not to be named. “We never saw any athletes in the office, so we didn’t know if he was just talking bullshit or not. But he would brag about how tight they were.”

Bosch hardly seems like a credible witness, and wouldn’t be the first fast-talker to promote himself by expropriating someone else’s fame.  Further, Elfrink mentions another figure, A-Rod’s cousin, who has a lengthy history of dealing in banned substances:

 On a 2009 client list, near A-Rod’s name, is that of Yuri Sucart, who paid Bosch $500 for a weeklong supply of HGH. Sucart is famous to anyone who has followed baseball’s steroid scandal. Soon after A-Rod’s admission, the slugger admitted that Sucart — his cousin and close friend — was the mule who provided the superstar his drugs.

Was Sucart in fact Bosch’s customer?  Did Sucart enhance his leverage with Bosch with intimations or assertions that he was acting for A-Rod?  Who knows?  This much we do know, according to the the New York Daily News:

Tenants of the building that once housed Biogenesis — located in a beige, non-descript office building near the University of Miami — say they never saw A-Rod.

It all seems a little to neat for us.  Garcia, an angry partner, stiffed by Bosch, goes to — the Miami Herald?  ESPN?  — no , to the Miami New Times — with a boxful of notebooks that “appear” to be Bosch’s, with a dozen or so ledger entries containing references to A-Rod, and says “here’s proof that Alex Rodriguez used banned substances as recently as 2012.”

As we said, it could be true, but the closer we look, the funnier it smells.  Something here just doesn’t make sense — and as a wise old sage once pointed out, if something doesn’t make sense, then there’s something you don’t know.

First, why did this story come out at all?  Who benefits?  Not Garcia, the shortchanged investor.  Is he out for revenge?  On whom?  Bosch vanished well before the story came out two days ago; he only responded to calls yesterday, saying only that he had no comment.  Clearly his business was already in flames.  Was Garcia motivated by a sense of civic duty?  Does that seem even remotely possible?

Second — did Rodriguez really deal with someone like Bosch — already deeply implicated in doping through the Manny Ramirez scandal and other high-profile doping investigations?  People do insanely stupid things, but this seems pretty unlikely.

We do not in any way doubt that Elfrink, the reporter, believes his story is accurate, and that they present a strong case against Rodriguez.  But — as we mentioned — we also know well that this wouldn’t be the first time a New Times publication has been taken in by a lurid story told by someone with an axe to grind.

Back in 2007 , the Miami New Times’ reprinted  two articles  from its sister publication up the road, the Broward New Times, alleging that a prominent hedge fund manager, Bruce McMahan, had married his own daughter in Westminster Abbey.  This article was subsequently thoroughly debunked, as it depended on “evidence” and allegations even flimsier than the A-Rod connection in this story.  As it turned out, the New Times, and ultimately, its parent, the Village Voice, allowed themselves to be used as unwitting dupes in a clumsy extortion plot.

Unlike the A-Rod story, this tissue of snot was not picked up by the mainstream media — with the sole exception of the New York Post, which then ran a follow-up interview with one of McMahan’s daughters, in which she described the New Times story’s source as a delusional sociopath.   Here, however, there’s been a media rush to judgment.  Even the New York Times ran a lengthy recap of the A-Rod article, although it was very careful to repeat “these allegations, if proven” as a kind of metronomic qualifier to its summary execution.

Here’s our problem:  There is a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” mentality operating here, fresh on the heels of the Armstrong catastrophe and last summer’s serial exposes about major league baseball.  The public is disposed to believe these stories, however shaky, for obvious reasons, with the grim pleasure of watching the mighty laid low not an insubstantial factor.

Someone who really does have an ax to grind — against A-Rod, against Bosch — could easily take advantage of a gullible publication in search of a blockbuster story.  And who better than the New Times?  Why them?  Well:

A group of senior executives and staff of Village Voice Media, the New Times parent,  only recently purchased the company  from Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, also notorious owners of Backpage.com, the subject of a national campaign against online teen prostitution.  Larkin and Lacey divested Village Voice Media when advertisers began blacklisting the publications because of their affiliation with Backpage.com.

Village Voice Media is struggling.  Deprived of its cash cow Backpage, it needs a healthy shot in the arm to boost its revenues and keep afloat in a world notoriously hostile to publications of all stripes these days.  We don’t suggest that they published this story in bad faith — far from it.  We do suggest that they may be a little quicker to dive for a rotten fish than most pelicans, that they have done so before, and that what they have published may be a thorough indictment of Biogenesis, Bosch and even Garcia — but when it comes to Rodriguez, they may be way off base.

Investigations are underway.  We’ll see what comes out.  But for right now, when it comes to the New Times and its lamentable tendency to sell its readers a bill of goods, well — caveat emptor.