Friday, February 20, 2015

What Are the Consequences for Reckless Reporting?

The Most Overinflated "Scandal" Ever has taken a few interesting turns in the past couple weeks. In case you did not know or forgot--and how could you not know, with multiple media outlets breathlessly releasing misinformation every hour on the hour?--the whole saga began when Indianapolis linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told someone on the Colts' sideline that the football he intercepted from Tom Brady near the end of the first half of New England's 45-7 win over Indianapolis was deflated. Except, of course, that Jackson never said that at all; Indianapolis Star reporter Bob Kravitz, sure that he had latched onto a Pulitzer Prize-winning scoop about dastardly deeds committed by the Patriots, either made the whole thing up or relied on a source that has about as much knowledge of the situation as Sergeant Schultz and about as much credibility as Joe Isuzu.

Kravitz was not content to merely get the facts wrong; he also took it upon himself to call for the firing of New England Coach Bill Belichick. Then ESPN, not wanting someone else to enjoy all of the glory that comes with bad reporting and baseless, grandstanding commentary, weighed in with their full armada of talking heads. Mike Wilbon, without doing any investigative reporting on this issue whatsoever and without any facts suggesting that Belichick had committed any offense at all, demanded that the NFL strip the Patriots of their Super Bowl berth because the Patriots are "on probation" in his fevered mind. Chris Mortenson invented a story about 11 of the 12 game day footballs used by the Patriots being significantly deflated. Kravitz' co-worker at the Indianapolis Star, Gregg Doyel, chimed in by calling for Belichick's immediate firing.

Michael Hurley offered a brilliant take on all of the members of the "Shout first, shout some more and don't bother to think later" school of reporting. His whole article deserves your attention but here is his three point breakdown of why the so-called scandal is unfounded and ridiculous:

First, at a press conference last Thursday in Phoenix, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino spilled the beans that the PSI of the 12 Patriots footballs were never recorded by referee Walt Anderson. Blandino said that balls were measured, and if they were under the low threshold of 12.5, they were simply pumped up with some air. So instantly, the report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that said 11 of the 12 footballs were a full 2 PSI under the threshold was essentially debunked. How could Mortensen have that information if nobody could have that information? (The answer, of course, is that a source who desperately wanted such misinformation out there gave him the "scoop.")

Secondly, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the morning of the Super Bowl that just one of the 11 footballs was 2 PSI under the limit, while the other 10 were "just a tick" under the 12.5 threshold. Rapoport's report was crucial for a number of reasons. For one, he is paid by the NFL, and so he can't afford to be wrong. If his report, which makes Roger Goodell's bloodthirsty office look like a bunch of clowns, turns out to be wrong, how much longer would the league keep him on the payroll? Second, the phrasing of the footballs of being "just a tick" under the limit is at once believable, because that's how non-technical measurements would be recorded, and also because footballs which were originally inflated near the lower limit would likely lose some air pressure after two hours outside in January.

And then there's this: The one football that was 2 PSI under the limit? That was the ball intercepted by D'Qwell Jackson, the pizza man puncher, according to ProFootballTalk. It was the football that was taken to the Colts sideline and then submitted to the NFL to launch an investigation. You're going to tell me that the Colts didn't manipulate that football before submitting it? The team that fired off the accusations of cheating didn't take an extra step or two to make sure they were right by sticking a needle in that football and letting it drain for a few seconds before handing it over to the league and saying, "Hey, the Patriots are using underinflated footballs, so you need to investigate"?

Hurley was just warming up. Next, he pointed out that the same Bob Kravitz who called for Belichick's head on the basis of unfounded ball-deflating allegations pleaded in print with the NFL to give Colts' owner Jim Irsay a second chance after Irsay's DUI fiasco:

So to recap: Irsay took drugs and stepped behind the wheel. He could have killed someone. But Kravitz wasn't angry. Then Bill Belichick was accused of playing football with footballs that had a little less air in them. Kravitz was irate.

Here’s what Kravitz wrote after a very compromised source with an ax to grind against Belichick told him that the Patriots used some underinflated footballs: "If Patriots owner Robert Kraft has an ounce of integrity, he will fire Bill Belichick immediately for toying with the integrity of the game for the second time in his otherwise magnificent career...If Roger Goodell has an ounce of integrity, and he's not spending all his time going to pre-game soirees at Kraft's mansion, he will not only fine Belichick and take away draft choices, but suspend the head coach for the upcoming Super Bowl."

So, driving under the influence of prescription drugs, an act which could result in the deaths of innocent people, is simply the act of a man who needs some help. Underinflate some footballs, and you deserve to lose your job. Solid reasoning there, especially now that we know the entire deflated football accusations were essentially made up out of thin air.


Kravitz also fully believed Irsay when he said he had $29,000 in cash on him because he's "extremely generous," but he didn't believe Belichick for not knowing how much air gets pumped into the footballs. His judgment is sound...

OK, I'm sorry, but one more quote from my man Bob Kravitz: "Still, it is utterly amazing (but not really) how far some media will go to defend their city's team, especially when it wins Super Bowls."

If Alanis Morissette ever writes a sequel to her hit song, I hope she'll include this line from Kravitz, which comes while he's doing his local team's bidding.

The whole story just gets better and better every day. Breaking news, stop the presses: there is video of a Patriots' locker room attendant doing something that seems fishy. No further investigation necessary, case closed: Pulitzer for Kravitz, sanctions for the evil Belichick. Oh, wait; the Patriots' locker room attendant was set up by an NFL employee who was switching out footballs as part of a memorabilia scam. If Kravitz' eyes were not obscured by the two feet protruding from his mouth, he might have done some actual investigating and discovered a real scandal!

What are the consequences for reckless reporting? Kravitz, Doyel, Wilbon and Mortenson can get the facts wrong, smear people's reputations and not suffer any meaningful consequences. That is grossly unfair, both to the targets of their sloppy work and to real journalists who deserve the opportunity to provide insightful coverage. NFL players who don't perform well get cut, NFL coaches who don't win enough games get fired but media members who have the right contacts enjoy lifetime job security no matter how sloppy and/or tendentious their work is--and that is the most deflating thing about all of this.

No comments: