Deflategate and the Scourge of Modern Journalism

CMOpoC2WcAIKyJ7Before stuff gets real again for Sheriff Roger Goodell and yet another court hands him yet another reminder that he is not quite the master of his NFL domain, I wanted to pose a question about one element of “Deflategate” that has really bothered me.

Why won’t Chris Mortensen torch his source?

Or—to offer what should be a less heretical alternative for those in the media who can’t imagine a world where reporters actually do their readers a favor and release the names of sources who lie to them (and us)—why doesn’t he publicly commit to never using that source again?

Because what we have here in this little episode is, I think, a perfect example of what’s wrong with America’s media.

For those unfamiliar with Mortensen’s unique role in the Deflategate fiasco, it was the ESPN football reporter’s January 21, 2015 story which pretty much turned some garden variety kvetching from the Indianapolis Colts front office in the wake of another post-season thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots into a full-blown scandal. This particular Mort report relied on unnamed “league sources” to offer the bombshell that 11 of the Patriots’ 12 game balls were “inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations”.

That single report led to breathless speculation in the run-up to the Super Bowl and a memorable press conference where Patriot QB Tom Brady seemed stunned by the news.

Unfortunately, the whole thing turned out be a load of hooey. Complete nonsense. Utter poppycock. Or, as some Pat fans (like yours truly) like to think, the first of a series of slanderous salvos coming from an NFL front office that doesn’t much like our organization and will do anything to tarnish it.

Today, a federal court judge considering the NFL’s 4-game suspension of one of their marquee players over the incident, pretty much asked Commissioner Goodell’s team of independent legal eagles, “Where’s the damned beef, boys?” In so doing, he pretty much drove a final stake through the heart of Mort’s story and the credibility of the goons running the NFL, who have not had a very good track record when it comes to truly independent people—like judges—taking a look at their disciplinary handiwork.

Which begs the question of why Mort has allowed his reputation as a sports journalist to be tarnished for being such a willing tool of such willful liars in the NFL front office. He recently ducked out of an appearance on Boston sports radio’s WEEI, after one of his colleagues went on air and defended Mort as “a pioneer in this industry” and “as good a reporter as there is”. Mort decided to let those words stand rather than be forced into answering tough questions that might leave this particular “pioneer” looking more like a gullible rube getting taken at by a Three Card Monte grifter.

It’s a sad sign of where the modern media has come—and not just the sports media. Modern journalists have come to rely on unnamed sources way consumers have taken to online shopping—something they didn’t have at one point but now can’t seem to live without. And that’s fine.

What’s less than fine is their similar dependency on being first out of the gate with a story, even it proves to a tissue of lies, and on preserving access to the key people they rely on for information. Because that means when a source lies to them, they won’t do anything about it, because burning that source—even for a very good reason—might scare away other potential sources or send them to another, less scrupulous reporter/outlet. Now I happen to think that’s a load of crap, especially in a case like this where we can reasonably assume that the sources feeding Mortensen nonsense were among a few well known NFL front office folks with grudges against the Patriots. Burning the folks who exposed Mort to ridicule and have caused people to question his journalistic standards would be fair play, an understandable response to people who were happy to feed him garbage to advance their own agendas with no fear of any consequences.

But let’s assume the terror of doing anything that might offend potential unnamed sources and risk losing out on the next big story is preventing Mort from taking such action. Why in the name of Joe Montana’s perfect spirals can’t he at least come out and say, “I know who fed me this crap, and my audience can rest assured that I will not be relying on these individuals again for information or granting them anonymity, as they have violated the right to that protection after feeding me false information.”?

Wouldn’t it be liberating? Wouldn’t it be a commitment to avoid the journalistic malpractice which has caused people to question his credibility? Shouldn’t it be standard operating procedure in this kind of circumstance?

Mort could become a journalistic trendsetter, showing the way for outlets like the New York Times, which  recently took it on the chin for getting fed some nonsense about an alleged Justice Department criminal probe into the Hilary Clinton emails…a probe that wasn’t happening anywhere but in the fevered imaginations of some Republican House members.

Unfortunately, being first and having a steady gravy train of information, even if it proves to be laughably unreliable, seems to be Mort’s top priority and journalists across the board. And it’s not doing us any favors…as sports fans, as consumers of information, or even as a country.

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