Monday, August 03, 2015

The Mistake Is Still There

I am so ready for football. Neither the MLB nor golf is doing it for me these days. I again kind of wish the World Series of Poker would fill this dead period in the sports calendar somehow -- ideally with televised coverage of the conclusion of the Main Event, with the November Nine becoming the August Nine (or something). But that ain’t happening.

Without any games yet to watch, I’m finding myself diverted by the various off-the-field stories swirling about as the season nears. Speaking of, I was diverted a little this afternoon listening to Chris Mortensen, ESPN’s longtime and much respected NFL reporter, talking to Dan Le Batard on his radio show about having been thrust into the middle of this “Deflategate” story involving the defending Super Bowl champs New England Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady.

Brady, as you’ve no doubt heard, has been suspended for four games by the NFL following a lengthy investigation into allegations that footballs used by the Pats in the AFC Championship game versus the Indianapolis Colts were underinflated. That investigation culminated in the so-called “Wells Report” in early May that concluded “it is more probable than not” than a couple of equipment assistants for N.E. “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referees,” and also that it is “more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”

Five days after that report was released, the NFL announced Brady’s suspension, with the NFL Players Association promptly appealing it. The team was also fined $1 million and lost a couple of draft picks, penalties which were not appealed.

Thanks to the somewhat absurd procedure previously agreed to by the NFLPA, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- who handed down the suspension -- was the one getting to hear the appeal, and last week he upheld the ruling that Brady would be suspended for four games. Now it sounds like Brady will be trying to take the NFL to court over the matter.

Anyhow, backing up to the beginning of all of this there was an article by Mortensen on ESPN on January 21 -- after the AFC Championship game and before the Super Bowl -- appearing under the headline “11 of 12 Pats footballs underinflated.” The article remains on the ESPN site, including the much repeated statements that “The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots’ 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL’s requirements” and that “The investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what’s required by NFL regulations.”

For a few days there, “Deflategate” was all anyone was talking about. In fact the story more or less eclipsed all of the talk about the upcoming game between the Pats and Seattle.

That “Wells Report” in May clarified that apparently neither of those statements were correct. Problems with both are outlined in detail over on the NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk site, if you’re curious. Balls were underinflated, it seems, though not as drastically as those inaccurate statements suggest.

But since the statements were referenced so much from January to May (and then even after May when they were shown to be incorrect), they affected how most viewed the whole episode. And since the NFL often operates like a political candidate insofar as it tends to lean this way or that according to how the public appears to stand, it’s reasonable to think the punishment and denial of the appeal were influenced (indirectly) by the way Mortensen’s report was taken to be true. (That the sources for his reporting -- undisclosed, of course -- no doubt emanated from the NFL itself, provides further reason for outrage among conspiratorial-minded Pats fans.)

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get carried away with summarizing all of that. Mainly I just wanted to respond briefly to Mortensen’s strange self-defense on the DLB show today, where he explained how he had compiled information from multiple sources to deliver his statements about the number of footballs that had been inflated “significantly below” the required levels. When asked what needed to be corrected in his article, Mortensen answered “What needs to be corrected has been corrected,” adding “I didn’t correct it on Twitter, which was a mistake by the way.”

But the article hasn’t been corrected. That’s a screenshot of the opening of it above, captured today (click to embiggen). The mistake is still there.

Later Mortensen gets asked “Is there a need to retract the original story?” and after answering no, he defends using the adverb “significantly” as a judgment call (which is fair) but repeats that “the two pounds PSI, that was obviously an error and clarified and corrected.” Again, it is strange to hear him insist the article has been corrected when it hasn’t been.

Regarding his failing to issue any kind of correction over Twitter, that he seems desirous to defend as an oversight caused by a lack of familiarity with social media. I was just writing on Friday about how Twitter remains for me a kind of ephemeral way of communicating, which tends to make me a lot more forgiving of mistakes, lack of clarity, or other faux pas occurring there. But as I mentioned, Twitter is still a form of communication, and obviously journalists still must adhere to the same ethical practices regardless of the medium they are using for their reporting.

Mortensen almost sounds unaware of the fact that his article wasn’t corrected. Or perhaps it was corrected somewhere else (in another article? over the air on ESPN?) and he’s operating under the assumption that covers it (when, of course, it doesn’t).

Almost sounds like a poker player recounting a misplayed hand who having figured out his mistake early on, begins incorporating self-censure when telling the story of the hand thereafter (“I checked, but I meant to bet half the pot. Anyway he checked, too, and the turn came...”). However, by telling the story in that way he makes the error less apparent to himself, to the point where the correction becomes more obvious to him than the original mistake.

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