Part 1—A comical point of reference: Ruth Marcus is fully on board with the latest consensus scandal.
Marcus is a columnist at the Washington Post. Some Fridays, she substitutes for Mark Shields on the PBS NewsHour, serving as the liberal voice on the weekly political round-up.
As such, Marcus virtually defines a major wing of our journalistic elite. Needless to say, she’s fully on board with the latest consensus scandal.
In this instance, elite consensus involves a field Marcus knows little about. As she made clear in yesterday’s Post, she’s on board concerning the latest consensus scandal involving the NFL.
Did someone who works for the New England Patriots under-inflate some footballs? Has this been going on for years? Did a certain handsome quarterback actually know about it?
It’s the latest consensus scandal! As is common within our scandal culture, Marcus believes every word the NFL says. She has even embellished a few:
MARCUS (5/10/15): I don’t care much about football in general or Deflategate in particular. At least I hadn’t until Wednesday’s report concluding that two New England Patriots employees were involved in deflating game balls and that it was “more probable than not” that Brady, the Patriots quarterback, was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”Enough mincing words, Marcus says, as she embellishes several.
But the more I think about the episode, the more I listen to Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brady’s entourage sputter indignantly about the, well, witch trial to which they have been subjected, the more I am convinced that (a) the transgression matters and (b) the punishment should be severe.
Actually, enough mincing words. This was cheating.
Actually, the NFL didn’t conclude that the two employees in question were involved in deflating game balls. In its official report, the NFL concluded it was “more probable than not” that the employees did that.
Marcus erased that distinction with respect to the two employees. When a consensus scandal takes shape, this is the way our elite pundits tend to roll.
At any rate, Marcus declared that “the transgression matters” in this case. She called for severe punishment.
She never explained how she knows that the transgression in question actually occurred. You can search her entire column without finding that explanation.
Did the alleged transgressions occur? For ourselves, we can’t say we’re fully sure, although it’s certainly possible.
We can be certain of several things. The report which Marcus has overstated describes an investigation which was comical and buffoonish in several major respects. Marcus completely ignores these problems, a courtesy which defines the work of her guild in the case of consensus scandals.
Did someone with the New England Patriots mess with the air pressure of some game balls? It’s certainly possible!
Did the team’s handsome quarterback know this sort of thing was occurring? We’d say that’s possible too!
That said, the NFL report in question is comically awful in several respects. But how odd! Despite the high entertainment factor, we’ll guess you’ve seen no major pundit mention any of this.
In what way does the NFL report describe a clownish probe? We’ll list some examples below—partly for entertainment value, partly as an introduction to this week’s basic topic.
To peruse the report, click here.
That NFL report is clownish in several major ways. This may or may not mean that the NFL’s conclusions are wrong.
That said, the journalism in the New York Times’ recent “bombshell report” was also clownish in major respects. That report produced our latest consensus political scandal—a scandal involving questions which are substantially more important than the pressure in NFL footballs.
The New York Times did some terrible work in creating its latest consensus scandal. But how odd! To this day, ranking pundits like Marcus have made no mention of such flaws in the Times’ high-profile work.
Over the past three weeks, liberal and mainstream pundits alike have reported seeing no evil in the Times’ “bombshell report.” In their silence, they’ve enabled the Times’ pseudo-journalistic conduct again.
This has long been a key component of our press corps’ destructive and selective scandal culture. For today, let us entertain you with that NFL report!
What’s wrong with that NFL report? Marcus saw no evil in the NFL probe. In what ways was the NFL’s investigation a “Keystone cops” endeavor?
Let’s restrict ourselves to just a few such elements. There’s more where this comes from:
The lack of standard league-wide procedures: Part of what follows is irrelevant to the basic questions at hand. But just for the record, the NFL seems to have established no standard procedure concerning the air pressure of footballs in NFL games.
Before each game, NFL referees check the air pressure of the footballs which will be used in the game. Each team provides the dozen footballs it will use on offense.
According to NFL regulations, air pressure of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch is acceptable. But the league's now-famous report describes inconsistent practices, some of which are highly relevant to the questions at hand:
NFL REPORT (page 36): The details of each officiating crew’s pre-game inspection process nevertheless may vary....Many game officials bring their own air gauge with them to each game. Others may rely on a gauge provided by the home team. Most officials reported that they use digital gauges supplied by Wilson to the NFL. Others have used gauges that they have purchased or otherwise obtained on their own. In addition, some officiating crews adjust the air pressure in a ball only if they determine that it has been set outside of the permissible range, while others may set the pressure of each football to 13.0 psi, regardless of where the balls are initially set by the team, to provide consistency.Really? Some officiating crews inflate all the footballs to 13.0 pounds per square inch? Other crews allow the footballs to range from 12.5 psi to 13.5 psi, as desired by the teams?
That’s a strangely inconsistent procedure. Beyond that, it seems that the air pressure gauges the officials use can come from pretty much anywhere.
That will turn out to be a key point. Warning! Keystone cops conduct ahead!
A tale of two air gauges: According to the NFL report, Walt Anderson “is one of the most respected referees in the NFL. It is obvious that he conducts his responsibilities with a high level of professionalism and integrity.”
Anderson was head referee for the game in question. But uh-oh! As part of his vast professionalism, he arrived at the game that day with two different air pressure gauges—two different pressure gauges of two different types.
Despite his vast professionalism, Anderson was apparently unaware of an awkward fact which emerged at halftime—his two air gauges produce substantially different air pressure readings! Beyond that, Anderson isn’t sure which of the gauges he used before the start of the game, when he says he determined that all the footballs were within the acceptable range.
It seems these facts could matter a lot. Just continue reading.
Data collection at halftime: According to Anderson, the Patriots’ footballs measured 12.5 psi before the game began. The Colts’ footballs measured 13.0 psi, he said—but he says he doesn’t recall which air pressure gauge he used to obtain these readings.
Uh-oh! During the first half, the Colts intercepted a Patriots’ pass; they apparently believed the ball in question felt soft. Acting with an authority the report doesn’t describe, the Colts measured the ball with their own air pressure gauge, obtaining a reading which was below 12.5 psi.
Alas! By now, a ball which measured 12.5 in the referees’ room should have measured below 12.5, given weather conditions. But despite the vast professionalism which was on display this day, there is no sign in the report that the Colts, or the game officials, understood that elementary fact.
This helped produce the excitement at halftime, in which the pressure of all the Patriots’ footballs was re-measured by two referees. Each referee was given one of Anderson’s two different air pressure gauges to use.
This attempt at data collection contains a Keystone cops element. Uh-oh! According to the NFL report, readings for the Patriots’ footballs consistently differed by 0.3-0.45 psi depending on which gauge was used. And uh-oh! Since Anderson can’t say which gauge he used before the game, there’s no way to make a direct comparison between the pre-game readings and the two sets of readings obtained at halftime.
Meanwhile, due to a shortage of time, the referees only re-measured four of the Colts’ dozen footballs, producing a problematically small “N” for what the report describes as its “control group.” But wait! In the process of measuring those four footballs, another problem surfaced, as was explained in a footnote to page 69 in the NFL report.
Uh-oh! The recorded measurements for one of the Colts’ four footballs were so anomalous that the NFL’s experts decided that the readings for that football had probably been recorded incorrectly! Now, we’re pretty much reduced to an “N” of 3!
Data collection after the game: According to the NFL report, a senior official supervised the data collection at halftime. For reasons which go unexplained in the report, he directed that the Patriots’ footballs should all be re-inflated to 13.0 psi (see page 69).
After the game, this same official decided that four footballs from each team (not all twelve) should be measured yet again. And uh-oh! On one of Anderson’s two gauges, the four Patriots footballs produced these improbable readings (see page 73):
13.50 psi; 13.35 psi; 13.35 psi; 13.65 psi.
The absurdity of this state of affairs should be obvious. In a footnote to page 73, the NFL reports that “our experts” decided to disregard these peculiar post-game readings. At least, we think that's what the NFL said. The league provides this awkward information in tiny type and in confusing language.
At this point, let’s be fair! The NFL hadn’t planned to engage in data collection this day. In some respects, the “Keystone cops” aspect of this operation is therefore understandable.
On the other hand, the NFL can fairly be described as “the gang who couldn’t measure air pressure straight” on this particular day. Consider:
Anderson didn’t record precise psi’s for the footballs he checked before the game. Beyond that, he didn’t know which of his two air pressure gauges he used.
When the referees tried to gather data at halftime, they discovered that the two gauges produced systematically different readings. They only tested four footballs from the Colts, and this meager “N” was reduced to 3 when the NFL judged that one of the readings had been recorded incorrectly.
The readings obtained after the game were so absurd that they were disregarded altogether. Aside from all that, the data collection was perfect!
Did an employee of the Patriots reduce the air pressure in the game balls? It’s certainly possible, based on a range of evidence.
On the other hand, we’re going to make a guess. We’re going to guess that you’ve seen no one mention the “Keystone cops” aspects of this report and investigation. This strikes us as an interesting, unfortunate part of our journalistic scandal culture.
In many ways, the NFL established itself this day as the gang that can’t measure straight. In various ways, its officials seemed completely clueless about the way this whole topic works.
In many ways, this cluelessness produced comical results. But we’ve seen no pundit mention this fact, certainly not Marcus, who began by overstating the degree of certainty the NFL has stated concerning two people’s guilt.
Can we talk? So-called “Deflategate” doesn’t matter a giant amount. Our next presidential election matters gigantically more.
Several weeks back, the New York Times engaged in some journalistic clowning about that election, creating a consensus political scandal. But how odd! The Keystone cops conduct of the Times has gone almost wholly unremarked, just like the Keystone cops work of the NFL.
Ruth Marcus hasn’t mentioned the unprofessional behavior of the glorious Times. Neither have other pundits we’ll name, including some liberals.
Ranking pundits, including liberals, have been enabling the scandal-drenched Times. All week long, we’ll be asking this question:
Why do they constantly do this?
Tomorrow: Tomasky’s errors—and his peculiar solution