ESPN failed again: Quite routinely, we the American people are fed lots of bad information.
As an example, consider the original reporting about “Deflategate,” our current consensus scandal.
On a factual basis, the original reporting was highly inaccurate. In a new column for Yahoo Sports, Dan Wetzel has noted this fact:
WETZEL (5/13/15): The story didn't go big until ESPN reported about 24 hours after the game that the NFL had discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs were measured to be more than 2 pounds per square inch below the league minimum of 12.5.Wetzel focuses on the role the NFL played in conveying, or failing to correct, inaccurate information. For ourselves, we’ll focus on the journalistic role played by ESPN.
That gave a subject that almost no one knew much about context, significance and potentially sinister intent. ESPN cited a nebulous “league source” at a time when it's believed no one outside the NFL office knew the actual measurements.
Of course, that story wasn't true. It wasn't even close to true. Wells' report showed that none of the footballs, each measured twice, were that underinflated.
At that very moment, the NFL had to know the story wasn't true. Yet it did nothing.
So the league either created a fake story that was extremely prejudicial to the Patriots by leaking inaccurate information or someone else did it and the league office let it run wild rather than correct it with the actual air pressure measurements.
Wetzel’s account of that ESPN report is almost completely accurate. The ESPN report was written by Chris Mortensen, who is constantly presented as ESPN’s ace investigative reporter.
Mortenson’s information was highly inaccurate. This is what he wrote when the exciting new story was taking form:
MORTENSEN (1/21/15): The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots' 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday's AFC Championship Game told ESPN.Mortensen’s account of the basic facts was wrong. According to last week’s NFL report, one of the Patriots’ dozen footballs measured 10.50 psi, exactly two pounds below the minimum. But it only measured that low on one of the dueling gauges the NFL used in its Keystone Cop-inflected attempt to determine air pressure readings.
The investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what's required by NFL regulations during the Pats' 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, according to sources.
On the other gauge the NFL used, that same football was measured at 10.90 psi. Due to the NFL's Keystone Cops effort, no one can be sure what its air pressure actually was. But no other football measured as low as 10.50 on either of the NFL’s dueling air gauges.
Mortensen’s account of the air pressure readings was highly inaccurate. That said, you can be sure of what follows:
ESPN will not report its error. Nor will ESPN explain how it managed to get so thoroughly misinformed by its “league sources,” whose anonymity it is protecting.
In fairness, ESPN wasn’t the only news org reporting bad information. At NBC Sports, Mike Florio presented an inaccurate rebuttal, one which was widely reported:
FLORIO (1/25/15): But what has the NFL really found? As one league source has explained it to PFT, the football intercepted by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was roughly two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. The other 10 balls that reportedly were two pounds under may have been, as the source explained it, closer to one pound below 12.5 PSI.The highlighted claim was inaccurate too.
A substantial part of that report was accurate. It’s true that “the other ten balls” were closer to one pound below 12.5 psi.
But according to the NFL report, the intercepted football was measured three times on unspecified gauges, producing these readings:
11.45 psi; 11.35 psi; 11.75 psi.
Those readings aren’t even close to being two pounds under the minimum, as Florio reported. And uh-oh! According to the Ideal Gas Law, those readings are fairly close to where the footballs should have been by that time, given the day’s cool weather.
(That assumes that the Patriots’ footballs really were set at 12.5 psi in the officials’ room. Given the chaos of the NFL data collection, there’s no real way to know that they were.)
Wetzel criticized the NFL for letting ESPN’s inaccurate report stand uncorrected. That criticism is well founded. At this point, we’d be reluctant to believe anything the NFL says. It’s a very shaky organization.
That said, we’re focusing on the journalism performed by ESPN. Plainly, Mortensen’s influential report was badly inaccurate. Don’t hold your breath waiting for “Mort” to discuss and acknowledge this fact.
ESPN did some reporting during the Ray Rice episode which was horrible but highly influential. Mortensen’s reporting in this case was badly inaccurate.
Mortensen sourced his inaccurate information to “league sources.” As an organization, the league doesn’t seem obsessively honest.
Neither does ESPN.