Part 5—People, what’s in a word: Did an employee of the New England Patriots let some air out of some footballs?
We can’t give you the answer to that. The NFL’s official Wells report says this: “more probable than not.”
If that actually happened, did the team’s wonderfully handsome star quarterback actually know about it?
We can’t answer that question either. The Wells report is highly speculative concerning that second point.
That said, we don’t critique NFL employees or handsome star quarterbacks at this site. We critique the work of the American press.
In many ways, the Wells report seems slippery and disingenuous. If anything, the journalism about the report has been substantially worse.
In what way does the Wells report sometimes seem disingenuous? In what way has the journalism failed to challenge this problem? Consider the passage shown below, in which the Wells report discusses what happened when the Indianapolis Colts intercepted a pass from a quarterback who is widely believed to be more handsome than their own signal-caller
Alberto Riveron is an NFL senior officiating supervisor. According to the Wells report, this is what occurred:
THE WELLS REPORT (page 64): Riveron told us that it was his call to collect the game balls for testing at halftime and that he did not consult with anyone else. Riveron believed that the combination of the pre-game concerns raised by the Colts and the information received about the intercepted ball made testing the game balls essential. At Riveron’s request, Daniel retrieved a gauge that was near the air pump in the dressing area of the Locker Room, and they tested the intercepted ball three times before the balance of the game balls were brought back to the Officials Locker Room. All three measurements were below 12.0 psi. A few minutes later, the game officials and other NFL representatives started arriving in the Officials Locker Room for halftime. Riveron took the intercepted ball from Daniel and walked into the dressing room area of the locker room.“All three measurements were below 12.0 psi,” the Wells report dumbly says.
We call that statement dumb for an obvious reason. On page 113, the Wells report finally notes an extremely basic fact. According to basic laws of physics, the Patriots’ footballs should have measured “below 12.0 psi” by halftime of that game.
In fact, the Patriots’ footballs should have measured anywhere from 11.32-11.52 psi by halftime, given weather conditions. But the Wells report doesn’t mention that fact until page 113.
Forty-nine pages earlier, it tells us that the intercepted football measured “below 12.0 psi”—full stop! And uh-oh! Since readers have already been told, early and often, that the “permitted range” was 12.5-13.5 psi, that statement clearly seems to imply that these readings—the footballs were below 12.0 psi!—meant that something was wrong.
“All three measurements were below 12.0 psi,” the Wells report dumbly says. Was that statement deliberately disingenuous, or is it just an artifact of lousy writing?
We can’t answer that, but the statement is massively dumb. It plainly suggests that the psi of the intercepted ball meant that something was wrong.
It makes this obvious suggestion even though the authors of the Wells report knew that the football should have produced such a reading by halftime. At best, that is horrible writing. A cynic could wonder if it’s actually deliberate deception.
The suggestion that passage makes is monumentally dumb. But as we noted yesterday, the New York Times adopted this ridiculous framework in all its reporting about this matter.
Amazing! In two lengthy front-page reports and a third informational column, the New York Times never told readers about the way weather conditions affected air pressure in the Patriots’ footballs. With remarkable dumbness, the Times adopted the gong-show framework according to which the Patriots’ footballs were judged to be “underinflated” because they measured below 12.5 psi at halftime.
In three lengthy reports, Times readers were never told that the Patriots’ footballs should have measured below 12.5 psi. The famous newspaper didn’t seem to have made it all the way to page 113 of the Wells report.
The Wells report is very poorly written. At various points, it’s hard to tell if the poor quality of the writing has been done deliberately, for a nefarious purpose.
“Appendix 1” to the Wells report was written by Exponent, a scientific firm with a somewhat shaky reputation. The appendix is much more competently composed than the 139-page Wells report proper.
The appendix actually offers answers to some of the questions which the Wells report proper seems to duck. For that reason, it’s possible that some of the misleading work in the Wells report results from simple incompetence, rather than from bad motives.
That said, the journalism in the New York Times was just amazingly bad. This brings us to the dumbest part of a truly hopeless performance by the American press corps.
All across the American press, that hopeless performance quickly focused on a single word from a single text message. That single word became the primary focus in the coverage of this consensus scandal.
Everyone knew that this single word was the last nail in the coffin! When the Wells report appeared, the New York Times seized on the new talking-point in the very first sentence of its very first news report:
BRANCH (5/7/15): He called himself the deflator. A longtime locker-room attendant for the New England Patriots, Jim McNally, was responsible for controlling the air pressure in the footballs that quarterback Tom Brady would use on the field.“He called himself the deflator,” the Times said in its opening sentence. As the consensus scandal progressed, this was treated as the definitive point—as a virtual confession—all across the American press.
Another Patriots employee, an equipment assistant named John Jastremski, was in direct communication with Brady and provided McNally with memorabilia, including shoes and autographed footballs.
Those three men—two low-rung employees and Brady, the passer regarded as one of the best ever—are now linked in a scandal that threatens Brady’s legacy and further tarnishes the reputation of the Patriots, a team that has taken suspicious paths to success.
“He called himself the deflator!” In part because of slippery writing in the Wells report, reporters may not have understood that McNally “called himself this” exactly once, and that he did so in May 2014, three months after the Patriots played their final game of the previous season.
No football games were being played when McNally made this lone remark in a cryptic text message. If McNally ever let air out of footballs in an inappropriate way, he hadn’t done so for at least three months at the time this lone remark was texted.
The Wells report interpreted the remark in a nefarious way. In at least one passage, it seemed to pluralize the remark—seemed to convey the impression McNally may have “called himself the deflator” on a regular basis.
Many journalists took it that way. Eagerly, they gulped the bait they had been offered.
One week later, in their rebuttal report, the Patriots said that lone remark wasn’t a reference to deflating footballs. Starting on ESPN, American pundits reacted to the passage shown below with utter derision, as in all such consensus scandals, and with the greatest joy known to the modern journalist—the appalling joy of the hive:
PATRIOTS REBUTTAL REPORT: There was a second way that Mr. Jastremski and Mr. McNally used the term “deflation” or “deflator” which the report disregards. The Wells investigators had the May 9, 2014 “deflator”/espn text string in their possession several weeks before their full day, four lawyer-staffed interviews with each of Mr. McNally and Mr. Jastremski. They came to the interviews with laptops, documentation and had obviously prepared extensively for each interview. They never asked either of them about that May 9 “deflator”/espn text. Perhaps that is not surprising since the word “deflator” appears in only ONE text from among many hundreds of texts that were made available to the investigators. The Report then takes this one word, in this one text, and uses it throughout the Report as a moniker for Mr. McNally. Is this true objectivity? Further, when they sought their additional interview with Mr. McNally, they never candidly said they had overlooked this text and therefore wanted Mr. McNally back for another interview to ask him about it. They never asked Mr. Jastremski about it in his interview. Had they done so, they would have learned from either gentleman one of the ways they used the deflation/deflator term. Mr. Jastremski would sometimes work out and bulk up—he is a slender guy and his goal was to get to 200 pounds. Mr. McNally is a big fellow and had the opposite goal: to lose weight. “Deflate” was a term they used to refer to losing weight. One can specifically see this use of the term in a Nov. 30, 2014 text from Mr. McNally to Mr. Jastremski: “deflate and give somebody that jacket.” (p. 87). This banter, and Mr. McNally’s goal of losing weight, meant Mr. McNally was the “deflator.” There was nothing complicated or sinister about it. If there was any doubt about the jocular nature of the May 9, 2014 texts, a review of all the texts between these two men that day would dispel it...Is it possible that this explanation was true? Is it possible that McNally and Jastremski used that term as a jocular reference to losing weight?
Is that possible? Of course it’s possible! People use unconventional joking language with friends all the time. Of course it’s possible that Jastremski and McNally spoke with each other that way.
The fact that this is possible doesn’t mean that it’s true, of course. It’s also possible that this is a joking reference to letting air out of footballs in a surreptitious manner, although McNally couldn’t have done that for at least three months at the time he made this one remark, a remark which was quickly pluralized across the American press corps.
Is it possible that McNally and Jastremski jokingly refer to weight loss as “deflation?” Yes, of course it is! But it isn’t possible inside a hive whose inhabitants mainly like to cavort and play, as they’ve done so many times in matters of much greater consequence.
When the Patriots rebuttal appeared, we turned on ESPN. Groups of ex-jocks were taking turns laughing about “the deflator.”
Their analysis was clear. They had never spoken that way. So plainly, no one else had!
On ESPN (the network of record), the analysts were having great fun that day. They never asked why the NFL sent that bad information to the Patriots. They never asked why their own network had reported a bogus set of statistics, attributed to “NFL sources.”
They didn’t ask why the NFL didn’t correct or disavow that false information. They never mentioned the clownish aspects of the data collection which lay at the heart of this messy consensus tale.
Most of them were former jocks. When X’s and O’s are no longer involved, their analytical skills aren’t among the best. Talking about statistics is hard. Joking and laughing are fun!
That said, their joking and laughing was reproduced all around the press corps. We’ve seen almost no discussion or analysis of the NFL’s clownish data collection, or of its apparent lying concerning the data it gathered.
All in all, American journalists just wanna have fun. We think Cyndi Lauper said that!
Our pundits don’t know what McNally meant by his single use of that term. But all across the American press, the dumbness of the whale is such that no one is able to understand or say that.
Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Inside the hive, that provided two solid years of good solid fun!
Given the dumbness of the whale, all the hive-dwellers knew it was true. Even though they didn’t!
They enjoyed two years of fun. At least in the case of the man who “called himself the deflator,” their silly clowning won’t result in death all over the world.
The power of pluralization: How do talking-points spread within the hive? On the day of Branch’s front-page report, Michael Powell included this in his New York Times column:
POWELL (5/7/15): The evidence fell a couple of feet short of definitive. Investigators, however, unearthed a clubhouse fellow who went by the wonderfully suggestive nickname ''the deflator.'' Mr. Deflator worked closely before games with another clubhouse attendant. When word of the scandal broke, that attendant spent a lot of time talking and texting with Brady.Mr. Deflator “went by that wonderfully suggestive nickname” exactly one time!
The joy of the hive was spreading fast. The next day, Dan Barry had some fun in his own New York Times column:
BARRY (5/8/15): McNally and a longtime friend, a Patriots equipment assistant named John Jastremski, felt comfortable enough to exchange candid texts about deflating footballs (he even refers to himself as ''the deflator''), collecting Patriots memorabilia and trash-talking about Brady.He even “refers” to himself as the deflator? In fact, he did it exactly once, at a time when “deflating footballs” simply wasn't possible.
Later in his column, Barry referred to McNally as “the self-proclaimed ‘deflator.’ ” As when they joked and clowned about Gore, these whales just want to cavort and play. Our children just wanna have fun.
Why did the NFL distribute all that bad information? How strange! Neither columnist asked!