Since the Ted Wells report was released on May 6, we’ve known that a report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen regarding the air pressure measured in 11 of 12 Patriots footballs at halftime of the AFC title game was wrong. ESPN has never apologized for the erroneous report. (Mortensen recently deleted a tweet containing the report without comment; however, the original ESPN.com story still contains the inaccurate information.)
On Sunday, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe brought to light the fact that Peter King of TheMMQB.com later echoed Mort’s report. King’s report also included a claim that all 12 footballs used by the Colts were measured to be within the accepted range at halftime of the game. (In reality, only four Colts footballs were measured, and one of the gauges used showed that three of the balls were under 12.5 PSI.)
King has now explained his report, and he has apologized for it.
It wasn’t King’s report but Mortensen’s that turned a curiosity into #DeflateGate! Still, the reports were both wrong -- and the fact that two prominent national reporters published the same false information makes the league’s decision to remain silent in the aftermath of the reports even more glaring.
On Sunday, when the dots were connected from an ESPN story back to an ESPN analyst regarding the shameful “fall guy” routine from the 2014 Rookie Symposium, the NFL immediately pulled the plug on a video that had been hiding in plain sight on the league’s website for more than a year. Why did the NFL never correct the record on data that created a clear impression that tampering occurred at a time when the Patriots were forced to defend themselves in the court of public opinion without access to the truth?
King still believes that his source believed the false information to be true, which may or may not be the product of George Costanza’s advice for beating a polygraph machine. King also isn’t convinced that he and Mort were used to push a false narrative.
As we see it, there’s no other logical explanation. Otherwise, the NFL would have pounced to correct the error.
"[T]he reason I’m skeptical about this is because with the knowledge that there would be a full investigation and clearly the air pressure in the footballs would be publicized at some point, the league would look stupid for putting out false information that would eventually come back to embarrass the league,” King wrote Monday.
But it wasn’t definite that the league would look stupid. With the false PSI reports from more than three months earlier not even mentioned in the 243-page Wells report, someone had to actually connect the dots back to the initial reports. Perhaps whoever leaked the false information was more concerned about ensuring that the presumption of cheating would be investigated than about the possibility of the league being embarrassed later by a disconnect between the leaks provided to Mortensen and King and reality.
Regardless of whether King’s source believed or didn’t believe the information, someone told a lie to someone else, and that lie became regarded as the truth due in large part to the failure of the NFL to call out the falsehoods.
“Clearly, this story, along with the Ray Rice story from last fall, has made me question sources and sourcing in general, and in a story as inflammatory as this one, you can’t just take the story of a person whose word you trust as gospel,” King explained.
The broader message is that it’s dangerous in cases like this to believe anything at face value. Everyone who provides information on an off-the-record basis has an agenda. Sometimes, the goal is merely to have a good relationship with the reporter. On other occasions, the goal is to use that good relationship to propagate a lie.