This blog is supposed to be about bad journalism. It doesn't always deal with a point of view I think is stupid or simply disagree with. Sometimes I run across journalism that is just bad in terms of how it was sourced and written. Peter King has really not shined during this whole Ray Rice situation. Rice is in the middle of his ban from the NFL and release by the Ravens. He has to live with what he did and live with the person he did it to. There's no use in belaboring what a terrible person he is. I do want to bring up how Peter King has fumbled this situation from the beginning and how Roger Goodell brings down his heavy-hand on Rice when he's culpable for this story having legs. Here's the timeline of events and how Peter King consistently doesn't get this story right.
-Ray Rice is seen on camera dragging his fiance off an elevator in February.
-Roger Goodell suspends Rice for two games due to the incident. Peter King writes a fairly tone-deaf column about Rice and the suspension, couching it in language that seems to make Rice out to be apologetic and wanting to atone for the incident, but through the prism of Rice having a comeback year on the football field. The column had the wrong vibe for me and seemed too "Here's how Rice is going to bounce back this year as a football player"-like for my liking.
-Peter gets feedback from readers who agree his column had the wrong tone and this results in him writing a follow-up mailbag where he explains his lack of a reaction in the column about Rice's two game suspension. Peter pulled some inside sportswriting bullshit on his audience by alluding to a videotape the NFL saw which mitigated (or helped them decide the punishment was appropriate) the penalty down to a two game suspension. It's Peter's way of saying, "I know a lot of things you don't know that will explain my lack of reaction, so get off my nuts about it." It was also Peter's way of basically pulling rank and explaining there's a lot more going on here than a simple-minded THE MMQB reader could understand. Like inside shit. There was a tape that NFL saw. Boom, don't we feel stupid for questioning Peter's tone in the original column.
-This video gets released and it turns out the NFL claims it didn't see this videotape. So now the videotape that Peter alluded to helping mitigate Rice's suspension didn't really mitigate Rice's suspension at all. The NFL is basically refuting the tape that Peter claims had an impact on the decision really had anything to do with the two game suspension because they had never seen it. I think they are lying, but it doesn't matter. Peter only got his information through a source and never confirmed it with the NFL. So his pants are down because he's partially basing a decision the NFL made on a piece of evidence the NFL didn't have in their possession at the time...or claim they didn't have. Like I said, it doesn't matter. Peter didn't do his job as a journalist to make sure his dick wasn't hanging in the wind if someone called "bullshit" on his assertion this videotape played a part in the decision of a two game suspension for Rice.
-Realizing that, "Wow, if I'm going to partially base the NFL's decision on a videotape and the NFL is going to publicly refute they ever saw the tape then I need to explain why the hell I reported the NFL had seen the tape," Peter writes a letter to THE MMQB readers.
So in summary, Peter writes about the decision using language that seems too concerned with Rice's image and wasn't judgmental enough. To semi-defend himself, Peter explains he wasn't judgmental enough, but there is shit going on that the layperson doesn't know about, but the NFL does. Then it turns out there wasn't anything going on the layperson didn't know about and the NFL had not seen the videotape. So now Peter has used a piece of evidence which supposedly helps to explain his tone in the original article on Rice, except he didn't make the effort to ensure this piece of evidence really had an impact on the decision that the original article was based upon. It's a clusterfuck. Peter used "sources" and never independently confirmed what the source said was true, thereby leaving himself wide open to criticism should his source be wrong.
This is just bad journalism on Peter's part. Very bad. I think the NFL did see the tape. It's my opinion. Still, Peter has to do better than this and quite frankly it concerns me that Peter would report on something like this and never actually take the time to find a second source or independently confirm what the first source said is true. Here is what Peter wrote in his letter:
Earlier this summer a source I trusted told me he assumed the NFL had
seen the damaging video that was released by TMZ on Monday morning of
Rice slugging his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City
Peter trusted this source. That's great. He based the defense of his tone on this videotape, so he better trust this source. But not only did Peter report what the source told him, he went from the source stating he "assumed" the NFL had seen the damaging video to reporting the NFL HAD INDEED seen the video. That's a huge leap and not a leap any responsible journalist should make. A source assuming something and a source confirming something are two completely separate ends of the reporting spectrum. One leads a person to believe the source has a reason for his belief, other leads a person to believe the source is just taking an educated guess.
I have some sort of an issue with Peter trusting this source enough to report the NFL may have seen the videotape. I would like to see a second source or a call to the NFL for confirmation. I have a much bigger issue with reporting the NFL HAD indeed seen the video. That's a leap Peter chose to make on his own and report to his readers because he was so eager to defend himself from being seen as someone who was defending Ray Rice. I'm sure Peter thought the NFL had seen the tape, after all they suspended Rice and the NFL has many connections in the law enforcement community to get their hands on the tape. So Peter went with it. But when did "assume" become confirmation something has occurred? This bothers me. Peter really fumbled this story all over the place.
The source said league officials had to have seen it. This source has been impeccable, and I believed the information.
Fine. Believe the information, but don't write your story with one degree more of certainty the NFL had seen the tape. It's fine to believe the league officials had to have seen it, but don't report this as true unless it's actually fucking true and you can prove it is true. This is pretty basic journalism.
So I wrote that the league had seen the tape. I should have called the NFL for a comment, a lapse in reporting on my part.
Or, you know, not reported the NFL had seen the tape. You could have done that too. You could have reported a source "assumes" the NFL saw the tape. But then if Peter had written without such certainty the NFL had seen the tape then his assertion it contained something that mitigated the suspension wouldn't feel insider-y enough to explain the tone in Peter's original column. Peter wrote this in his mailbag defense of his original Ray Rice column:
I have heard reports of what is on the video, but because I could not
confirm them and because of the sensitivity of the case, I never
speculated on the video in my writing, because I don’t think it is fair
in an incendiary case like this one to use something I cannot confirm
with more than one person.
Peter doesn't think it is fair to speculate on the video because he can't confirm with more than one person what was on it, but he's perfectly fine with reporting the NFL had seen the videotape using the confirmation of one person. Confirmation with one person isn't fair, unless Peter decides to do it anyway. I just like how Peter won't comment on the video because he can't confirm what's on it, but he was fine presenting the video as having been seen by the NFL based on the assumption of one person.
The league says it has not seen the tape, and I cannot refute that with certainty.
Because you didn't follow up or ask more than one person. If Peter had 2-3 people confirming that the NFL did see the video, then it's a different story. But his dick is hanging in the wind because he took the word of one person and then reported that person's word with a greater degree of certainty than that person really had about the information. Again, a basic journalism rule is don't report something with certainty if you can't refute someone who disputes that information. It's very basic. If you as a journalist can't confirm a statement you are making with near certainty is true when this statement is called into question, you haven't done your job. Part of reporting information is being able to show evidence of how this information you are reporting is true. Finding two sources or taking the time off from your training camp tour would have done this. Heck, not reporting the information with a greater degree of certainty than the source gave the information to Peter would have done it. But he didn't do that. He reported information as true he can't confirm is indeed true. Sad.
No one from the league has ever knocked down my report to me, and so I
was surprised to see the claim today that league officials have not seen
Oh no, the NFL saw the tape. There's no doubt in my mind. Again, the fact Peter can't refute this when he wrote the NFL had seen the tape is a major error on his part. So Peter's excuse of "No one told me they had not seen the tape" falls short because no one had told him the NFL HAD seen the tape. He is the one who assumed that was true.
I hope when this story is fully vetted, we all get the truth and nothing but the truth.
If only I trusted the NFL's most connected sportswriter to be the one to get to the bottom of this truth and vet the story. Unfortunately he is too busy turning assumptions into facts and then can't defend his own report as a result.
Ray Rice is the bad guy in this situation obviously, but Roger Goodell mishandled this situation from the beginning as well and has helped give this story legs and turn it into a referendum on his job as the NFL Commissioner. Goodell has $44 million reasons not to care, but in the NFL claiming they had not seen the tape, there was one of two ways this story could have gone:
1. Roger Goodell could have suspended Rice without seeing the videotape, which is pretty egregious if you ask me. If Goodell sat down with Janay Rice (Palmer) and Ray Rice to discuss his actions without taking the actions required to see what Rice's actions were firsthand, especially when this tape was available to the NFL to see, then I don't know how he felt any suspension of Rice was just until he saw the tape. Cris Carter claims to have seen the tape, Chris Mortensen described what happened on the tape and Peter King reported his source "assumed" the NFL had seen the tape. It was available to Goodell and if he ignored that evidence then he did nearly everyone involved a disservice.
2. Goodell did see the videotape and is lying about having seen it to protect himself and the NFL. I find this to be more likely. It does call into question how Goodell could see the tape, interview Rice and his wife, and then only hand down a two game suspension. The public doesn't like liars, especially a person who lied about something as volatile as information surrounding a domestic violence incident.
Maybe Peter King can hire someone at THE MMQB who can vet this story and get to the truth. Hopefully someone who knows an assumption isn't confirmation of something being true.