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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Policing the Media

Media errors, rumors, poor judgment run rampant in reporting of Kobe Bryant news

Kobe Bryant

Sunday’s heartbreaking news about Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others dying in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California is among the most tragic sports stories we have covered. The news was nothing short of shocking, and it spread throughout the world instantaneously. Unfortunately, the confluence of widespread interest in the matter, uncertainty over what happened, and the irresponsible actions of some reporters, resulted in misinformation, rumors and inaccuracies spreading.


From the moment TMZ reported that Kobe Bryant had died in the helicopter crash, incorrect information spread, which is not unusual as a story of this magnitude unfolds. To start, TMZ wrote in its original report that Bryant was survived by wife Vanessa and his four daughters. This turned out to be incorrect, as we later learned that Bryant’s second-oldest daughter, Gianna, also died.

TMZ also said five people died in the crash. So did the LA County Sheriff’s office.

The county sheriff’s office later told the public nine people died — the pilot and eight passengers.

Larry Brown Sports included both pieces of information in our original story — that Bryant was survived by his wife and daughters — and that five people died. We take responsibility for sharing this information that later turned out to be incorrect, though we believe both were trusted sources — especially an official authority like the county sheriff.

Another major issue was watching reporters trying to figure out in real-time who had died in the crash.

ABC reporter Matt Gutman said on live TV that all four of Kobe’s daughters were believed to be on the helicopter and dead.

Gutman did not state that as an official report, nor did he cite where the belief came from, and no other outlets confirmed the report at the time. Other outlets like TMZ and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that only Gianna had died.

The story was of too great importance and Gutman was on too large of a stage to pass along something so significant in such a casual manner. But video from Gutman’s report spread throughout Twitter, causing many to believe all of Kobe’s daughters had died, multiplying the tragedy by tenfold.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter later said that Kobe’s three other daughters and wife Vanessa were NOT in the crash.

Then there was some rumor that former Laker Rick Fox was on the helicopter. That rumor did not appear to originate from any actual legitimate source, but for some reason began spreading on Twitter and had to be shot down. To confirm: Rick Fox did NOT die in the crash.



Anatomy of an Astros cheating rumor: ‘Carlos Beltran’s niece’ is actually a phony Twitter account

Jose Altuve buzzer

The sports world went wild on Thursday with allegations that some of the Houston Astros’ top players wore electronic buzzing devices that communicated what pitch was coming during their at-bats. The allegations of this extremely advanced form of high-tech cheating actually had been around for two months, but the story received widespread attention on Thursday thanks to a push from a mysterious Twitter account that seemingly had new credibility.

In this story, we will get to the bottom of the Twitter account responsible for the rumor, and help set the record straight, giving you the facts of the situation.


Booger McFarland’s analysis in the Bills-Texans playoff game was so bad

Booger McFarland

The biggest mismatch of the Wild Card Game between the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans on Saturday was Booger McFarland trying to analyze the game in real-time.

The ESPN announcer, who is frequently criticized for his analysis on “Monday Night Football,” gave critics even more ammunition during the game. In the second quarter, he blamed Josh Allen for a pass when everyone else thought the mistake was on wide receiver John Brown.

Later in the game, when the spotlight was on, Booger could not have been worse. In the final 20 seconds of regulation, McFarland suggested the Bills, who had no timeouts, run a draw on third down and then spike it. It obviously didn’t occur to him that the Bills would be spiking on fourth down in that scenario.

People noticed that blunder right away.

McFarland is paid to give high-level analysis and expertise. He could not have been more off-the-mark in both regards.

McFarland also said the Bills would have to bring out the field goal team, even though they already had the unit on the field.

Both McFarland and Joe Tessitore also had their analysis completely incorrect when the referees were reviewing a spot on a Cole Beasley catch. The refs correctly gave Beasley a first down while Tessitore and McFarland were talking about where he was touched in midair, as if that mattered.

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” crew has been criticized since Jason Witten was a part of it last year. Witten returned to the NFL, McFarland joined Tessitore in the booth, and the analysis is just as bad as it was before. They need to clean things up because this is embarrassing.

Urban Meyer’s daughters upset with ESPN anchor John Anderson over ‘family’ dig

Nicki Meyer dad Urban

Urban Meyer’s daughters are upset with an ESPN anchor for taking a dig at the former Ohio State head coach while reading a highlight on Saturday night.

Meyer attended the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal game on Saturday in Arizona between his former team and Clemson. Towards the end of the game, ESPN showed Meyer on the sidelines. That clip was included in ESPN’s highlight package after the game, and anchor John Anderson decided to crack a joke while reading it.

“Look at Urban Meyer. He was going to spend time with his family, went to this game instead,” Anderson joked.

That was a reference to Meyer leaving his job at Florida supposedly to spend time with his family, only to go coach Ohio State the following season. I’ve made a joke about it in the past. So have others. Anderson did on Saturday, and the Meyer family did not find it to be funny.

Nicki Meyer, Urban’s oldest daughter, took issue with the comment, calling it “bad” and telling ESPN to “have some class.” Nicki’s husband Corey Dennis is on Ohio State’s coaching staff, which helps explain why the family was there.

Urban’s younger daughter Gigi also commented to say the family was at the Fiesta Bowl all week.

And Urban’s wife Shelley said she was “deeply offended” by the comment, noting Urban was there in a TV capacity and that their son Nate was standing next to the coach.

The comment was clearly a joke and jab at Meyer, but his family took it literally and doesn’t care.

Their reaction should not come as a surprise. They have repeatedly shown they are offended by anything they perceive as a slight towards Urban and that they will fiercely defend him. Their loyalty towards him is unwavering.

H/T The Spun

USC reporter Adam Maya apologizes to Clay Helton for getting story wrong

Clay Helton USC

USC reporter Adam Maya has finally addressed the pretty big matzah ball he left hanging out there this week.

On Sunday, Maya reported that USC would fire Clay Helton and target Urban Meyer for the job. Maya covers USC for Maven, a publishing company that now has rights to the SI name thanks to a licensing deal. Maya’s report was quickly disputed by many national college football reporters, including SI’s Pat Forde, which led to SI writing a story about one of their reporters disputing the information for another one of their reporters.

SI let Maya’s story remain on the site all the way until Wednesday without an update or note to address the conflicting (and ultimately incorrect) information. Finally, several hours after USC announced that Helton would return as head coach, Maya wrote an apology note in place of where his original Helton article stood.

The new headline on the old url says: “Why I Was Wrong on the Clay Helton Story” and includes the following note in italics: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Clay Helton would be dismissed by USC. Below is a retraction from the author.”

In the article, Maya said he apologized to Helton for getting his report wrong. Maya explained what led to him getting the report wrong, saying it was due to his sources misinterpreting information:

“I know many are wondering how I came to write my initial story Sunday that Helton would be dismissed. If you’ve followed my work, you know it’s a situation I’ve been tracking the entire season. Fast forward to this past weekend and I was told by multiple sources that USC had decided to make a coaching change. These same sources had alerted me to three developments in the past — athletic director Mike Bohn’s hiring, Bru McCoy’s transfer back to USC, and Graham Harrell becoming the offensive coordinator.

“I’m not going to out my sources — this is my sword to fall on — but essentially there was a misunderstanding on their end as it pertained to Helton’s status. They confused certain actions by Bohn and their superiors at USC, particularly in the previous week or so, to mean Helton was definitely being fired, when in actuality keeping him was still under consideration.

“As a result, a coaching change was inaccurately characterized to me as being a formality rather than, as was later explained to me, conditional. If I had known the latter, I would not have filed my report in such terms.”

Maya has had good information concerning USC in the past. We cited him for his reports about JT Daniels’ knee injury, Bru McCoy’s transfer and Graham Harrell’s hiring. Though each of those scoops were important, they had nowhere near the significance and ramifications as being the first to report a coach would be fired when the opposite happened. For that level of a scoop, you better have much more certainty and sourcing, which Maya clearly did not.

Getting this wrong is a poor reflection upon Maya as a reporter and the new editorial standards of SI under The Maven.

Bart Scott throws out bogus stat in attempt to make point about Patriots

The 2018 AFC Championship Game was one of the best NFL playoff games of all time, but apparently Bart Scott has already forgotten about it.

During Monday’s edition of FS1’s “First Things First,” Scott was discussing how important it is for the Patriots to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. While that is certainly a fair point, he threw out a completely bogus fact about the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era in an attempt to support his argument.

While the Patriots have certainly had their struggles on the road in the postseason, they have won three AFC Championship Games away from Gillette Stadium. You could even understand if Scott forgot about the two they won in 2001 and 2004, but they beat the Chiefs in Kansas City less than a year ago in a 37-31 overtime thriller.

Plenty of people make mistakes on live TV, but this one from Scott is magnified because he’s such a known Patriot hater. For evidence of that, look no further than the ridiculous take he had on Robert Kraft’s spa scandal. The former New York Jet and Baltimore Raven is going to have to try harder than that if the thought of Tom Brady winning a seventh Super Bowl terrifies him.

Charles Robinson, Jemele Hill smear NFL with factual inaccuracy about Nike statement

Colin Kaepernick

The Colin Kaepernick workout situation has split many fans, observers and media members into factions. There are those who believe Kaepernick was wronged by the NFL and that the NFL’s workout was just a P.R. stunt. There are those who believe Kaepernick is more interested in furthering his career as an activist than playing football. The events of this week are unlikely to change anyone’s minds based on what they believed before, and probably only strengthened their previous beliefs.

Kaepernick has his media supporters and his team/reps leak information to them. The NFL has their media members of choice and leak information to them.

Charles Robinson has been a go-to media member for Kaepernick’s team and has written several pro-Kaepernick pieces since news of the NFL-backed workout became public on Tuesday. Hearing both sides of a story is important for providing balanced coverage and allowing people to make their choices about what they believe to be truthful and not. Robinson has provided Kaepernick’s camp with a platform and large outlet to share their views. That serves a valuable role.

However, while Robinson can provide his pro-Kaepernick biased pieces, one thing he should strive for is to at least be factually accurate with his platform. He was not on Saturday night on Twitter when he alleged the NFL asserted Nike attended the Kaepernick workout on Saturday to film it.

Robinson said on Twitter that the NFL made an “assertion” that Nike was “on hand to film Colin Kaepernick’s workout.” He even said Nike was trying to get the NFL to retract that statement.

This sounds like a big gotcha! moment and more proof of the NFL being wrong and looking to smear Kaepernick and his brand. But there is one big problem: the NFL NEVER said that, so there is no statement to retract.

In the NFL’s statement in response to Kaepernick no-showing their workout and instead handling his own, the league wrote the following:

The third bullet point mentioned Nike and said this:

“Last night, when Nike, with Colin’s approval, requested to shoot an ad featuring Colin and mentioning all the NFL teams present at the workout, we agreed to the request.”

The fifth bullet point also mentioned Nike and said this:

“We heard for the first time last night, around the same time we heard from Nike, that Colin wanted to bring his own video crew. We heard for the first time this afternoon that Colin wanted to open the event to all media.”

The NFL never once said Nike attended Saturday’s workout. All they said was that Nike requested to shoot an ad featuring Kaepernick and that the league agreed to the request. Those are two different things.

If a person asks whether they can bring a friend to the party and the host says yes, does that mean that the friend came to the party? No, it just means that the person asked and the host said yes.

What is so hard about that to understand?

The thing about the Kaepernick story — as this example perfectly illustrates — is that people are seeing what is unfolding for what they want to see. In the case of Robinson, his bias is so strong that he isn’t even representing the facts accurately, which makes him lose credibility.

If he wants to represent Kaepernick’s side of things, that is fine. But at least attempt to be accurate and fair, especially when you have this platform and the influence that goes along with it. At the time of this publishing, his tweet was retweeted by over 1,400 Twitter accounts and liked by over 3,000.

On top of that, after Robinson tweeted to suggest Nike caught the NFL in a lie, Jemele Hill joined in and added it to her story, saying it’s all “part of pushing the narrative.”

Hill didn’t even bother to see whether the story was accurate or not. She just took the information and added it to the story she wants to tell, even if it’s not true.

If either of these respected journalists cared about fairness and accuracy — which are key tenets for journalists — then they would issue corrections and retractions to let their audiences know the truth. If they don’t, then their positions will have been made clear: they are slanted activists working to make Kaepernick look good, not to present facts and truth.