While the NFL waits for the next phase of the Washington Football Team investigation, ESPN’s golden boy football pundit has found himself in some very hot water. Or to hear Adam Schefter say it, nothing happened.
In a 2011 e-mail revealed in a June court filing regarding the Washington Football Team, that was first reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times, Schefter sent a full draft of a story to then Washington team president Bruce Allen. “Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” wrote Schefter. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to espn about 6 am . . . ”
Just so we’re all on the same page, what Adam Schefter did was cede editorial control of his work to its subject, which is a major violation of journalism ethics. It is completely fine to be upfront with sources, allowing them to provide context, additional comments, and occasionally new information. But to allow the subject of your work to take control? That’s just not how you do it.
To be clear, this is the same thing that Trent Crimm lost his job at The Independent for in the season two finale of Ted Lasso. It’s an ethics breach.
But Schefter has denied doing anything wrong. “In no way did I, or would I, cede editorial control or hand over final say about a story to anyone, ever.” Except, we literally have proof that Adam Schefter did in fact, cede editorial control or hand over final say about a story. He did it in 2011 with Washington’s team president Bruce Allen, and he’s probably done it since.
In a radio appearance, Schefter continued to dig himself into a hole. “I’ve learned for a long time in this business not to discuss sources, or the process, or how stories are done,” said Schefter on 97.5 The Fantatic. “But I would just say that it’s a common practice to run information past sources. And in this particular case, during a labor intensive lockout that was a complicated subject that was new to understand. I took the extra rare step to run information past one of the people that I was talking to. You know, it was an important story to fans; a host of others, and that’s the situation.”
So if it’s important, you can break journalistic ethics? Or maybe that’s just an ESPN thing…
Former ESPN analyst Darren Rovell came to the defense of his former colleague. “Give me a break. While it’s not exactly the best of journalism practices, we’ve all done this in the name of accuracy,” Rovell sent out in a now-deleted tweet. The reason for the tweet’s removal must have come from the avalanche of sports writers taking to Twitter to denounce such a practice. Why? Because it’s unethical, it’s unprofessional, but it now seems to be common practice for ESPN’s biggest names on the internet.
Rovell would go on to clarify his statement, walk it back, and then strangely double down on the original tweet? But not before Keith Olbermann, another former ESPN broadcaster took aim at his old colleague.
And even the network itself came to Schefter’s defense. ESPN released a statement that read: “Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story from 10 years ago during the NFL lockout, we believe that nothing is more important to Adam and ESPN than providing fans the most accurate, fair and complete story.” Schefter’s 8.6 million twitter followers must be very important to the network’s bottom line.
All of this after what feels like a slow drip of ESPN losing hosts and personalities like Katie Nolan? Little of the old network we used to love so much seems to be left. Scott Van Pelt, Tony Kornheiser, and Mike Wilbon might be the only remaining vestiges of truth on the network. Not only is that disappointing, but it’s also heartbreaking.
For people who grew up watching the glory days of ESPN, the network was our baptism into sports. Stuart Scott, Dan Patrick, Kenny Mayne, Linda Cohn, and Rich Eisen all gained our trust and gave us the best hour of the day. ESPN helped shape a generation of sports enthusiasts, not with their “perfect coverage” or “fairness”, but with their trust.
Now? It’s beginning to feel like ESPN is not looking out for the fans who tune in. Instead, ESPN is prioritizing the organizations they cover and the corporations who buy airtime. That’s a shame, but it’s not like we all were blindsided by the news.
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