Perhaps not content with their wiretapping report being stopped dead in its tracks by Louisiana state police, Outside the Lines and John Barr did the next best thing – a negative piece on suspended Saints coach Sean Payton. On Sunday morning OTL aired a profile looking at what could best be described as Sean Payton's dark side. The roughly 9 minute segment features no real news of any kind, but interviews with former players and coaches and a radio host talking about Payton's arrogance and heavy-handed dealings with the local New Orleans media. Here's the link to the segment for you to make your own judgments.
On its own merits… what's the point? After speculation over a media job, Payton has gone out of the public eye since his suspension. Furthermore, to say that Sean Payton is arrogant and difficult to deal with is hardly national news. It's no secret the man is not Doc Rivers. To try to paint Sean Payton as this purveyor of evil reeks of grasping at straws. John Barr could go to New England, Pittsburgh, and 20 other NFL cities and do the exact same report. You think Bill Belichick is bringing a six pack to hang out with the Patriots beat writers to watch Breaking Bad? You think Mike McCarthy is going out to Five Guys with reporters between practices? Please.
The only real "explosive" information in the segment is what Barr called a "threatening" phone call that came from the cell phone of Saints PR man Greg Bensel (who personally denied making the call) and accused Barr of being in New Orleans solely to dig up dirt on the franchise. Barr makes no mention about what was said in the "threatening" phone call or just how "threatening" it was, which is strange because someone close to the franchise threatening an ESPN reporter seems like it should be bigger news. It's just another bizarre step in ESPN's reporting around the Saints organization.
Furthermore, Barr managed to throw local New Orleans media under the bus by painting them as scared of Sean Payton. In fact, new Times-Picayune reporter Larry Holder (who just moved to the T-P after working at the local CBS affiliate) had to take to Twitter to respond to what Barr said about him in a supporting segment:
I don't think the local media is "scared" of Sean Payton as was reported on OTL. That's a little over the top.
— Larry Holder (@Larry_Holder) August 19, 2012
Regardless of what ESPN's OTL reported, Sean Payton and I don't have this contentious relationship. I'd say we're on very good terms.
— Larry Holder (@Larry_Holder) August 19, 2012
PFT talked to Holder himself, who said he wasn't interviewed by Barr or OTL for the piece. Given Barr dropping Holder's name as someone who Payton has clashed with (and uses an expletive to refer to), you'd think any quote of any kind would be helpful for Barr's objective. However, as Mike Florio notes, maybe there was a reason Holder and Payton mentor Bill Parcells (a current ESPN employee) weren't interviewed – it wouldn't fit as neatly into Barr's narrative.
Now, did Payton cross the line in his handling of the bounty scandal? Absolutely. Has he made mistakes? You bet. Did he deserve a suspension? Probably, although the league's evidence and discipline is finally falling under proper scrutiny after running amok in the early stages of the story.
The timing of this OTL report and the nature in which it was delivered – with OTL under fire for swinging and missing with an actual piece of journalism in New Orleans – raises red flags.
I must have missed the part on the OTL about Sean Payton where ESPN apologizes for the false wiretapping report.
— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) August 19, 2012
Outside the Lines and John Barr published a devastating piece of journalism accusing Mickey Loomis of what possibly amounted to a federal crime. Devastating. The accusations of wiretapping and eavesdropping are deadly serious. Barr and OTL reported these accusations with zero physical evidence of this taking place. None. Nothing. They couldn't even definitively accuse Loomis of using the device he supposedly had installed! Think about that! Had the Loomis report been provable, it would have been 10x bigger than the bounty scandal. However, the report didn't have an actual leg to stand on from the beginning. That kind of reporting is reckless at best and flat out dangerous at worse.
So instead of a retraction or an apology, OTL has produced what appears to be another attempt at getting something negative to stick in New Orleans. The wiretap report didn't work out? Fine, nail the suspended head coach for being a jerk if that's the best they got. Instead of owning up and taking responsibility for a wiretapping report with no evidence, instead of answering the claims as to whether or not they are in New Orleans on a mission to issue negative reports, OTL has continued with a disappointing and stunning brand of journalism. How far are they willing to go? At this point, it wouldn't be a surprise to see ESPN report Saints owner Tom Benson is behind the League of Shadows.
Why don't Outside the Lines and ESPN and John Barr chase real stories that have legs. There's an academic scandal unfolding at North Carolina that could be the biggest in NCAA history and we know ESPN has been behind on these things before, so maybe that's a good place to start. Perhaps that would be a better use of OTL's reporting capabilities than taking some swings at the Saints pinata and hoping a couple Jolly Ranchers pop out.
This Sean Payton profile reminds me of the kind of slanted, partisan reporting you would see from a cable news ideologue with little more than a vendetta, an agenda, and a microphone. It may not be relevant, it may not be the whole truth, it may ultimately not even be fair… but don't let that get in the way of a good story.