The Washington Redskins have frequently taken criticism from media members, but that criticism’s gone to a whole new level in the wake of their firing of general manager Scot McCloughan last week. A quote from an anonymous “official with direct knowledge of the situation,” who told The Washington Post the firing came after McCloughan “showed up in the locker room drunk on multiple occasions,” has sparked particular vitriol.
As Dan Steinberg recaps at the Post‘s DC Sports Bog, everyone from Tony Kornheiser to Herm Edwards to Michael Smith to Jay Glazer to ESPN 980’s Bram Weinstein has gone in hard on the team, with Kornheiser and Weinstein’s criticisms particularly standing out:
“Here’s what I know from all my years at newspapers: This is the most savage cutdown of a human being that I have ever seen,” Kornheiser said. “The Washington Redskins trot somebody out there who just obliterates Scot McCloughan, so that when they don’t want to pay him any more money … they say, ‘Well look, 18 months, this was a disaster.’ If it was a disaster for 18 months, why did you wait 18 months? If he had multiple relapses, with a history of problems with alcohol, why didn’t you step in?”
… This is the low point. This is the low point that I have ever seen with this team. What they did, by trotting somebody out, and giving that person anonymity, and allowing that person to just kill Scot McCloughan and say all these things — that he’s drunk all over town and it’s been going on for 18 months — that is the most cowardly, small act imaginable by a franchise of any stripe.
Career sabotage occurred yesterday, which is unseemly and problematic, just for me as someone who is a consumer of this team,” Weinstein said. “This is two decades of clear, abominable activity by the organization that we emotionally and financially have put our heart and soul into. And this has happened over and over and over. … To fire him on the first day of free agency is patently absurd, unless something happened that they eventually should be transparent about.
From a media angle, though, it’s interesting that all of this criticism is being directed at the team for that quote, rather than at the Post for publishing that quote and granting anonymity for it. Of course, that same Post piece does illustrate the other side as well, saying five of six players they spoke to never saw McCloughan act the way the team described and all never saw him drinking in the locker room, and it raises some doubt as to the validity of the team official’s version of events (pointing out that McCloughan has had no extended absences for treatment, and questioning the veracity of him being drunk on the job).
But providing that official with anonymity to make that kind of accusation, especially when it seemingly can’t be corroborated from another source, carries its own questions. If media members are upset about that quote, they should criticize not just the official who provided it, but the organization that printed it. If career sabotage occurred, the paper is to blame for it as well.
If this had been an on-the-record quote from a named team executive, things would be quite different. That would of course be a quote worth running. But the grant of anonymity for it is questionable, especially with its facts seemingly unverifiable through other means. Providing that anonymity allows that official to get their “career sabotage” against McCloughan out there without it being traced back to them. Giving anonymity for a quote changes the credibility from the speaker to the media outlet, and it’s at the very least debatable if it was worth it for the Post to do so in this case.
It’s easy to take shots at the Redskins. They’re a team that’s been a mess for a long time, and their handling of the McCloughan saga has been a disaster regardless of if this official’s allegations against him are true or not. If those allegations are true, as Kornheiser points out, they should have been doing much more to help him. They also shouldn’t have lied about where he was for weeks. And their top officials should state why he was fired on the record, not through anonymous leaks. If these allegations are not true, as Weinstein points out, they amount to career sabotage.
However, in either case, the Post‘s role in enabling these accusations to be made both publicly and anonymously deserves questioning and criticism too. In his criticism of the team, Kornheiser references “giving that person anonymity”: it wasn’t the Redskins that did that, but the Post.
Of course, the Post is a tougher target than a bumbling NFL franchise (perhaps especially for someone like Kornheiser who worked there for so long), but criticism should be directed towards all parties that deserve it, not just the easy-to-mock ones. The team deserves plenty of flak as well, of course, but this problematic quote coming to light without corroborating evidence is not just on the official who uttered it. It’s on the media organization that decided to print it and decided to grant anonymity for it.