ESPN’s Outside the Lines report from Don Van Natta and Kevin Van Valkenburg into the Baltimore Ravens and their handling of the Ray Rice case was a bombshell. The reporters put together a deeply-sourced, thorough timeline of what Ravens officials knew and when they knew it.
Predictably, the franchise came out and strongly denied several points in the OTL report. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called the report manufactured and accused the reporters of using sources beholden to Rice to try to get his job back. ESPN then responded to the Ravens by standing by their reporting.
With such a hugely important report like this, it’s going to fall under the most intense microscope. Without tangible, physical proof, it’s going to be tough for anyone to move beyond the “he said, she said” dynamic of the Ravens discounting the reporting and ESPN standing by it. That is, unless, more information begins to emerge.
In that wrestle for the truth, the Ravens have scored a small victory against ESPN. In the release of the full text messages between Bisciotti and Rice, ESPN has admitted that they did not quote directly from those exchanges even though italics were used in the piece. In a statement at Pro Football Talk, the network explains the discrepancy:
“We understand the confusion surrounding our use of italics and recognize we could have been more clear,” ESPN said Tuesday in a statement. “Most importantly, the information in our story about the contents of the texts was consistent with what the team released.”
Now, this is far from a smoking gun that blows a hole in the ESPN story. It was an editing mistake to put the texts in italics if they weren’t direct quotes. But the Ravens are obviously going to try to take advantage of any slightest misstep in the ESPN story that comes about and use it to try to cast doubt over the entire piece.
It’s up to readers and fans to decide whether or not that is inded the case and this detail means there should be more questions asked of the reporting at hand. Again, ESPN has stood by the story and Van Natta’s reputation and multiple Pulitzer Prizes carry a ton of weight.
ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte has called the reporting on the Ravens and ESPN’s coverage of the Rice and Jameis Winston stories over the past week the network’s “finest hour” of his tenure. As more questions are asked, the network will certainly hope that their investigative reporting stands up to the test.