Peter King Fisher

NFL Insiderdom has become a big business.  From breaking news on player transactions to suspensions to trades and free agency, our thirst for any information of any kind has turned NFL reporters like Peter King into stars themselves.

Adam Schefter (3.12 Million Twitter followers), Chris Mortensen (1.55 Million), Peter King (1.35 Million), John Clayton (1.05 Million), and Jay Glazer (668,000) have followings the size of rock stars.  Followings of that enormous size dwarf many of the players in the league in which they cover.

NFL Insiderdom is largely about access.  In the Washington Post’s excellent profile of Adam Schefter, his scoop trading to teams to get his information which he can report was a fascinating insight into this world.  At a time where the most important word in sports reporting seems to be “SOURCE” this kind of access to the inner-workings of the league and its teams is paramount.

But in order for Mr. or Mrs. SOURCE to mean anything of value to readers, trust has to be established.  The reader has to believe that the information you are giving them is valid and true, even when there is an anonymous name attached to it.  Without a name attached, all of the responsibility falls on the reporter and the reporter alone to establish the veracity of the information at hand.

I could report that an anonymous source is telling me Cleatus the Robot is going to replace Gus Johnson on Fox’s soccer coverage, but unless I have a track record of accuracy and trust with readers, nobody would ever believe something that zany.  (Please don’t believe something that zany.)  If that trust is lost, it’s very difficult to earn it back.  See: Broussard, Chris.

In the wake of the Ray Rice video release, some top NFL reporters found themselves on the end of conflicting reports.  Adam Schefter appeared on television and was furious with the leauge.  Chris Mortensen stood by his reporting.  Peter King of Sports Illustrated, on the other hand, backtracked.

King’s report from July said that NFL had seen the tape inside the elevator.  The league then said publicly they had not.  Who was telling the truth?  Well, it was King who retreated from the conflict and said his report was based on the assumption of a source.  King took some deserved heat for the situation and to his credit, did his part to own up to it.  Clearly though, the trust of readers had been breached in a significant way.

And now King is seeing the consequences.

Long seen by critics as a mouthpiece for the league (you can judge for yourself whether that’s an accurate assessment), King wrote a column challenging Roger Goodell for being absent from the public scene.  King said it was “past time” for Goodell to answer questions and be held to account.

Fair enough.  But it’s the anonymous quote in the lead to the column that has again drawn criticism.

“Roger has determined that he will be a leader in the domestic-violence space.”

Who does this quote come from?  King says it’s from “a source with knowledge of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s mindset.”

A source with knowledge of Roger Goodell’s mindset?  That could, literally, mean anybody.  It could be the guy who parks his car at the league office.  It could be the guy at Dunkin Donuts who really gained some valuable insights into Goodell’s mindset when he went with the bearclaw over the cruller.  Or yea, maybe it could be one of Goodell’s lackeys or yes-men in the NFL offices.  Or, it could just be an assumption that somebody made because Goodell is getting paid $44 million dollars to do something besides build a Lego house in his office, right?

Furthermore, a promise of Roger Goodell being a “leader in the domestic-violence space,” whatever that actually means because normal people don’t talk like that, sounds like it’s precisely meant to placate Goodell’s critics while he hides under his desk.  If that’s really Goodell’s aim, every decision he has made in his commissionership has failed to accomplish that goal.  But it sure sounds good when it’s coming from “a source with knowledge of Roger Goodell’s mindset” doesn’t it?

Even considering the tone of the rest of the column, that quote that leaps out of the first paragraph about Goodell being a leader in the “domestic violence space” and seeing if it sticks as a narrative seems more beneficial to the league office than it does to the reader.

So instead of talking about King’s column challenging Goodell to lead and the subject matter at hand, we are caught up in the quote of his source and the legitimacy of it.  Moving forward, King is going to face much more scrutiny with his reporting, particularly when it comes from inside the league offices.  That’s the reality of a trust gap in reporting.  All sources are not created equal.