In a Thanksgiving Day poll, AA readers named Peter King of Sports Illustrated their Turducken of the Year in sports media, narrowly eclipsing Skip Bayless and the current and former ESPN executive in charge of First Take. I think I think that means it’s been a rough year for King.
This week, things only continued to go downhill for the SI scribe as he had to issue another mind-blowing correction regarding his reporting into the Ray Rice situation.
First, to rewind – earlier this year the major point of contention in the NFL’s mishandling of the Rice matter was whether or not the league had seen the inside-the-elevator videotape. The league claimed they did not see the tape until it was posted by TMZ, an unbelievable claim that proved either A) The NFL was lying about seeing the tape or B) The NFL was laughably ineffective in its investigation of the case. The claim also fell under heavy scrutiny because multiple top NFL reporters, including King, had said the league had indeed viewed the videotape.
When faced with this conflict, King backtracked from his original reporting and offered a statement of correction. He said he went on an assumption from a trusted league source that the league had seen the tape. He added that he hoped someone, anyone, would be able to get to the bottom of the story and discover the truth, which is presumably part of King’s job as an NFL reporter for Sports Illustrated.
Now another element of King’s reporting has needed correcting. In his MMQB column this week, King wrote this note regarding the successful appeal of Ray Rice and the report of the NFL’s investigation from judge Barbara Jones:
Finally on this topic: I quoted a source in July as saying Janay Rice made a moving case for leniency for Ray Rice during the June 16 meeting. My source was incorrect. According to Judge Jones’ report, Janay Rice was asked only one question during the hearing—how she felt—and she cried and said, “I’m just ready for it to be over.” I regret the error, and should have vetted the story further before publishing the account of one source.
Janay Rice also made it clear in her ESPN.com interview with Jemele Hill in her own words that she was asked just one question during the hearing. That’s not what King originally reported. King reported that Janay Rice made a “moving and apparently convincing case” to Goodell during their meeting and urged Goodell to not ruin Ray Rice’s image. From King’s July 25th column:
“Rice’s wife, a source said, made a moving and apparently convincing case to Goodell during a June 16 hearing at Goodell’s office in Manhattan—attended by Rice, GM Ozzie Newsome, club president Dick Cass of Baltimore; and Goodell, Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch of the league—that the incident in the hotel elevator was a one-time event, and nothing physical had happened in their relationship before or since. She urged Goodell, the source said, to not ruin Rice’s image and career with his sanctions.”
King’s initial report is a far, far cry from what has now been established, and corrected, publicly. The fact that King was so far off with a report on the inner workings of the league office is disconcerting.
King has long been viewed as being very close to the league office, perhaps too close. His harshest critics have pegged as a mere mouthpiece for the league for quite a while. While I’ve been mostly a fan of King’s work and his insights over the years, there’s no doubt that even his long-time supporters have to be much more skeptical of his work at this point.
Deadspin’s Tim Marchman hit the bullseye in framing why this latest incident is a significant development:
“The most generous version of what happened here would involve King getting caught up in a game of telephone, with some lower-level NFL minion’s distorted version of what happened in the meeting between the Rices and league and team brass ending up in King’s column. This would show King as being willing to run a key detail related by some random flunky without checking it in any way with the principals, who aren’t exactly strangers to King. It would paint him as a complete incompetent, and a moron.
It’s much more likely, of course, that someone who was in the room—one of the three NFL officials or two Baltimore Ravens officials King places there—lied to him. What he published, after all, wasn’t an incorrect version of what actually happened, but something that never happened at all. And it had a very clear beneficiary, allowing Roger Goodell to be seen not as issuing a punishment that showed the NFL doesn’t care about domestic violence, but as showing deference to the wishes of a victim.
King, in this version of events, was used as the instrument of a smear campaign, almost certainly by either the league’s commissioner, its general counsel, or its senior vice president in charge of labor policy. That’s a big g–d— story!”
King’s shortcomings in reporting this story look incredibly similar to the crisis in confidence facing Roger Goodell and the league office of the NFL. Either A) King was lied to and we can no longer trust his sources or B) King’s reporting was inadequate as he failed to discover the truth of what Janay Rice actually said in that room. In fairness, King does deserve some credit for at least correcting the record and being transparent when his reporting has fallen short. However, right now the trust gap with Peter King is slowly turning into a trust canyon.
Perhaps some of these failures speak to a larger issue in the NFL and in sports media at the moment – the role of “reporter” versus “insider.” Over the last several years, the scales have tipped heavily towards the latter in terms of media priorities. King may have plenty of sources inside the NFL that allows him to publish a lot of inside info, but what good does it serve if it isn’t true?