It might be the closest we get to a mea culpa from Chris Mortensen, though it’s not much of one.
Mortensen is taking a lot of heat for his erroneous report (or tweet, more specifically, which has since been taken down) regarding the number of footballs that were found to be under-inflated in the DeflateGate scandal. That led to ESPN’s NFL reporter backing out of an interview on Boston’s WEEI last week and a not-so-veiled shot from former colleague (and avowed Patriots fan) Bill Simmons.
But Mortensen appeared on Dan Le Batard’s ESPN Radio show Monday to address the controversy he played a large role in igniting. Twice during the interview, he acknowledged that he could have done a “better job vetting” the information he was given, which led to the report in question. Yet Mortensen also seemed to place blame on the medium of Twitter, rather than take full responsibility for not following up what he originally reported.
Via a transcript by MassLive’s Kevin Duffy:
“What needs to be corrected has been corrected. I didn’t correct it on Twitter, which was a mistake by the way. Twitter, I’m still trying to figure it out. The bottom line is, as the Wells Report showed, there were not 11 balls that were all two PSI under the 12.5 minimum requirement. Now let me say this: And I’ve done this before. I can understand after reading the Wells Report, because we had silence for three months, that could somebody generalize two pounds under based on the range of 12.5 to 13.5? Yeah, they could have. Now that’s my job to do a better vetting job as a journalist.”
The “still trying to figure out” Twitter is certainly a curious remark. That’s not to say there’s a tried-and-true way to use the social media outlet, as the ground seems to be constantly shifting under everyone’s feet in that regard.
But it’s not like Mortensen just joined Twitter. According to his profile, he’s had his account since April 2009. Besides, he has colleagues and fellow NFL reporters, along with the ESPN machinery, to help him in such matters. Mortensen isn’t out there on an island, though it certainly ended up looking that way. A follow-up tweet likely would have cleared up any misunderstanding and simply been more thorough reporting.
Yet that’s where Mortensen’s apologetic tone — if you could even call it that — ended in the conversation with Le Batard.
“If I had simply reported, which I did include in the original report, that 11 footballs were found to be significantly under inflated, what would the reaction have been? The same, I think. Which is the descriptive narrative that I actually did change it to and correct it.”
As you might expect, Mortensen also disputes the notion that he was deliberately given false information or used to report what the NFL wanted him to.
“[…] do I feel betrayed? No. And by the way, this whole concept of being deliberately lied to, that means somebody called me up. When anybody calls me up and volunteers significant information, I always get suspicious of motive. That’s a red flag right there. As I said you go through that process and you review your own work. And I’ve done that.”
He also insisted that he always “goes quiet” after the NFL draft, and didn’t go into hiding because of this report, which is kind of how it looked as the NFL’s investigation progressed.
If you want to listen to the entire interview with Le Batard, the audio is available here.
Perhaps Mortensen is right when saying he’s “still trying to figure out” Twitter by not realizing that his initial tweet is what people seized upon and used to form their impressions of what transpired, rather than using to follow whatever further reporting he did on the story. But it still comes off as a weak defense.
As Mortensen will tell you himself — and mentioned several times during his conversation with Le Batard — he’s experienced in these matters. The delivery system is just as important as the content these days. If Twitter is what’s been utilized to put information out to the public, then it’s only responsible to make sure the same medium is used to follow up with whatever clarification or correction is necessary.
The presumption is that Mortensen has now learned from that mistake — if it hasn’t already been strongly impressed upon him by his bosses at ESPN — and realizes how quickly a tweet can set the tone for a story, especially if it’s left out there to dissect without follow-up.