ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has endured a rough summer after being called out by Patriots owner Robert Kraft for inaccuracies in his original report about DeflateGate. It was Mortensen’s report about 11 of the 12 balls being vastly under-inflated that set the most annoying scandal in NFL history in motion and Mortensen’s report that was ultimately proven to be untrue. That fact has led not only to criticism of Mortensen, but some serious questions of the NFL and the use of sources in general.
But even though Mortensen has received the lion’s share of the attention and blame for forwarding the false narratives of DeflateGate, another very influential and very popular writer got it wrong in the same way without receiving a fraction of the pushback: Peter King.
After Ben Volin of the Boston Globe called out King for echoing and confirming Mortensen’s report about the deflated footballs, King apologized for his own false reporting in his MMQB column. It’s not the first time King has gotten caught up in a mess like this – he had to offer mea culpas after leading readers down the wrong path during the Ray Rice saga. King had not one but two major reporting errors during that story and it’s just a little surprising that given that track record, his own DeflateGate flub hasn’t gotten more attention.
But the truly astounding thing this time around is not just King apologizing for another reporting mistake, it’s that he called out ESPN for reporting the same exact thing that he did.
Let’s follow the timeline. First, here’s what King wrote on January 23rd (with bold emphasis added) about the air pressure of the AFC Championship Game footballs:
This is significant, because it takes weather-as-a-factor out of the possible reasons why New England’s footballs could have lost air while the balls on Indianapolis’ sidelines would have stayed fully inflated. I am told reliably that:
The 12 footballs used in the first half for New England, and the 12 footballs used by the Colts, all left the officials’ locker room before the game at the prescribed pressure level of between 12.5 pounds per square inch and 13.5 psi.
All 24 footballs were checked by pressure gauge at halftime. I am told either 11 or 12 of New England’s footballs (ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported it was 11, and I hear it could have been all 12) had at least two pounds less pressure in them. All 12 Indianapolis footballs were at the prescribed level.
All 24 footballs were checked by pressure gauge after the game. All 24 checked at the correct pressure—which is one of the last pieces of the puzzle the league needed to determine with certainty that something fishy happened with the Patriots footballs, because the Colts’ balls stayed correctly inflated for the nearly four hours. There had been reports quoting atmospheric experts that cold weather could deflate footballs. But if the Patriots’ balls were all low, and the Colts’ balls all legit, that quashes that theory.
The conclusion: There is little doubt the New England footballs were tampered with by a human.
Look familiar? That’s the exact same report Chris Mortensen filed, maybe even stronger because King said it could have been all 12 Patriots footballs that measured out to 2 PSI less pressure than the prescribed range.
The above report from King makes it unbelievable what then happened next. Fast forward to August 3rd when King chided ESPN and the NFL for never correcting the record for the false DeflateGate report… Chris Mortensen’s false DeflateGate report… PETER KING’S OWN FALSE DEFLATEGATE REPORT. (Bold emphasis added).
I find it alarming that the league has never acknowledged that the letter informing the Patriots of the official investigation the day after the AFC title game had a major fact error that was never corrected. The letter from NFL vice president David Gardi said that one of the Patriots’ footballs examined by the league at halftime of the game “was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12-1/2 to 13-1⁄2 psi. In contrast, each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.” Huge errors. The Ted Wells Report confirmed that no football measured as low as 10.1 of the Patriots’ balls. Gardi said the Colts’ balls measured within the range required. The Wells Reports said three of them were under the minimum of 12.5 psi. Never corrected. Why? Similarly, when ESPN reported that 10 New England balls were at least two pounds under the limit measured at halftime, the league never corrected that error. What is most damaging about this is that these impressions were left as facts, particularly the ESPN claim, for a long period, allowing the public to be convinced the Patriots were guilty. Maybe that will turn out to be true, but this evidence wasn’t factual.
It wasn’t just ESPN that reported it Peter, it was you too! Remember? You were told “reliably” that 11 and maybe even all 12 of the balls had at least 2 pounds less pressure in them. Now suddenly it’s only ESPN’s fault? Furthermore, it wasn’t just the public that was convinced the Patriots were guilty, you were too. Remember? You even wrote, “there is little doubt the New England footballs were tampered with by a human.”
Three weeks later on August 24th, King flip-flopped again and apologized for echoing Mortensen’s report about all of the under-inflated footballs. The same reporting that King critiqued just earlier this month. Please, if you begin to feel dizzy it’s best to lay down on the floor in your office for a couple minutes. (Again, bold emphasis added.)
I reported after Mortensen’s story that 11 of the 12 footballs were at least two pounds per square inch under the minimum limit of 12.5 psi when tested by the league at halftime. I reported that I’d heard “reliably” that the story of the footballs being at least two psi under the minimum limit was correct. As I said on Twitter on Sunday, I believe the person who told me this believed the story was accurate when, obviously, it clearly was not. So, were we used by someone to get a storyline out in public? Maybe … but the reason I’m skeptical about this is because with the knowledge that there would be a full investigation and clearly the air pressure in the footballs would be publicized at some point, the league would look stupid for putting out false information that would eventually come back to embarrass it. Clearly, this story, along with the Ray Rice story from last fall, has made me question sources and sourcing in general, and in a story as inflammatory as this one, you can’t just take the story of a person whose word you trust as gospel. It’s my error. I need to be better than that. Readers, and the Patriots, deserve better than that.
Peter King writes something like 374,000 words every week on the NFL, so one can forgive him if he doesn’t remember every minute detail that he writes in between his travel blog, coffee notes, and all the things he thinks he thinks. But one would also think King would at least remember his own reporting on the biggest NFL scandal of the decade, especially when he called out ESPN for doing the exact same thing he did. The fact that King could write a condemnation of ESPN while forgetting he slipped up on the same banana peel is mind-boggling.
Back to the big picture – how much of a coincidence is it that King and Mortensen reported the exact same wrong information about 11 of the 12 footballs being under-inflated. Either the pair of NFL insiders were using the same source or this was a concerted effort by multiple people in the league to get that information out into the public. Given what we know now, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that this wasn’t a concerted effort by the league office to lead its trusted insiders and its fans astray. Whatever the next NFL scandal will be, believe what you read from “league sources” at your own peril.