Newly re-minted ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter has had plenty of ups and downs of late. The ups: the aforementioned re-minting, which saw ESPN hang onto Schefter’s services in the face of reported interest from gambling companies.
The downs: a lot of the actual reporting, especially on topics like domestic violence and sexual assault. (There was also the infamous “Mr. Editor” line while offering a full piece to a source for final approval). Schefter’s infamous mishandling of Dalvin Cook being accused of domestic violence saw the reporter tweet out facts strictly from Cook’s camp, helping push unopposed a narrative that he was a victim to his millions of followers while in fact Cook was being accused in a pending lawsuit of being the aggressor.
Ben Strauss profiled Schefter for the Washington Post, a piece that includes anonymous quotes from Schefter’s ESPN colleagues offering fairly harsh criticism of how Schefter handled the Cook incident and others.
“He is your preeminent journalist for the preeminent sport in America,” said one on-air ESPN personality, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company business. “I would hope that as a network you’re embarrassed by that, but I’m blown away that ESPN doesn’t seem to care.”
Later in the piece, Strauss gets Schefter’s thoughts on the peer critiques:
The Cook incident was the most serious, and multiple people who work at ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said they worried that it and the Watson reporting reflected a failure to understand the sensitivity of domestic violence allegations.
Told of those concerns, Schefter first asked, “Are they going to go on the record?” He denied not taking the issue seriously, and he denied he was framing the allegations favorably for Cook and Watson to curry favor from the players’ agents. “I’ve never put out information thinking I would get something back in the future,” he said. “If people want to work with me, great. If not, okay.”
Before we get back to the main thrust here of Adam Schefter losing all semblance of humanity in service of scoops, let’s take one second to note that last quote, which would imply Schefter practices a sort-of carefree, loose cannon form of journalistic independence, a stance that is very much undercut elsewhere in the piece where we learn about the lavish gifts Schefter bestows upon sources every year.
He has a list of 150 recipients who receive, depending on the year, Vineyard Vines ties or Scotch or chocolate or ice cream. They go mostly to sources but also to some ESPN co-workers and others. One year he spent $16,000 on chocolate.
“I have relationships with people,” Schefter said. “It’s not all transactional.”
The gifts, he added, are a business expense that he writes off on his taxes.
Presumably, when Schefter sends sources super expensive chocolates the card reads “If you want to work with me, great. If not, okay.”
Elsewhere in the piece, though, we get what feels like illustrative glimpses of how Schefter got to this point. His boss, ESPN exec Seth Markman, makes multiple appearances in which he seems in awe of Schefter’s willingness to forgo any sort of healthy work-life balance for the sake of the job.
Seth Markman, who oversees ESPN’s NFL studio coverage and recruited Schefter, deemed his time so valuable that he hired him a car service so he could report during his commutes.
One former ESPN executive suggested that ESPN should have more confidence in its own platform to make stars. “Isn’t that your superpower? That you can create the next Adam Schefter because you’re ESPN?” the person asked.
Markman said he had never considered it. “Adam is a cyborg,” he said. “He’s uniquely suited for this. I can’t tell you how many times on a slow news day he delivers something invaluable that fills a whole day of shows for us.”
Reading this piece, it becomes very, very clear Schefter doesn’t have the requisite understanding of the issues he’s often tasked with covering, and how and why he’s fucked up in the same way on multiple high-profile stories.
The only real step he cites as taking to improve going forward is to lean more on his editorial staff, which serves more as an admission that he’s not capable or not interested in understanding the necessary context that led to his mistakes and instead has to pass that responsibility to others. There’s also this nugget, where Schefter essentially blames his sources for the problems:
Schefter also pointed out that both of the tweets cited sources, not his opinion, and multiple national NFL reporters acknowledged that some of their reporting is parroting what agents say.
Adam, no one is saying you were injecting your opinion into the Dalvin Cook case. They’re saying that you shouldn’t be rubber-stamping that sourced information without taking even one second to consider what you’re doing.
Clearly, Schefter’s superiors view his approach as a feature, not a bug. Markman calling him a “cyborg” with admiration is impossibly telling, as is the fact that they shelled out to retain him this year in the wake of all these high-profile, highly criticized blunders. It’s hard to see how anything is going to change, and the tacit endorsement of his work with that extension has clearly rubbed some at ESPN the wrong way to the point that they’re willing to speak out on it, even if they have to do so anonymously at this point.
Maybe in addition to a driver, Markman should hire a few people to ride in the car with Schefter every day and remind him that he’s a real boy.