BJ Raji vs. the Internet, when Al Gore's superhighway is not a good thing

10...9...8...crap, not working.  Ok, finish my Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA...that's not working either.  Here goes: I will not rant, I will not rant, I will not... Nope, nothing's working.  I've gotta get this one off of my chest.

When SI.com reported former BC defensive lineman BJ Raji failed a drug test at the combine, the Eagles defensive tackle, reportedly one of the most sought after players in the upcoming draft, watched people begin questioning his status as an elite prospect.  This news spread like wildfire; pretty soon, every blog and "legitimate" news source on the Internet had grabbed hold of it.  Unfortunately, with today's aggregation technologies like RSS and twitter, the damage had been done.  Raji was a victim of the speed of the Internet.  Later, the NFL informed BJ Raji he DIDN'T fail the drug test.  Michael David Smith of fanhouse.com does a nice job of running this one down in this article, but this quote stuck out:

How on earth can Sports Illustrated simply pull the story from its web site and think all will be forgotten?

It's quite simple, really: Either Sports Illustrated should tell its readers it stands by its reporting on the Raji story, or it should tell its readers that it no longer stands by its reporting on the Raji story. There's no middle ground here. Sports Illustrated's report was either right or it was wrong. Simply pretending the story doesn't exist and never existed is unacceptable.

Whether or not BJ Raji has sparked up a fatty has little to do with why SI.com should run a full front page story on their website exonerating Raji.  Their accusation was specifically this: he failed the combine's drug test which was later proven to be false.  Instead of issuing a retraction or an apology to Raji, SI.com appears ready to sweep it under the rug.  Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Remember Spygate?  I know, I'm sorry to stir up those memories.  John Tomase, Patriots beat writer for the Boston Herald, was publicly fileted for his accusation that the Patriots taped the Rams' pregame walkthrough prior to our 2002 Super Bowl matchup.  I, as well as many other bloggers, absolutely HAMMERED John Tomase.  I despised the guy.  I despised him for not doing in the beginning what he should have done, as outlined by this quote from his apology:

"First and foremost, this is about a writer breaking one of the cardinal rules of journalism. I failed to keep challenging what I had been told,"

 

I like to take it one step further: Tomase fell victim to bloodlust, the blood being "first with the scoop".  This is a very real addiction to those providing information on the Internet.  It's almost euphoric to be first and get it out there before everyone else.  However, there is a responsibility to be absolutely sure or pay the price.  I touched on this in an Interview with Shalise Manza Young, Patriots beat writer for the Providence Journal:

There seems to be no more barriers to publishing a story due to the immediate nature of the Internet; the deadline is literally as fast as you can get it online. Is it all about "being first"? Is good writing suffering as a whole?


For someone like me, who considers herself a writer first, and wants stories to not just be informative but also a good read, this is a particular problem. But more than that, blogging and the immediacy of the internet have absolutely had a negative effect on journalism in general -- you're right, it is all about being first, even if it's by three minutes, and if it turns out a couple of facts in the story were wrong, well, at least you were first and you got acknowledged on the ESPN crawl or profootballtalk.com or by one of your competitors. And by the time anyone realizes you may have gotten one or two things wrong, you've either clarified or the original story has been forgotten anyway.

Tomase trusted his source and was later burned by it.  But, I give the guy major props for admitting his mistake and issuing a public apology.  If SI.com and the writer who reported the erroneous information don't do the same, they can kiss their credibility goodbye.  It is too important to be right rather than first.  If we just let it fly no matter what the consequences, we'll all become the Internet's version of the National Enquirer, aka: tmz.com

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