In a long-awaited release, ESPN's ombudsman has released his official review on the network's coverage of the DeflateGate scandal from start to finish. Jim Brady, a self-acknowledged Jets fan, notes that the network did a poor job of communicating between its social media, editing, and reporting staff, which led to multiple occasions where it appeared ESPN was serving as a mouthpiece of the NFL, or at least appeared to present information with an anti-Patriots bias.
Bra- actually, let's call him Jim. Jim says that ESPN lacked the necessary transparency throughout the process to maintain a degree of trust with Patriots fans. After Chris Mortensen's initial (incorrect) report, ESPN went through a series of poorly-structured Tweets, post-publishing edits of Mike Reiss articles, and some questionably-conveyed investigative pieces into the league's justification of DeflateGate, which destroyed the network's ability to appear neutral during the story.
Personally, I think that Jim does a good job of capturing the issues that Patriots fans have with ESPN's coverage of the incident, although I have some qualms.
First, he wants to acknowledge that WTHR's Bob Kravitz was the first to report the league's investigation, which seemed like a half-hearted attempt to pass some of the buck to Kravitz and away from Mortensen and ESPN. At least Jim acknowledges that Mortensen's source came from within the NFL.
Second, ESPN continues to try and justify the "significantly underinflated" language that was added after Mortensen's "11 of 12...were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below" was discovered to be incorrect.
"We stand by our reporting," ESPN's vice president of global digital content Patrick Stiegman said. "Other than the full 2 pounds for every ball."
This is not just incorrect (the footballs were a maximum of 0.3 pounds per square inch below on average), but the phrase "significantly underinflated" wildly shifts the narrative from Oh, the Patriots are in a stupid equipment mix-up, to Oh, the Patriots are behind some nefarious inflation scheme. The word "significant" holds, well, a significant amount of weight.
Third, Kelly Naqi's article suggesting that Jim McNally tried to introduce an unapproved football to an official, when in reality the official was actually stealing footballs, was not just dangerous (the Patriots were actually the ones that notified the league of the incident), it helped push the snowball down the hill- and there were some further questions about the source of Naqi's information due to her husband's business relationship with the NFL.
Fourth, you don't touch Mike Reiss' articles. Full stop. You just don't.
Fifth, and finally, this anonymous ESPN editor doesn't get it:
"In my opinion, ESPN does not have an institutional bias against the Patriots. It was just editors -- in most cases well-intentioned -- making hasty decisions."
This is just wrong. If you want to appear impartial, you don't bring in former division and conference rivals to discuss the Patriots in an emotional setting without any facts at hand. The fact that Tedy Bruschi has his objectivity questioned, and that he was on the air less frequently after he challenged a coworker's thoughts on the Patriots, points to an active decision by ESPN content directors to sway the discussion in a certain direction, or at the very least prevent a counter-opinion from being introduced.
Jim seems to understand the root of the issue. Mortensen only reported the initial story due to his contacts at the NFL. ESPN's specific verbiage, stories, and coverage appeared to adopt a very anti-Patriots agenda because the NFL wanted to come down hard on an actual football issue, and not an off-the-field transgression.
"This is a case where it would behoove ESPN to be as transparent as possible about its Deflategate coverage," Jim writes. "Precisely because of its $1.9-billion-a-year relationship with the NFL."
Everything played out as if ESPN was serving as the league's mouthpiece- down to the Stephen A. Smith breaking down the bogus cell phone red herring, which Jim doesn't address- and that's why Patriots fans have zero trust in ESPN's reporting on the subject.