Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Journalism 101

Verify Your Sources

So the Boston Herald issued an apology to the New England Patriots in Wednesday's edition after we learned the Patriots did not tape the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to the Super Bowl in 2002.

The paper first reported the alleged existence of the tape on Feb. 2, a day before the Patriots lost 17-14 to the New Yourk Giants in the Super Bowl. Apparently, whoever wrote the story only bothered to use one source -- a source the Herald claimed "it believed to be credible."

"We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification," the paper read. "The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots' owners, players, employees and fans for our error."

Alas, the Herald's gaff seems indicative of today's journalism, which ignores the standard of fact verification in favor of getting the big story to the public as soon as possible, and certainly before anyone else can break it. Ignore the fact that source verifying, once a cornerstone of the journalism profession, means accurate reporting -- we have to beat the other guys to this!

Granted, the paper deserves credit for apologizing -- once on the front page, again on the back page and a three-paragraph mea culpa inside the back page -- but the reporter should've done his job right the first time. If the reporter does his job correctly, and verifies what his source told him, we don't have this scenario.

Enough, already!

Just when you thought Matt Wlash put Spygate to bed for good, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has other ideas.

Specter, who criticized Commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the initial investigation and deemed the Patriots' win over the Phildelphia Eagles in the 2004 Super Bowl tainted, has asked for a more independent investigation of the Patriots' videotaping scandal. Apparently, he's about as satisfied with Goodell's investigation as George Mitchell was with how Major League Baseball handled the steroids situation.

Specter threatened to revoke the NFL's antitrust exemption, and said when Walsh met with Goodell, he did so with a lawyer representing the Patriots. While I agree that looks bad, I don't see the point in dragging this on any further.

The NFL caught Bill Belicheck taping the New York Jets at the beginning of last season. Belicheck was punished, and it seemed to be a dead issue before the Boston Herald dropped the walkthrough tape bombshell. Then Specter jumped in, and next thing we knew, the NFL was looking to meet with Walsh about what the Patriots did or didn't do.

What I want to know is -- what about the other 31 NFL teams? I don't doubt Belicheck taped signals for several years, but I do doubt he was the only one. I see this as less of a New England Patriots problem and more of a league-wide issue, and unless Specter sees fit to investigate the entire league, I don't see the point in this.

I think Congress has better things to worry about than whether NFL coaches are taping defensive signals, just like I think the steroids probes were a waste of time. But I guess if you're going to waste time and money, why not go all-out with it?

A feel-good story

Don't look now, but the Tampa Bay Rays are in first place in the American League East.

I realize it's only May 14, and I realize the Rays are only a half-game up on the Boston Red Sox. But for a perrenial doormat to be 23-16 and on a six-game winning streak -- I'm not convinced this is a fluke.

The Rays are an amazing 15-7 at home so far this season, hitting .259 (eighth-best in the AL) and are only allowing four runs a game -- the fifth-best mark in all of MLB. Carlos Pena is giving the Rays power with eight home runs, while B.J. Upton leads the team in average (.287) and RBI (25).

And let's not forget such young talent as Evan Longoria and Akinori Iwamura.

James Shields held down the rotation in Scott Kazmir's absence, maintaining a 3.14 ERA. Now that Kazmir's back, an already-solid rotation is getting better. And let's not forget -- Andy Sonnanstine leads the team with five wins. Troy Pervical has solidified the back end of the pitching staff, saving nine games while only blowing two chances (one of those chances was Tuesday night against the Yankees, a game the Rays still won, 2-1 in 11 innings).

Oh, Tampa Bay also leads the AL in stolen bases with 39. Small ball can win you a lot of games.

I'm not saying Tampa Bay will win the division -- or even earn a Wild Card slot. But they will make things interesting between the Red Sox and Yankees, and they're headed in the right direction. As much as I wish the Orioles were the ones pulling this off, it's nice to see a team that has struggled for so long doing so well early.

One of those things that makes the marathon baseball season more fun to follow.

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