May 16, 2008

Boston Herald Should Name Its SpyGate Source: The newspaper and reporter John Tomase refuse to identify the unnamed source who burned them. Why the hell not?

On Wednesday, the Boston Herald apologized for a Feb. 2 story by John Tomase that reported the New England Patriots surreptitiously videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.

While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.

Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Ramsí walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.

For the story, Tomase took the word of "a source close to the team during the 2001 season." In today's Herald, Tomase explains how he got the story wrong, but he leaves out the only real detail that matters -- the name of the person who passed along bogus information.

There has been a clamoring for me to identify the sources used in my story. This I cannot do. When a reporter promises anonymity, he can't break that promise simply because he comes under fire. I gave my word, and the day I break that word is the day sources stop talking to me.

Another word on sources: The story mentioned only a single, unnamed source because in the end, while I had multiple sources relating similar allegations, I relied on one more than the others.

I've never understood why journalists hide the names of sources who use the shield of anonymity to spread falsehoods. The agreement between a reporter and an unnamed source, like that of a criminal plaintiff accepting a plea deal to testify in court, should be conditioned on the information being truthful. A source who lies should know that it might blow up in his face. Tomase and the Herald are getting murdilated over running a fake story on the eve of the Patriots' defeat in the Super Bowl. The source remains on the loose.

Reporters have grown far too addicted to the access granted by sources who won't comment for attribution. Instead of digging around from the outside, they act as stenographers to well-connected people with inside information.

In the early '90s, I was an editor at StarText, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online newspaper. As I prepared stories for publication, I could see the "CQ notes," memos between editors and reporters that were embedded in the articles and removed before publication.

These notes sometimes revealed the identity of unnamed sources in our coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.

More than 15 years have passed, so I can probably reveal this without getting myself into trouble: The Star-Telegram's unnamed source "close to the organization" was owner Jerry Jones. The Dallas Morning News' unnamed source, according to our reporters, was head coach Jimmy Johnson. The two leading figures on the team were waging a furious battle in the press, using the cover of anonymity and pliant newspapers to keep from having to answer for their words.

But if I've said too much here, just tell people you got this information from a source close to the Star-Telegram.

Rogers Cadenhead is one of the founders of SportsFilter.

posted by rcade to commentary at 09:19 AM - 0 comments

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