The Big Lead has an interview with ESPN Investigative Reporter Mike Fish, and naturally, one of the subjects that Fish is asked about is Spygate. You remember that tiny little incident, right?
Fish’s reports during the controversy were of such little value as to be laughable. Now, with the episode in the rear-view mirror, Fish tells TBL that the Pat Tillman story was a much bigger and challenging story than Spygate.
Asked directly about his involvement in the Spygate reporting, Fish rambles a bit about the how the Patriots stonewalled him, and that Matt Walsh really had nothing of value to add after all. He then changes the subject to talk about Tillman:
Q: You were all over the Patriots and Spygate. Would you say this was the most challenging story you’ve worked on? The Patriots are a notoriously unfriendly media organization, and we imagine that most of your reporting was met with roadblocks. What kind of obstacles did you have to hurdle on a story that was discussed on Capitol Hill?
I spent three near-perfect January days in Maui tracking down Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant and key figure in the story, so I can’t sell it as too tough a gig. But it definitely proved challenging for a lot of other reasons, though I can’t rank it No. 1 (I’ll explain in a bit). The name Matt Walsh had circulated in media circles as someone who had information that could possibly blow the lid on the Patriots’ sketchy practice of taping future opponents. The rumor was he had taped the St. Louis Cardinals final practice before the 2002 Super Bowl, which proved not to be true. After some time, I found Walsh in Hawaii, where he was a golf pro, and developed a decent relationship through a number of phone conversations. I ended up flying to Maui. The catch is he wouldn’t take time from his job to meet with me. So I showed up at the Ka’anapoli Golf Resort and booked the young golf pro for lessons, even though I didn’t bring any clubs and hadn’t played in 10 years. The first afternoon we chatted driving around the course in a golf cart. The next lesson took place at a table in a clubhouse lounge overlooking the course.
Dealing with the NFL spin machine proved an exercise in futility. There was always a sense that the Patriots and owner Bob Kraft had enormous say over the league’s position. The team initially balked at fully indemnifying Walsh, which any lawyer would require as a condition for his cooperation. From where I stood, the story never would have dragged on as long as it did had the franchise admitted to mistakes up front and not invested so much energy trying to discredit Walsh. The other interesting character here was Sen. Arlen Specter, who just recently announced his switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Specter, 79 and up for re-election next fall, envisioned hearings similar to what had been held on baseball’s steroid issue, but the committee’s Democratic leadership left him to whistle in the wind.
I first met Specter while in Washington to cover House committee hearings into the death of Pat Tillman. By this time, the Spygate story had already run on ESPN.com and his staff asked if I would come by to discuss what I knew about Walsh and the Patriots’ taping practices. Spygate had created a huge buzz breaking days before the 2008 Super Bowl (the timing of which, Pats fans may never believe, wasn’t planned), but as far as importance, shear effort and challenges, it wasn’t in the same league as the Tillman story.
He then ends up spending more time on the Tillman story than on the one he was asked about. And what did he really say about Spygate? Not much.
I like the insistance that the timing of the story wasn’t planned. A Steeler fans notes in the comments section that ESPN and Fish did the same thing this year in “breaking” the story of the former team doctor who was a big proponent of HGH…just two days before the AFC championship game. The author of that article is of course Mike Fish once again. But the timing wasn’t planned. No sir.