Guest post from Mike Walsh.
Wondering when Roger Goodell will air the next episode in the league office’s embarrassing DeflateGate drama pales in comparison to wondering when the Chris Mortensen character will make another cameo, especially since he may have played the biggest role in this entire affair.
This stupid story has been going on for so long and has had so many aspects it might be easy to forget when it really exploded. The Pats beat the Colts on January 18th, and the first Bob Kravitz tweet was sent later that night. But it was Mortensen’s tweet on January 20th that made this thing blow up.
That tweet and that tweet alone took this from a minor story that could have went away very quickly and made it the lead story on national news broadcasts across the country. It convicted the Patriots in the court of public opinion before charges were even filed. It led to the woefully incompetent Wells Report, the loss of draft picks, the suspension of arguably the greatest player in league history, and it still may yet lead to a trial in federal court.
Of course, it was flat out wrong. Really wrong. Kind of embarrassingly wrong.
If that tweet had come from Bob Kravitz then maybe it doesn’t explode the way it did, but people trust(ed) Chris Mortensen. Football fans know that some guys, for good and bad, have lines into the NFL league offices. Adam Schefter, Peter King, Jay Glazer, and Mortensen are the guys that get news before everyone else, so when that report came from one of them it felt like a story that might have had no merit was already proven unquestionably true. Even if, in those innocent days, we knew nothing about psi and the Ideal Gas Law and football game day regulations it just sounded really bad. Two pounds of Psi? Well that probably can’t happen naturally, right?
I know as a Patriots fan I certainly felt sick about it. At least initially. The Brady and Belichick press conference didn’t help. Until the 2nd Belichick-Mona-Lisa-Vito follow-up press conference that Saturday that turned Patriots fans into the biggest collection of irrational soccer moms in history, it was, inexplicably, miserable to be a Pats fan. That extra week following the conference championship games should be the single best time to be a football fan. You are going to the Superbowl, you are still celebrating winning the AFC title game, everything is actually awesome. The Mortensen tweet destroyed it. No one is going to cry that Pats fans had a bad week leading up to their fourth Superbowl win, and that is fair, but it did suck at the time, and that first round draft pick is going to genuinely hurt the team for a long time.
On the morning of the Superbowl, February 1st, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported the following:
“Eleven of the 12 footballs used in the first half were judged by the officials to be under the minimum of 12.5 PSI, but just one was two pounds under. Many of them were just a few ticks under the minimum.”
The impact of that report was equivalent to the whispers of a convicted man being led out of court.
We know now that Rapoport got it right and Mortensen didn’t. We also know the league, for reasons that will never truly be known (though probably are as simple as gross incompetence by a commissioner that couldn’t run a toaster), never felt the need to correct the Mortensen report, and in fact gave the Patriots the wrong psi readings as well. Predictably, those actual facts haven’t really mattered. Just that first tweet from the 20th.
The instinct from Patriots fans has been to add Chris Mortensen to the ever-growing enemies list, but Mortensen doesn’t belong on it, at least not for that erroneous report. I absolutely trust that he not only believed the report was fully accurate, but that he had no reason not to trust it.
Note that he cited “leagues sources.” Mortensen had enough of a track record to believe that not only did he have multiple people in the league office telling him the same thing, or at least “confirming” the information, but that they were the type of people that would know have access to it. Now, high ranking league officials intentionally spreading fake information (and not correcting it) offers enough fodder for the Patriots, their fans, the league, and everything surrounding this abomination of a saga to fill a book, but this is about the guy who got it wrong.
People lied to Chris Mortensen. And more than once on this story. Two days later he tweeted this equally wrong information when asked if the Colts footballs were checked:
Wrong again. The sources that fed him these lies had most likely proven dependable in the past. Fine, it happens. That reflects on the clown show management of Roger Goodell a hell of a lot more than Chris Mortensen. (The league could have put out a correction within the hour of the under 2 pounds tweet and said that report was wrong and released the actual numbers, cutting the wires on that bomb before it ever detonated.) But that still leaves one glaring issue:
Where the hell has Chris Mortensen been since then?
I mean, I know he continues to work for ESPN and cover the league, but he has yet to comment on his own, factually wrong, publicly debunked report. Why? How can he expect his credibility to withstand getting wrong one of the most important reports of his life without even addressing it?
Hell, Peter King carries the league’s water like he is on the payroll, but when his reports about the league seeing the Ray Rice tape was publicly refuted he addressed it. He probably got the report right in the first place and decided to fall on his own sword to protect his beloved access to NFL headquarters, but at least he was willing to come out and say something. Self-preservation? Yeah, probably, but he deserves credit for not hiding like Mortensen has since King was willing to face the scrutiny.
How hard would it be to simply say you got it wrong, you had every reason to trust the sources, but they failed you, and you are going to try and be better in the future? Maybe even go a step further and question why or how they got it wrong, and why the league allowed it to float out there and fester. He wouldn’t have to go the full Simmons on Goodell and the NFL, but a little accountability seems in order when it comes to his own image as a trusted reporter.
A guy with even more credibility as an NFL reporter, Adam Schefter, somehow managed to experience both sides of this issue with this trumped up investigation. He reported that the Patriots suspended Jastremski and McNally at the league’s behest. The league then publicly denied it (instantly, which was weird since……). My instinct was to still trust Schefter. Maybe he has reported some stories that turned out to be wrong, but nothing that stands out. When he reports something, you believe him; he has earned that reputation. Besides, the league had already proven it could not be trusted with the Mortensen report, and its own reports to the Patriots confirmed that. It was like asking if you trusted Schefter or the wolves in the sheep’s Jets jerseys working in New York.
Yet Schefter said nothing. Did he get it wrong? Or did he too want to protect his sources and contacts up in NFL HQ? Well, we still don’t know, but we do know that when he reported the NFL gave Brady’s camp only four hours to plead their case at the appeal, a report the league publicly denied (again, instantly, which is really weird since……), he clearly was not going to let two straight reports on this story be refuted by the league. He quickly tweeted out a picture of the letter the league had sent the Brady camp saying they had four hours. Schefter was right; the league was lying, again.
Where in the hell is Chris Mortensen. We are now up to seven months since that tweet, six and a half since Rapoport’s report refuting it, and two and a half months since the Wells Sham confirmed the inaccuracy of his tweet.
We can try to be moralistic vigilantes and demand that Mortensen denounce the league, out his sources, and demand transparency from the league, but we don’t have to be that naïve. Mortensen has made a nice career for himself, and if he starts outing sources that will be the last time he has one. This isn’t about that anyway.
This is about how a respected veteran reporter can remain silent on his own wrong report, even when that report set into motion the biggest story going in the league, involving the Superbowl champions and the greatest quarterback who ever lived. Getting something wrong is understandable, not standing up and accepting it isn’t.
Goodell, Kraft, Brady, Wells – those guys have been the leading men of this poorly written soap opera. But it’s the Chris Mortensen character I keep waiting to show up again. And each day he hasn’t just calls into question the kind of character he has.
You got it wrong Chris. Isn’t it time to make it right?
Email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter @burgermike
13 thoughts on “The Character of Chris Mortensen”
If you google “Chris Mortenson Twitter, Google actually finds the page listing the 11 balls tweet – that is how widely clicked that page has been. Irresponsible
“be first, not right”
Wish journalism worked the way Darwin Awards were handed out.
This is how you gather facts in a news report. You agenda driven news panties in a bunch reporters with their unnamed sources and tweets.
Let’s not forget that Mortensen is also the one who reported that the Patriots were considering a change at QB. Not in a tweet, but on NFL Countdown.
As a side note, I HATE the use of anonymous sources in any entertainment report. I wish it were illegal. This is not exposing government corruption, or a social injustice, it’s f’in sports. Like Herm Edwards said, “Put your name on it!” And if you’re not willing to, keep your mouth shut.
There would be far less drama and contrived controversy if there were no “sources” in sports.
*bing*, *bing*, *bing*….we have a winner for most astute observation of the week. Trip you nailed the anonymous source thing in entertainment. I completely agree with you. Having said that, illegal…well that is a little much. I will say this, at an organization like ESPN there should be some sort of ombudsman who rates the veracity of reports by looking at whether there is an anonymous source or on the record source. This rating should show up in the lower left hand corner of each report and then let the viewers decide what to believe or not believe.
I do understand that people are afraid of losing their jobs. I understand whistleblowing and why people need to be protected. At the same time there is a difference between a whistle blowing and poo stirring. The reporter should be able to tell the difference but if he can’t let an ombudsperson do it.
The real irony is that ESPN HAD an ombudsman position for most of the last decade. The latest one, Robert Lypsyte saw his term end in December of 2014 meaning nobody was around to see this crap followed up on. As of now they STILL haven’t replaced him, and I’m doubting they will.
From Mike Reiss:
“A source told ProFootballTalk that Goodell has encountered pressures from a loud minority of team owners who want Goodell to maintain Brady’s original punishment. There is a real fear in that event, though, that the four-game length of Brady’s ban would be nullified if ruled on by a federal court.”
Who are these teams? Why in the world would they want the Patriots penalized on a trumped up charge that only makes the NFL look foolish? Don’t they think this could happen to them in the future? Why would anyone go out of his way to make Bob Kraft their enemy? Most importantly do any of these teams play the Pats this year and if so can we make sure their involvement comes out game week because Brady has never been known to play with a chip on his shoulder.
This idea that teams are actually lobbying for a harsh penalty for Brady when it is clear he did nothing wrong is incredibly problematic both for the league and the human condition.
After the report and suspension, when we had a few weeks to digest things, you started to see the “wtf?” come out from people who actually read things, I wondered the same thing.
I get this isn’t as “serious” as Rice/AP/Hardy, and also doesn’t come with the negative PR, but a number of hosts here who did the same and weren’t inherently anti-Patriots asked the same thing. You’re cool with the incompetent commissioner, just suspending someone over a joke of an investigation and report, that if ever put to scrutiny in a neutral court, not just suspending your QB but penalizing your team? Scary.
Besides the agreement owners sign, which Dave brought up in the previous post of us talking about the legal strategies, is one of the reasons why Kraft had to issue the stand-down order. It still makes me sad but I understand that. He might not be able to cash it in for some time, but I really hope this comes back to bite them someday.
Florio, again, this morning:
If you click the Tweet, a few responses down is, “because the guy isn’t a Patriot.”
In Mortensen, he’s been wrong a number of times, long before this:
The top ~15 are Deflategate. As you go down further, you’ll start to see things from the past ten years.
I get that his job comes with the lumps. “Report” what’s spoonfed to you by sources, or they’ll stop it to someone else, and you’re out of the loop (possibly your job).
But, when places open up their binders and wonder where they can shop sketchy information, his name should come up at the top or near it.
For some light reading, SBJ has an interesting article up on how networks hire “talent”. Former local Carrolyn Manno is mentioned:
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