“Rollo Tomasi’s the reason I became a cop. I wanted to catch the guys who thought they could get away with it. It was supposed to be about justice.” – Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), “LA Confidential”
This is the lede question in Peter King’s Mailbag today:
WHERE’S BELICHICK’S SUSPENSION?
With all the recent talk of Deflategate focusing on Tom Brady, I’d like to revisit a side issue that nobody’s talking about anymore. Why wasn’t Bill Belichick suspended? Roger Goodell threw the book at Sean Payton in Bountygate, saying Payton ultimately was responsible for his team even if he wasn’t aware of any bounties. By the same logic, Belichick also should be suspended, especially considering that Belichick has a prior record with Spygate. In that case, if I’m not mistaken, Belichick specifically ignored a league edict forbidding teams from filming opponents’ practice sessions. I think the lack of a suspension for Belichick helps perpetuate the belief that the league treats the Patriots differently than other teams.
“Belichick specifically ignored a league edict forbidding teams from filming opponents’ practice sessions.” Did you catch that? That’s the common belief people have about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Do you know how that belief began? Not with Spygate. That was about taping signals out in the open, but from the wrong location.
Two weeks ago, after I made a reference to John Tomase’s role in demonizing the Patriots, two people responded, “What did he do?”
I was stunned. They didn’t know the story? Surely they’ve heard how, on the eve of Super Bowl 42, Tomase and the Boston Herald published a fallacious story accusing the Patriots of videotaping the Rams’ walkthrough prior to Super Bowl 36, right? And how they were forced to retract it three months later?
But that event occurred seven years ago. And understandably, there are readers too young to know anything about it.
Yet the myth of the walkthrough tape persists.
Tomase could be heard this weekend giving his expert opinion that “down there” they think that everything bad that happens to the Patriots is because people are out to get them.
Huh. I wonder why that is.
You know how you often hear from both the media and other fans that the Patriots taped practices, including the Rams before their first Super Bowl win! In addition to the above, here are some examples.
49ers, Rams have right to feel cheated – Mike Sando
Steve Scarnecchia, the person responsible for the illicit taping earlier this month, worked for New England when the Patriots allegedly taped St. Louis Rams practices before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. As a result, I’m more comfortable removing the word “allegedly” from the previous sentence. The Patriots employed cheaters. Scarnecchia’s father, Dante, still works for the Patriots.
Personal for Pats-Jets – Leonard Shapiro
A previous version of this post incorrectly characterized the offense for which New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was fined by the NFL. The corrected version appears below.
2015 offseason off to rocky start – John Clayton
For example, Sean Payton received a one-year suspension for the Saints’ bounty scandals while Bill Belichick wasn’t suspended for spying on practices.
And how about this:
It is a statement now accepted as fact, and used by many people when they list out the Patriots transgressions as CHEATERZ!!!
In reality, it is complete and utter fiction. Manufactured by John Tomase.
Source: Pats employee filmed Rams
By John Tomase
PHOENIX – One night before the Patriots face the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, new allegations have emerged about a Patriots employee taping the Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.
According to a source, a member of the team’s video department filmed the Rams’ final walkthrough before that 2002 game. The next day, the Patriots upset St. Louis, 20-17, on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri for their first championship.
A bit further in:
According to a source close to the team during the 2001 season, here’s what happened. On Feb. 2, 2002, one day before the Patriots’ Super Bowl game against heavily favored St. Louis in New Orleans, the Patriots visited the Superdome for their final walkthrough.
After completing the walkthrough, they had their team picture taken and the Rams then took the field. According to the source, a member of the team’s video staff stayed behind after attending the team’s walkthrough and filmed St. Louis’ walkthrough.
At no point was he asked to identify himself or produce a press pass, the source said. The cameraman rode the media shuttle back to the hotel with news photographers when the Rams walkthrough was completed, the source said.
The story was single sourced. Red flag right there. The story of course became immediately accepted as fact. The name that kept coming up was Matt Walsh, a former Patriots cameraman.
Walsh eventually ended up talking to Roger Goodell and the Commissioner made this statement following the meeting:
“We were also able to verify that there was no Rams walkthrough tape. No one asked him to tape the walkthrough. He’s not aware of anybody else who may have taped the walkthrough. He had not seen such a tape. He does not know of anybody who says there is a tape. He was in the building at the time of the walkthrough along with other Patriots video personnel. They were doing their job prior to the game. He in fact was even on the sidelines in his Patriots gear while the Rams were practicing. So it was clear that there was not an overt attack addressing access into the Rams walkthrough.”
Following Walsh’s revelation that no walk-through tape existed, Tomase’s initial response was to double down:
Goodell ready to close door on Pats’ videotaping saga:
But Walsh admits to spying at 2001 Rams’ walkthrough
While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems ready to close the door on the Patriots [team stats] videotaping saga after meeting with Matt Walsh at NFL headquarters today, new questions arose when the former team video assistant admitted that he spied on the Rams’ walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI and passed along information from the walkthrough to an assistant coach.
However, after the press conference, NFL counsel Gregg Levy explained that Walsh had passed on observations from the walkthrough to former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll, who’s now with the New York Jets [team stats].
“Walsh was asked during the interview today whether after the walkthrough, anyone asked him about what he had seen,” Levy said. “He said ‘yes’. He saw Brian Daboll … and Daboll asked him what he saw. Walsh said two things — one, he had seen Marshall Faulk in a formation to receive a kickoff or a punt, and he had been asked about offensive formations, particularly about the use of the tight end. My understanding is that is not consistent with what we had learned prior to the interview, during the course of the investigation. At this point, it’s uncorroborated, but it’s something the league is going to look into.”
Note the tone of the headline and subhead. Goodell “ready to close the door”, but Walsh “admits to spying”. Tomase was trying to intimate that his faulty walk-through story was still true!
Later in the day, someone at the Herald thought better of it, and replaced it with this:
Roger Goodell: Case closed
Walsh tells Goodell he didn’t tape walkthrough
NEW YORK – Matt Walsh finally had his day in front of the NFL, and as far as commissioner Roger Goodell is concerned, this chapter of the Patriots [team stats] videotaping saga is closed.
Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant who last week turned over eight tapes showing the team recording opposing offensive and defensive signals, met for more than three hours with Goodell yesterday. In the commissioner’s view, he offered no new information worth reopening the league’s investigation into the Patriots’ videotaping practices.
The new tone is purely reporting the story, minus the previous editorial inferences.
The next day, the Boston Herald looked like this:
This was the statement from the Herald:
On Feb. 2, 2008, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the New England Patriots [team stats]’ video staff taped the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. 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 Rams’ 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.
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.
…we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed. Try telling that to anyone today. They will think you are crazy. Of course they taped the walkthrough! It was reported everywhere!
Two days later on May 16th, the Herald ran Tomase’s explanation.
What a mess. Let’s look at some of it:
Late in the 2006 season, I was having a casual conversation about the Patriots when someone I trust threw out the following tidbit.
“I heard the Patriots filmed the Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI,” he said.
It was just a rumor, and certainly not actionable intelligence, as they say. He had heard it from a friend of a friend. I filed it away, and then forgot about it. Reporters hear stuff like that all the time.
So first he says in 2006 he heard it from a source who got it from “a friend of a friend.”
Little did I know that comment would resurface from a much stronger source in the days after the Patriots had been caught filming the Jets’ defensive signals in September 2007.
He then forgot about it until September of 2007, so we’ll assume nobody else brought it up to him in this time frame.
So after the Spygate game, he heard the story “from a much stronger source.”
Oh wait, if the first “source” was someone who heard it from a friend of a friend, it really wouldn’t take much to make it a much stronger source, huh? Maybe this source just heard it from a friend.
Again, he labeled this a “source”….singular.
I still needed more, and I tried to get it. Two days before the Super Bowl, I finally believed I had it nailed that the Pats had indeed taped that walkthrough. I didn’t know what happened to the tape or if it ever found its way to the coaching staff, but I felt I had the basic story, and even though I didn’t feel great about going the anonymous source route, this one was ready for print.
So he finally “nailed it” two days before the Super Bowl. Sort of. Kind of. Well, not really.
The leap he made is astounding to anyone who has been around journalism. . He just admitted that his two sources were not present at the walkthrough, but instead had heard the story of the walkthrough from somebody else. Neither had seen a video. And he tries to tie this all together via the revelation that a Pats video guy was present at the walkthrough, which turned out to be not a revelation after all.
Turns out I could not have been more wrong. I regret it, and that’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life.
So now the rationalization starts in earnest.
I had repeatedly heard that this walkthrough had been taped, and from people I trusted. Eventually I accepted it as fact and stopped questioning the assertion.
Wait, what? “repeatedly heard?”and “people I trusted?” Sounds like Tomase is trying to shift blame for his own mistakes. Maybe they were earnest in telling the story, but it is the reporters job to nail down the story, not their job. He needed to get the people who told his people the story. Did they see they video? If not, where did they hear the story? And follow up the chain. If the chain breaks before you get somebody saying they saw a video, you don’t have the story. That’s journalism, and them’s the breaks.
He heard it once, on a friend of a friend of a friend level, in late 2006 before hearing it from an actual source that supposedly gave it to you in September 2007. But still you didn’t consider it strong enough to run. Around the Super Bowl, you finally nailed it, you say. You can trust your friend, sure, but how much should you trust your friend’s friend’s story?
In the February 4th story itself, it mentioned a single source – three times. That is consistent with the time frame he lays out here, possibly two at most. The first weird “source who heard it from a friend of a friend” is not a source. Here he claims to have had more, (“I had repeatedly heard”) as if it is an excuse when in reality, he had nothing.
Yet he goes on to this “repeatedly heard” crap. Yeah right Tomase, it was probably whoever your original friend of friend idiot was just spinning it to other people who regurgitated it to you, by then it’s five, six, seven people deep in layers. So you stupidly assume it’s smoke when it’s the same small circle of media people trashing the Patriots second hand because they hate Bill Belichick.
We have a problem here with a flaw in what is called the Argument from Multiple Attestation.
Fewer sources with a good provenance for their information are better than more sources just repeating rumors.
The confirmed presence of a member of the team’s video staff at the walkthrough reinforced my belief that it was filmed. Secondhand sourcing took on added weight. When I got word that other reporters had picked up the scent, it only steeled my resolve not to get beat.
You know that whole “Be right, not first” thing that journalists supposedly live by.
Eh, not so much. Rather than being right, Tomase was more concerned about being first.
All of that said, I never expected to be running this story during Super Bowl week, but I opened the New York Times on Friday, Feb. 1, and saw that not only was Specter complaining about the NFL’s investigation into the Patriots, but that the Times had tracked down Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant living in Hawaii who was suggesting he had more information on the team.
Walsh’s name set off alarms. He worked for the Pats during the 2001 season and his name had been floated amongst the rumors. Many believed he had filmed the walkthrough.My determination to get the story had been re-stoked. I began reaching back out to sources.
One that I trust said he had been told the walkthrough was taped. A second said he had been told the same thing, but neither had seen a tape.
I already had been able to verify that a member of the team’s video staff had been setting up a camera at the walkthrough, but on the final, crucial point of whether the camera was actually rolling, I made a devastating leap of logic and assumed that’s what I was being told rather than confirming it explicitly. I considered the fact that it was taped unassailable.
So a few items here:
- He says Walsh’s name set off alarms, but doesn’t ever mention Walsh in his original article. And it seems apparent that neither of his sources named Walsh either. So from the start, he was riding the crest of the NYT’s wave, hoping Walsh was his unnamed walkthrough videographer.
- As mentioned above, both sources were hearsay (“he had been told”, “second said he had been told the same thing”). So neither was even at the walkthrough.
- The verification of the camera setup meant nothing, because had Tomase investigated it further, he would have learned that’s exactly the job they were there to do. He might have also learned that there was no electricity to the locations, nor did they have their battery packs.
Someone who is trying to break a story of this magnitude might try a littler harder to actually nail down details.
By the time Walsh met with the league and revealed that he had no knowledge of the walkthrough being filmed, it was clear what we had to do. The paper issued a front-page apology Wednesday.
OK, here’s the deal, The Patriots four man video team at Super Bowl 36 was Jimmy Dee, Walsh, Ferando Neto and Steve Scarnecchia. (and possibly an intern named Ed Bailey) The only way Tomase’s story would be vetted is if the source of either of his two sources was one of those men. That Tomase and the Herald waited on Walsh’s meeting with Goodell to finally issue their apology proves none of them were sources.
No one forced me to write that story, and it’s important to note I do not believe I was ever lied to. I believe my sources intended to provide accurate information, and it was incumbent on me to vet it more fully.
Hey John, basically what you’re saying here is nobody you talked to really had anything other than second hand rumors that were false. #Protip: Those aren’t sources. So if a source isn’t maliciously lying to you for a nefarious purpose, that’s supposedly a point in your favor that you were justified in believing the story?
In summary, We could ask these questions of Tomase:
Did you see the tape? No
Did any of your sources, or the sources of your sources, confirm they saw a walk-through tape?
Did anyone anywhere at any given time ever say that they saw the tape? No
But he had no doubt this story was spot on the nails accurate. No question.
This part kills me:
Tomase was never publicly punished for what he did here. He went right back on the Patriots beat in 2008, and then he was “promoted” to the Red Sox beat, and then this year he was hired as a columnist for WEEI.com. His career never skipped a beat.
You know what? His Red Sox coverage was pretty good. As a columnist, he’s not bad with the Celtics either.
But he should never be allowed to write about the Patriots. Especially perched on some moral high ground judgment, as he does in today’s column with his conviction that Tom Brady is lying and has been proven a cheater by Roger Goodell and the NFL.
John Tomase cheated.
He did so wantonly and was not punished for it. He suffered no lasting consequences to his career. But he wants to sit here and tells us about the alleged failings of Tom Brady, ignoring actual facts, embracing hyperbole and gorging himself on the information that the NFL is spoon-feeding the media in this case. He wants to demand that Brady confess and accept punishment.
That’s the journalistic world we live in.
If John Tomase doesn’t print falsehoods the day before the Super Bowl in February 2008, maybe the lynch mob doesn’t gather quite as quickly following this year’s AFC Championship game.
I look forward to the inevitable emails I will receive from Tomase’s media brethren. Telling me I should let it go, he’s a good guy and that everyone makes mistakes.
Right, because they never hold grudges toward the people they cover.
Evidence of Tomase’s popularity among his peers is evident from Twitter this morning:
Never forget what John Tomase did, to the New England Patriots, and to you.
Thanks to Dan Snapp, Greg Doyle and others for helping put this together.
Additional Reading from that time period:
What’s Next for Tomase, Herald? (May 13th, 2008)
Boston Herald Apologizes To Patriots – Is It Enough? (May 14th, 2008)
One Thing, John – (May 14th, 2008)
Herald, Massarotti Continue Alienation of Readers – (May 15th, 2008)
Tomase Explanation A Bit Light In Detail (May 16th, 2008)
Where Are The Editors? Tomase Abettors Need To Be Named. (May 16th, 2008)
Editor’s Identities Not “In The Best Interest Of The Paper” (May 16th, 2008)
Why Spygate Is The Most Disgraceful Episode In Recent Sports Media History (May 20th, 2008. Who knew it would topped?)
The Merchant of Wingo Square – (May 20th, 2008)