From Ed Sherman on Poynter Online:
Van Natta, who co-wrote the story with Seth Wickersham, says they have received more than a dozen calls from various league sources since the story was released.
“When you do a story like this, you shake the tree and very ripe fruit falls into your lap,” Van Natta said. “There are some interesting leads that Seth and I are going to address. I don’t think we’re done with this just yet.
Translation: Other NFL people who saw that they could anonymously gripe about the Patriots and get it published in an “investigative report” want to get in on the action.
“Every piece of information has to be bullet-proof,” Van Natta said. “On these kinds of stories, when you rely on a mix of on-the-record, documents and a vast majority of anonymous sources, you’ve got to get it right. I am not aware of one single fact in our story that wasn’t correct.”
Well, it’s easy to not get any facts incorrect when you don’t state any.
The latest story refueled some persistent speculation that ESPN is assisting the NFL, its biggest TV partner, in this dispute with New England. The chatter ignores the fact that Goodell and the NFL come off as poorly as the Patriots in the piece. It also is ridiculous to think that Van Natta, a Pulitzer Prize winner, could be told what to report, much less carry an agenda.
If the NFL comes off as poorly as the Patriots, why is all the attention been on the Patriots?
After the Chris Mortensen “11 of 12” tweet/story and everything that has followed that, how ridiculous is it really ridiculous to question anything that comes from any ESPN outlet?
As for specifically questioning Van Natta, well, after his NY Times magazine piece following a six-month investigation into a Rupert Murdoch publication, The Public Editor of the New York Times, in response to criticism about the article from Murdoch’s publication, generally supported what Van Natta and his colleagues wrote, but added these two caveats:
The story, in my view, did rely heavily on unnamed sources. Roughly two-thirds of the attributions relating to The News of the World were to anonymous individuals or groups. And in the thread of the story dealing with the Scotland Yard investigation, more than 80 percent of the attributions were anonymous.
He defends the usage, saying that they provided “strong evidence.” He then adds:
So, on substance, I believe The Times’s account stood on solid ground. It went beyond a rehash with new sources and a comprehensive treatment. The larger question of whether the story was colored by the rivalry with Mr. Murdoch is more a matter of appearances. Here, the ground gets squishy.
I think you could say that the Patriots piece was nothing more than “a rehash with new sources and a comprehensive treatment.”
Mr Brisbane, The Public Editor, concludes:
“This passage seems gratuitous,” Mr. Giles said, “casting Murdoch in an unfavorable light without adding fresh information that advanced readers’ understanding of the story.”
Mr. Giles’s example illustrates a larger point I subscribe to: that The Times, or any news organization covering a rival so prominently, needs to do it as straightforwardly as possible. Incorporating politics, and dressing the piece in a mock tabloid art treatment, leave room for some to perceive a hidden agenda, and perhaps even quiet glee.
Wait, what? Some could perceive that Van Natta had a hidden agenda? No, I thought it would be ridiculous to suggest that!