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Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&A with Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs

te'o at presser

Manti Te’o talks to press prior to the BCS bowl game in Miami earlier this year. (Photo by Matt Velazquez)

Editor’s Note: Certain language in the responses below that was deemed inappropriate for this forum has been omitted. Such omissions are denoted with a bracket [  ]. The context and meaning of the responses, however, have not been altered in any way as a result.

It was “a question of journalistic standards.”

That’s how The New York Times described the rationale of ESPN executives in their decision not to publish the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story based on the information they had on January 16th, the same day that Deadspin decided to go ahead with the now famous scoop. “We were close,” ESPN’s Senior Vice President and Director of News Vince Doria told The Times. “We wanted to be very careful.”

While some of the network’s executives reportedly regretted being beaten to the story by Deadspin – which The Boston Globe‘s Jim McBride called “a website that has broken some high-profile stories but not an outlet regarded for journalistic standards” – the investigation and reporting of Deadspin’s story raise the question of whether the Te’o hoax revelation was the result of responsible journalism or a case in which an entity that broke a big story without completing its due diligence got lucky that it was right.

Washington Post contributor Erik Wemple described Deadspin‘s investigation this way: “Deadspin never got Tuiasosopo [the confessed perpetrator of the hoax] on the line to hear his side of the story. Nor did it get Te’o or his father or Notre Dame. It also wrote a media story without consulting all the various media outlets that fell for the hoax.” Beyond reporting on the hoax itself, Deadspin also included quotes from an unnamed source in its original story that strongly implied Te’o's own involvement in the ruse.

Since the story broke, both Te’o and Tuiasosopo have come forward and said that Te’o had absolutely nothing to do with the hoax.

In light of comments that have been made by Deadspin Editor-In-Chief Tommy Craggs about established news outlets such as The Boston Globe (calling the paper “a craven, slipshod outfit”) and ESPN (calling the network “a terrible company full of craven morons”), does Deadspin have standing to level such criticism given its own standards of journalism?

The National Sports Journalism Center sought answers about Deadspin‘s reporting on the Te’o story from Craggs, who edited and made the decision to publish it last month.

 

Q: What was the first indication that there was a real story here? Reporter Timothy Burke said that Deadspin received an anonymous email stating that there was “something fishy” about the Te’o girlfriend story. How did things progress from that email to a decision to pursue the story?

A: We got a tip around 4:30 p.m., Jan. 11. That was a Friday, five days before our story ran. The email read in part: “I know you guys get thousands of tips that are ‘out there’ or crazy. This is one that should really be looked into. I was born and raised a Laie Boy on the North Shore of Oahu. While Manti Te’o is a loved native son here in Hawaii he is also a fraud. The story about his girlfriend dying is completely made up. It is a case of the media simply being too sensitive and shocked to actually look into it.”

By that evening, we’d dropped a plumb line into the hole at the center of the dead-girlfriend story. We’d done a ton of googling and some quiet, on-little-cat-feet reporting (we didn’t want to alert anyone, hoaxers and media alike, that we were on the case), and we knew enough to know we had something–we weren’t sure what it was yet.

 

Q: Ed Sherman wrote the following about a quote toward the end of the Deadspin story on the Te’o girlfriend hoax: “If I’m the editor, I don’t let that quote go through. Who was this friend of Tuiasosopo? Was this person also involved? Friends have a tendency to talk out of school. Maybe this person exaggerated the quote just to be part of the story?” and “So now you’re running an incredibly damning quote from a single source who likely doesn’t know the complete story. 80 percent sure is long way from 100 percent sure in this instance.”

How do you respond to that? What’s the rationale behind adding that friend’s opinion in the piece at all? In light of ESPN’s report that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted to the hoax and that Te’o was not involved in it, does the quote in the Deadspin story accomplish anything other than leading the reader to believe that Te’o was somehow involved?

A: This is a concern troll’s complaint. It’s moronic. That’s a quote from a source who knew both the hoax and hoaxer better than anyone we’d spoken with. It contains its own grain of salt. Eighty percent is not 100 percent: congratulations, Ed Sherman, you can understand the basic English words and number concepts that went into the quote. Yet 80 percent is nevertheless “incredibly damning.”

There are 2,000 words of context preceding that quote, context that was perfectly understood by everyone who read the story except committed Notre Dame truthers and certain willfully dense journalists who were determined to remind people that Deadspin isn’t real journalism. When the story broke, almost none of the people who gleefully jumped on Manti Te’o pulled out that quote to make the case. Only retroactively did people decide this had been the prosecutorial pivot of the piece
.

Here’s what we knew at the time we wrote the story:

1. Manti Te’o's dead girlfriend was a hoax.

2. Manti Te’o had told lies about his dead girlfriend to help create the published stories about his dead girlfriend.

The evidence supported–and, frankly, still supports–a degree of skepticism about the Manti-as-duped-romantic story. We wanted to relay our source’s belief and be transparent about his uncertainty. There is nothing outrageous about that. A newspaper would’ve written it up as “a source strongly believes etc.,” and no one would’ve said [anything]. (Take the fourth graf here, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/sports/football/super-bowl-jerome-bogers-probable-pick-as-referee-is-questioned.html?hp&_r=0&pagewanted=all)

Again, I know why that criticism is being leveled. It’s not an epistemological issue, even though it’s being couched smarmily as one. It’s just a way of saying, “Don’t forget–Deadspin is still scurrilous crap.” If it hadn’t been the 80 percent quote, it would’ve been something else. (I’ve seen a handful [of] journalists bitching that we didn’t give Manti or Notre Dame enough time to respond, which is ridiculous given both the observer effect of reporting a story like this and the fact that both Notre Dame and Manti were prepared to go public with the story.)

 

Q: Deadspin then came out with another post on the same day the ESPN Outside the Lines report on Tuiasosopo’s confession came out, naming the “80 percent sure” source (Vaosa) and continuing to use the quote under a headline that included the phrase: “Was Te’o Involved? Evidence Varies.”

Again, what is the rationale for continuing to use Vaosa when doing so could arguably suggest that Te’o was involved, before all of the relevant information, including Te’o’s own testimony regarding the matter, had come out? (In his interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, airing after the above-mentioned Deadspin post was published, Te’o denies being involved in the hoax)

A: We weren’t just using Vaosa. We were also using Te’o's own comments about his girlfriend (and those of his father), and our own judgment that Te’o's new account wasn’t squaring with everything else we’d learned to that point. (And for the record, we mentioned that quote again to point out that the same person who led Shelley Smith to the source to whom Ronaiah had confessed–and supposedly absolved Manti–was the same person who had expressed doubts to us about Manti’s innocence. That seemed relevant.)

In any case, we saw no reason not to remain skeptical of a guy who had just copped to “tailoring” the story of the dead love of his life to the same media through which he was now asserting his innocence in heavily brokered interviews.

 

Q: Tom Scocca told The Washington Post: “Craggs kept popping up out of his chair and pacing, asking, ‘Is there any way we could have gotten this wrong?’ Then he would sit down again and then pop up again.” The author of the WP blog post wrote: “Deadspin never got Tuiasosopo on the line to hear his side of the story. Nor did it get Te’o or his father or Notre Dame. It also wrote a media story without consulting all the various media outlets that fell for the hoax. Why would it publish without those critical components? Competition.”

Does competition justify publishing the story without, as the blogger writes, “those critical components”? Couldn’t the story run even after such a press conference took place or “friendly” story was published, once those important components had been added to ensure accuracy?

Based on what Scocca said about your concern over whether you might’ve “gotten this wrong,” it’s clear that you felt there was some risk involved with publishing the story when you did. What is Deadspin’s policy on how certain it has to be before publishing a story? Is it 80 percent, like the quote from the friend cited in the last question? If the policy is that something less than 100% certainty is acceptable in some cases, how is that determined?

What if it turns out that some or all of the information in a story is incorrect? Does Deadspin have a correction policy? There doesn’t appear to be one posted on the site if there is. If one exists, what is it and where is it displayed?

A: [OK, this is Scocca, to address this particular point: This idea that the anecdote about Craggs pacing and fretting represents some sign that we knew we were running with a shaky story--this is utter crap. I knew Wemple was smart enough to understand what I was talking about, but I hadn't imagined how stupid some of his readers and the right-thinking press people would turn out to be.

I'm going to use really [...] small words here. The story was solid. But it said that a lot of other stories had been wrong. Everyone wrote that this girlfriend was real. We knew she wasn’t. This is a weird situat–this is a weird thing. A weird place to be. Telling everyone they’re wrong!

Maybe someday, if the people who complained about this anecdote work hard, they will do the same thing. They will write a story that tells people that something they believe in is really not true. It feels freaky. How could all those people be wrong? If they are not crazy, they will wonder if they somehow, somehow got it wrong, even if they are sure from all the facts that they are right. This is what was going on. Tommy Craggs knew that the facts were right. But like any normal person, he found it strange that the true facts were the opposite of the facts that other people had written. So until someone else said,
yes, you are right, and everyone else is wrong, he worried. Luckily our story was so right, it did not take long for someone to say that.]

(Craggs:) We did what we could to get those “critical components,” but we weren’t betting our shirts that Notre Dame or anyone from the Te’o camp would to talk to us. It’s fun to imagine some frictionless plane of journalism where potentially hostile sources return phone calls and grudgingly fill in all the blanks out of some sense of duty to the truth, but that’s now what we were working with. If we’d sat on the story for a day, maybe even hours, I have no doubt we would’ve been scooped by the story’s own principals, to say nothing of ESPN.

You’re misreading a native and natural anxiety over a big story as doubts about its veracity. We were reporting that the whole world had gotten something very wrong. If you don’t feel the least bit nervous after hitting the publish button on a story like that, you’re a better man than I.

Our corrections policy is to correct our mistakes. Is that a good enough answer? I get the sense from these questions that you’re trying to measure the distance between what we do and what Responsible Journalists do. So I’ll help: Is our bar for publishing lower than, say, The New York Times‘s? Of course. Have we published stories that lacked perfect, according-to-Hoyle sourcing? Yes. We’re a tabloid at heart. You ask if we have a policy. There is no policy for this, or for anything, really. The whole point of the company is that we trust our reporters to be smart and judicious without having to adopt the ethical pretense that what they’re doing is anything but a sort of professionalized rudeness. I’ll get killed for this, but: Journalism ethics is nothing more than a measure of the scurrilousness your brand will bear. That’s it. Ethics has nothing to do with the truth of things, only with the proper etiquette for obtaining it, so as to piss off the fewest number of people possible. That works fine for a lot of news outlets; we don’t have to worry about niceties.

 

Q: USA Today reported on the challenges facing sports journalists (and journalists in general) in this ever-changing digital age, in the wake of the Te’o controversy: “new questions are arising about the media’s obligation to fact-check details even amid tighter deadlines, shrinking newsroom staffs and the ceaseless chatter blaring across social media.”

Social media seems to be a significant source for Deadspin’s content. Has the Te’o situation made you look at Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms differently in terms of utilizing them for reporting purposes when this hoax has exposed just how deceptive information disseminated over social media can be?

A: That’s how we’ve always treated Twitter and Facebook. What the story showed me, at least, was the importance of both knowing all the resources at your disposal–Tim Burke found the woman in the “Lennay Kekua” photos via a series of reverse/related image searches–and being clever and tireless about using them.

 

Q: You said in your interview with Poynter that you “have less sympathy for the folks who crafted those painstaking ‘Love Story’-in-cleats feature stories about Manti and his dead girlfriend. Those were dumb, infantilizing stories to begin with, and they were executed poorly and sloppily, and if there’s any lesson to be drawn from this, it’s that this kind of simpering crap should be eliminated from the sports pages entirely.”

Given the inherent inconsistency between publishing a story with concern over its accuracy after-the-fact, as Scocca talked about with the WP, and criticizing other media outlets for “not getting it right,” how would you respond to the argument that what Deadspin has done with its reporting of a story without consulting all of the involved parties is just as bad as the “painstaking” efforts you mention above?

Also, do you mean that poorly executed and sloppy versions of such human-interest sports stories should not be published, or that human-interest stories of any kind about athletes don’t belong in sports media?

A: I think I’ve answered the first part of your question, about our “concern over .. accuracy after-the fact,” which, again, is based on a misreading that makes my eyes roll into the back of my head and out the other side.

I’ll address the latter question: The Te’o myth was stupid to begin with and premised on the misbegotten and fundamentally patronizing notion that a football player lifted himself nobly to athletic greatness on the coffins of his dead girlfriend and grandmother. Is that a “human interest” story? I dunno. Is there anything human about reducing the complexities of a half-known situation to an old story trope that was tired and worn-out long before the last reel of Knute Rockne, All American?

What’s so human about treating the tragic death of a young woman as a modular piece of the formula, to be used and set aside–on the one hand, she’s dead; on the other hand, he got two interceptions!

 

Q: The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride described Deadspin as “a website that has broken some high-profile stories but not an outlet regarded for journalistic standards.” In response, you told Poynter: “Whatever. Why should I care what a craven, slipshod outfit like the Boston Globe thinks of my ‘journalistic standards’?”

Apart from being indifferent to what someone at The Globe thinks about Deadspin’s journalistic standards, how do you respond to that statement? How would you characterize your journalistic standards? Some would argue that headlines such as “Lance Armstrong’s Biggest Crime was Being a Huge A–hole,” and posting and responding to reader comments/questions such as “I want to film myself having sex with my wife without her knowing,” characterize poor or nonexistent journalistic standards. How do you respond?

A: I think I’ve answered this. Two things, though: What the hell does using the word “asshole” have to do with journalistic standards? You’re conflating decorum with reporting. And it’s literally half a century since those particular standards of decorum were generally applicable. As for the reader questions–in addition to its various advice columns, sometimes addressing sex questions, the Boston Globe runs a daily “Astrological Forecast” column, complete with lucky numbers for your birthday. Fraudulent, superstitious garbage. Does that mean they have nonexistent journalistic standards? No, the soft sections are the soft sections. Using them to characterize a whole publication betrays a basic ignorance of the industry.

 

Q: With respect to the reporting on the Te’o situation, Deadspin’ s post “ESPN Reports Ronaiah Tuisosopo [sic] Confessed to Te’o Hoax in December. Was Te’o Involved? Evidence Varies” includes a reader comment at the bottom that reads:

“Look at these f—ing Samoans, with the stripes on their face. They look so sweet, but they lie and now they’re boxed in. I wish they’d take their coconut and go elsewhere. Eh, f— it. Give me three of them plus two Thin Mints.”

This is just one of several comments laced with profanities or racial epithets appearing on Deadspin’s site. Does Deadspin have a policy on the detection and removal of offensive reader comments? If so, what is that policy and where is it displayed?

A: You’re really obsessed with policies, aren’t you? We moderate our comments to the best of our abilities. The commenting system is designed to float the best responses to the top. Bad comments get buried (and occasionally deleted outright).  

The comment you cited above does not contain a “racial epithet,” by the way. It’s a joke about Girl Scout cookies. Are there any actual racial epithets you’d like to bring to our attention?

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80 Responses to “Journalistic standards in reporting of the Te’o hoax: Q&A with Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs”


  1. Mike Jaskowiak says:

    The last question is a joke, right? Did this interviewer really think that the comment in question was racist in nature?

    • Manny Randhawa says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mike. While it may have been a joke, I do believe the comment could be perceived as racist. And that’s the point behind the question: what is Deadspin’s policy on removing reader comments that may be offensive to other readers?

      In this case, just because the individual who made the comment in question referenced girl scout cookies, doesn’t automatically make the comment benign. The comment is referring to “Samoans” – whether as cookies or not – in response to an article about a Samoan athlete. The comment then includes the phrase “they lie” (which sounds like a reference to Te’o lying about his fake girlfriend), and the phrase “now they’re boxed in,” which implies that Te’o is somehow guilty of a fraudulent scheme.

      Bottom line: any reasonable person could take the comment to be referring to Manti Te’o by his ethnicity and then implying that he is a liar and now trapped in a web of his own lies.

  2. anonymous says:

    The author seemed to take an adversarial and accusatory posture in this interview, as though Randhawa had an ax to grind with Deadspin and the site’s reporting practices. Perhaps Randhawa’s position as correspondent for Bleacher Report – a site with its own questionable journalistic standards, and a frequent target of Deadspin’s ire for its SEO-generated content – tainted his objectivity?

    • Manny Randhawa says:

      I don’t have any sort of B/R-related bias against Deadspin. I just asked questions that I felt were important and to my knowledge hadn’t been asked yet, about a story that has huge implications for sports journalism.

  3. A.J. says:

    This was embarrassing. The interviewer worded his questions with such snark, he was asking to get slapped around by Craggs.

    • Manny Randhawa says:

      Wasn’t trying to be “snark”y, just trying to ask important questions about how Deadspin handled the Te’o story that, to my knowledge, hadn’t been asked yet. I tried to ensure that the questions were respectful and I appreciate the time that went into the responses.

  4. RMJ=H says:

    Actually, “laced with profanity” is my favorite Girl Scout cookie.

  5. Miserable Shitehawk says:

    Jesus, Tommy. You really are the best.

  6. Scott says:

    Everything Craggs says makes plenty of sense. Most of these questions are incredibly asinine. Picking out a single comment from a reader (twice!) as an attempt to paint the entire website in a bad light? Lol, come on.

  7. brian c says:

    That girl scout cookie comment was the best comment in the history of the comments section. As a samoan, when I first started reading it I felt myself getting worked up, thinking “her we go with the generalizations”… Then I read on and it was OBVIOUS it was referring to girl scout cookies and I couldn’t stop laughing. I immediately posted it to my facebook wall. Very clever. For these clowns to bring it up negatively, obviously they have no sense of humor.

  8. bringbackstandards says:

    Scott you think Craggs makes sense and you don’t understand why that reader’s comment could be perceived as racist? WTF? That makes me question the content of your own speech. Furthermore,you must not believe in the validity of ethics and the truth. Craggs admits he didn’t even attempt to confirm the truth of his reporting with actual people and he just googled stuff. The worst part about this is that he doesn’t have to because people like you just accept what he says at face value. He is a trashy tabloid writer trying to claim he is better than real journalists. Why would you chose to believe anything he says? Because he is crass? That is what makes you a follower? I hope one day you find yourself in a situation where someone like Craggs tries to apply his version of the “truth” to you and you will feel the full effect of how s***ty that is.

  9. Andrew G. says:

    Scott,
    To be fair, Gawker sites do that sort of thing all the time — they’ll take a handful of Twitter posts of people talking or complaining about something, then make a whole post out of it.

  10. Hiroux says:

    I thought Manny Randhawa was doing a decent job framing questions until I got to the last two and he went completely off the rails. He really needs to consider deleting the last two questions, they go a long way to undermining the entire piece, not to mention make him look completely ignorant of the reality of the media, journalism and the internet.

  11. Eric says:

    This whole interview reeks of “Old School vs. New School.” The fact is Deadspin got the story out before “traditional” media outlets, period. If they want to be irreverent in the process, let them. Half of the world gets their news from Twitter and Facebook now anyway.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      Not ‘Old School.’ Timeless.
      Please consider our role in all this. We are part of an academic institution. Think Switzerland with a better basketball team (last night aside.)
      Our role in this exercise was to ask questions, not take sides.
      Here’s what I have told students so many times they might hear the words in their sleep: It’s your name. The platform doesn’t matter. The length doesn’t matter. Institutional style does not matter. It could be 139 characters or 3,000 words. The reliability of your work, the precision involved in the reporting, all of that is attached to your name. So to us, the details behind the making of a high-profile story are important. That’s why we asked.

  12. E says:

    Who knew commenters could be so damning for an entire website. I guess that explains a lot for ESPN. Or, every major organization that allows comments.

  13. Scent of Nick Denton says:

    Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Never mind the Manti story. You have such talent. You still have such promise. When will you finally use your powers for good–or at least topics of greater relevance? Yes, sports can seem important, never more so than in our frothing digital age. But your conscience knows better. Get out of your gilded GM cage and go be a real journalist. Make a real contribution. Use words like “epistemological” in stories that matter. Very few in this business have your skills. Stop wasting them.

    Sincerely,

    Nick

  14. mike says:

    thank you for convincing me that deadspin can and will do a much better job than the “traditional” media would at breaking and reporting stories such as this one. and thanks deadpsin for absolutely getting this story right. finally, tommy, keep up the tremendous work.

  15. AD says:

    The author sounds like a 2013 version of Will Leitch-era Buzz Bisinger who also writes for Bleacher Report.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I did watch that program, and I can assure you that we did not delete any inappropriate words from the questions.
      I’ll cite my source and thank Tommy for the observation: I believe you’re conflating decorum with reporting.

  16. Joe Atzberger says:

    I don’t know much about IUPUI’s Sports Journalism Center, but they come out of their own interview here looking repetitive, overly formal in an outdated way, and a bit envious… in general, not too sharp.

    Deadspin’s story revealed more about the workings of contemporary sports journalism than anything I’ve seen in years. I don’t care particularly much that a young amateur athlete far from home fabricates parts of their persona under a new national media spotlight. This is *entirely* predictable. I care that the media signed on and became complicit in establishing that fabrication. For months, self-servingly, lazily, repeatedly!

    The model obviously has been that “once a ‘reputable journalistic organization’ has reported something, we are allowed to take it as true” and Deadspin’s story has circumvented the imprimatur of such an organization. But asking them to defend their reputability has the relationship reversed. They are the ones with standing on this issue.

    You should be asking them how these other organizations could have protected *their* reputability in debunking the fake girlfriend’s fake death. How does independence from geography (and therefore local loyalties) affect Deadspin’s willingness to upset people? How is decision making at a hometown paper different? (Which of these business models, objectively speaking, is viable over the next 15 years?) Do they think Deadspin’s position as a web-presence increase the likelihood of getting good leads like this one (in particular from younger readers)? Do young readers even regard the Boston Globe’s Sports pages as “more authoritative” than Deadspin? ETC.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      There was no attempt on our part to suggest that Deadspin circumvented anything. As for the issue of self-serving, lazy journalism, I can offer this: I worked for a number of publications for 32 years. I never felt the need to ask someone for a death certificate. Clearly, that has changed.
      The circumstances that make this scenario significant, including issues surrounding the coverage, required certain questions to be asked.
      We appreciate the fact that there were lengthy responses. It would be a mistake to assume that we endorse the criticism cited in some of those questions.

  17. Felix Jones says:

    Manny, apply at ESPN now. You’ll have a wonderful and lucrative career. No brain required.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      Having worked with Manny, I would encourage him to apply to a number of places. And I would agree with your next-to-last observation.

  18. Mike says:

    Craggs owns. Dear God he’s the best. Please write more, Tommy.

  19. yogismo says:

    Well done, Tommy. Keep up the good work.

  20. John says:

    Yeah I dont understand the questions asked. Repeating the same question and expecting a different answer was an incredible waste of time. Manny, were your bosses happy with this “interview”?

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I can handle that. I’m not a boss, but I am the Director of the National Sports Journalism Center. I appreciate the fact that Tommy Craggs was generous with his time, and Manny’s informed questions helped produce a conversation that seems to have generated some interest. So, yes.

  21. Jay says:

    Picking out the worst comments made in response to a blog post to criticize the article itself seemed a bit unfairt. Then I googled “Manny Randhawa” and realized he is a self-titled “Correspondent for Bleacher Report.” It all makes sense now. Nobody has higher journalistic standards than the Bleacher Report.

    See: http://bleacherreport.com/users/514380-manny-randhawa

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I realize that there’s nothing quite as much fun as a good conspiracy theory, but this one does not apply. This was a high-profile story that debunked a myth. To its credit, Deadspin had it alone. There were questions to be asked about how it took shape. There was no editorial comment on our part. Asking for a response based on criticism that appeared elsewhere is not unfair. It’s just like reporting: If the person does not want to respond, he or she does not have to respond.

  22. Eman Laerton says:


    What the hell does using the word “asshole” have to do with journalistic standards? You’re conflating decorum with reporting.

    Bravo.

  23. Luuc Robitaille says:

    But what would Costas do?

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I’d love to have him here to find out. He spoke at Penn State when I was there in the fall of 2006 and was outstanding.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I love that nowhere in this hand-wringing interview is it disclosed that Randhawa works for one of Deadspin’s competitors. That’s good hustle IUPUI!

    • Manny Randhawa says:

      Thanks for the comment. While I have written in the past for Bleacher Report (my last article was Sept. 8, 2012), I am not now and never have been on their payroll. B/R allows writers mass exposure through search engine optimization, which enabled me to get my work out there before I started grad school at the NSJC, but I never received any financial compensation for any work.

      I never had any editorial authority with B/R, just utilized the platform to get my feet wet in sports writing as I’m sure many of the thousands of other B/R contributors have.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Memo to Malcolm Moran, Word-King of Real Journalism: You need to approve the comments of whoever you are arguing with. Otherwise you look rather schizophrenic to the rest of us.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      Thanks for the title, but it’s too big for my business card.
      There are more than a few comments, and I am taking time to think about a response, if appropriate, to each one. Thanks for your patience.

  26. Glenn Hoddle says:

    Malcolm: You’re being intentionally difficult if you claim that you can’t see the joke in the last question.

  27. Ryan says:

    another pillar of journalism (however idealistic) is objectivity…or at least a best effort to be objective. your questions were not even in the same neighborhood as objective. the headline suggests an objective foray into journalistic standards, but really all it is is a recitation of the many shots that journalists have taken against deadspin.com. it was pretty clear where the author stood.

    it is not wise to throw deadspin.com under the bus for what it did or did not do. i read lawsuits all the time involving some of the most upstanding news outlets in the country, from Associated Press to New York Times, getting sued over doing something unscrupulous. i’m not saying what deadspin.com does is perfect or supporting it, but we should keep a bit of context in mind here: the modern journalism industry often rewards unscrupulous behavior. in the grand scheme of things, what deadspin.com did in this instance certainly did not seem so bad, given the context. regardless of what i think of deadspin.com, they broke a huge story, and now they are essentially being headhunted.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I can assure you that this was not an attempt to throw Deadspin under any bus. As I have said in earlier replies, this was an attempt to gain additional information and insight about an important, high-profile story that generated considerable discussion in the industry. Questions with references to those discussions, particularly critical ones, should not be interpreted as an endorsement of those views. We also do not endorse the criticisms leveled by Deadspin against other outlets. We were just asking.
      As a former reporter and Professor of News Media Ethics, the issue of rewarding unscrupulous behavior goes back at least as far as the early 20th Century, when newspapers would find ways, for example, to sneak photographers into executions. Our purpose was not to pass judgment on what is good or bad. We have platforms for writers to offer opinions on our site, and this was not one of them.

  28. Sgt. H says:

    Please tell me you’re kidding.

  29. AD says:

    Nope. Just talking about decorum.

  30. Mangini In A Bottle says:

    “E says:
    February 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm
    Who knew commenters could be so damning for an entire website. I guess that explains a lot for ESPN. Or, every major organization that allows comments.”

    “Malcolm Moran says:
    February 27, 2013 at 3:52 pm
    As long as they are not abusive, we welcome comments. That’s why we’re here.”

    …and WOOOSH! went the joke over Mr. Moran’s head.

  31. JokesandjokesandjokesSpaghetti says:

    Do you know how jokes work?

  32. Mick says:

    Mr. Moran,

    At one point in the comments, you say, “I worked for a number of publications for 32 years. I never felt the need to ask someone for a death certificate. Clearly, that has changed.”

    What has changed? If you read the stories where Thamel and Wojciechowski disclosed what they knew about Kekua before publishing, both reporters admit to discovering multiple red flags. Neither followed up on the complete absence of any corroboration of Kekua’s death. (A gorgeous Stanford dating a ND star dies tragically, and there is no obit, no news story on the crash, and no indication that she attended Stanford). They didn’t need a death certificate, but they needed something to indicate that Te’o wasn’t completely fabricating the truth. How is that different from when you worked as a reporter?

    Have things changed in that we should expect more critical thought from sports journalists before they report uncorroborated statements as fact? (That seems like a criticism that could be leveled at all areas of journalism.)

    Later in the comments, you say, “the issue of rewarding unscrupulous behavior goes back at least as far as the early 20th Century. . . .” Are you referring to rewarding the behavior of journalists or their subjects? Does this contradict your statement that things have changed?

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      First, it has not been established that he was fabricating the truth at that point. That aspect of Deadspin’s reporting remains in question.
      What has changed is that the level of distrust has reached the point that a reporter would feel compelled to require that type of documentation.
      We should always expect more critical thought from all journalists. The absence of that type of critical thought, for too many years, is what held back many sports sections when they were considered the toy department rather than a source of smart, aggressive, independent reporting.
      As far as the historical reference, I was referring to the behavior — or misbehavior — of journalists during that era. That was a different industry in another world, decades before codes of ethics were conceived, much less implemented. That does not contradict the statement.

  33. Benjamin Solow says:

    Malcolm, you’re joking, right? The whole point of the joke is to get people like you all worked up about the poster being racist when you just made an assumption about the content of the joke rather than actually reading it closely enough to get it.

    And surely you don’t actually believe, as you wrote in a later comment, that the Boston Globe has more credibility these days than Deadspin. Have you ever read Dan Shaughnessy? Outside of Murray Chass, a more shameful sportswriter may not exist. It’s especially disappointing in context of how phenomenal the Globe’s coverage was in the 1970s. Alan Siegel just had a long piece about the decline of traditional Boston sports media, and the Globe sports pages in particular, in Boston Magazine.

  34. Raysism says:

    I wrote the joke at issue, and I take great offense at everything said here by Messrs. Randhawa and Moran. No reasonable person could be “offended” or “perceive it as racist”, unless you’re the kind of person who is offended by Jay Leno jokes, which makes you unreasonable by definition.

    The simple fact is that Mr. Randhawa’s last question to Mr. Craggs evidences that he did not get the joke. Period. To act now that my comment was something other than your garden-variety SNL/Letterman/Conan-type joke is silly, and frankly makes you look even more out of touch with modern sensibilities.

    And while I’m not a journalism professor at Indiana University and/or Purdue University, I do have fancy degrees from fancier institutions where I was taught the power and art of the written word, and continue to get paid to write and persuade. I chose every word in that comment very carefully, and stand by it.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      And I will repeat that the issue is not the attempt at humor. The issue was an attempt to clarify an organizational decision to post a clearly offensive reference that preceded the joke.
      Perhaps the core of the disconnect here is the definition of “modern sensibilities.”

  35. Bearleigh says:

    I hate sports (well, except a little baseball) and yet I love deadspin. I feel like they’ve reinvented the Sportswriter, cap S, for a new generation. In many ways theyve caused me to be even mildly engaged with sports… They haven’t got that musty-jock macho swagger/AstroTurf romantic voice, nor the StatisticRobot3000 thing, that apparently every mainstream sports journo assimilates with his Gatorade.

    So, I’m basically an outsider and don’t get why deadspin is considered such a scurrilous tabloid or whatever. In fact they did one good and sensitive reporting on the penn state thing too.

    While all so called traditional or mainstream media seem to be asking these sorts of questions about th upstarts, I wonder if the upstart new media aren’t particularly galling to the clubbish in group that’s been sports journos for a half century or more. I get the feeling it’s an industry so comforted by its own jargon and mantras (and hence incomprehensible to people like me, turning us off the whole sports thing in visceral disgust), so ossified, that it might be more surprised and outraged by this new threat.

    After all, I imagine the sportswriters have been pretty smug at their dailies these past ten years, at least more so than their colleagues. It was one of the last remaining safe spots in traditional journalism. Ism. ;)

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      One of the most important developments in the industry in the past decade is the fact that the digital revolution has created opportunity and increased diversity in the business. The model you describe began to vanish nearly two decades ago. I have friends working at places you would describe as mainstream media. I also have friends who have done outstanding work at less traditional places with more room to breathe and innovate. I grew up reading tabloid publications and admiring much of the work that was done there. This interview was not about categorizing. It was about determining how a story was reported and presented.

  36. Mick says:

    “We have platforms for writers to offer opinions on our site, and this was not one of them.”

    This cracks me up. The questions include a number of opinions and conclusions, many of which are unsupported.

    To wit:
    “Again, what is the rationale for continuing to use Vaosa when doing so could arguably suggest that Te’o was involved, before all of the relevant information, including Te’o’s own testimony regarding the matter, had come out? (In his interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, airing after the above-mentioned Deadspin post was published, Te’o denies being involved in the hoax)”

    The question suggests that (1) Vaosa is an unreliable source; (2) that all of the “relevant information” was revealed subsequent to the Deadspin post; (3) apparently concludes that Te’o was not involved in the hoax; (4) states that Te’o has “testified” as to his version of events; and, (5) arguably misrepresents the point of the Deadspin article in question.

    If I can paraphrase, you asked why Deadspin cited a source suggesting that Te’o was involved in the hoax. The whole point of the article was to highlight the fact that inconsistencies in the emerging narratives failed to address the evidence against Te’o, including Te’o's own statements in prior interviews.

    So what was the point of the question to Craggs, besides taking the opportunity to express an opinion. It certainly wasn’t to make Craggs answer the question.

    As for the other conclusions, I’m not aware that Te’o has ever offered testimony, at least not in the usual sense of the word. Te’o has not disclosed phone records or other evidence that might support his version of events. If anything, he seems to repeatedly contradict himself through his various public statements. And I don’t think anything has emerged to discredit Vaosa.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      The opinions were cited in the questions. The point of all the questions was to give the person in charge an opportunity to explain, in detail, how the story was developed. The credibility of anonymous sources continues to be one of the most significant issues in the industry. In my previous life as a reporter, I was involved in more than one intense conversation about the use of an anonymous source. There is a wide range of opinion involved, and this story represented a high-profile example to resume that discussion. Your suggestions, allegedly apparent conclusions and allegation of misrepresentation overlooks the basic, simple premise of the question. We were hoping to learn how the story happened and why.

  37. Vidor says:

    “But asking them to defend their reputability has the relationship reversed. They are the ones with standing on this issue.”

    Yes. This is a weird interview with a weird adversarial tone to it. Why is Deadspin being grilled and forced to defend their actions? They got the story right after everyone else got it wrong. Where are the probing questions to ESPN and Sports Illustrated and all of the other media outlets that got this story wrong? And for that matter, why is the word of Manti Te’o, a known liar, being taken as the gospel truth?

    And as far as the last question goes, casting that comment as racist is obtuse. Or willfully obtuse.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      Our questions concentrated on Deadspin because that is the outlet that had the story first. Whether the story was entirely accurate remains to be seen.
      The 80 percent issue is relevant because it identifies a standard for an organization. In my syllabus, 80 percent translates to a B-minus. If you’re Shaq at the foul line, that’s setting the bar high.
      The questions were a reflection of a discussion that was taking place in the industry. They are not to be confused with an arrival at a conclusion. We wanted to know details of how the story developed because that is what we are teaching students here.

  38. Brian says:

    Old school integrity is gone and will only be missed by the likes of Manny and Malcolm. Deadspin has commitment to informing their audience in as unedited form as possible, allowing their readers to connect the dots and form their own conclusions. The media titans all suck at the teet of corporate America, while Deadspin doesn’t sit on a story the week of the national Championship Game because they happen to be broadcasting it (like ESPN did). And as for comments… at least the ones on Deadspin are somewhat witty and intelligent. Check out some of the white trash things posted under a Tebow article on ESPN.com. The Girl Scout comment was clever, NOT RACIST.

  39. 75PC says:

    That’s hypocritical garbage. Samoan is an ethnicity, like French. If I called a French man a Frenchman, would that be racist? Of course not. He’s from *France*. Manti Te’o if from the American *Samoa*. He is a *Samoan*, and he shouldn’t need to be ashamed of that like it’s some racist epithet.

    You clearly have an agenda here. There’s nothing wrong with that, because literally everyone capable of forming an opinion and expressing it in speech or text has a bias that they push. I only wish that you possessed one that didn’t generate these kinds insufferable, patronizing, half-cocked eye-rollers.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      I have described the purpose of the exercise in the context of our role as the National Sports Journalism Center. The inappropriate nature of the comment in question was clear to me. An agenda is not necessary to reach that conclusion.

  40. DJ says:

    Is that you, Daulerio?

  41. Chaunceween says:

    What is incredible to me is that journalism is about reporting what happens. It seems now a competition has come about, even though reporting is fundamentally NOT competitive. It is not up to this publication nor ANY OTHER publication to call out another for their tactics and the decisions they make. The court of public opinion can and always will make known their thoughts without needing a lead in. Throwing stones at each other–regardless of how “timeless” you may think your publication may be–only minimizes that importance of your words.

    And while I’m on it, referring to the “old school” and “timeless” way of journalism is increasingly damning. Attempting to justify your processes by qualifying yourselves by the success of your predecessors is ridiculous.

    At the very least, we can agree that journalists are all on a similar playing field–following deadlines and reporting the news as they see it. It’s up to each “pillar” to report it as best they can. The last thing they should worry about is what the others are doing.

    • Malcolm Moran says:

      Your last observation is particularly significant. If you were to analyze case studies of reporting that led to people losing their jobs, the two factors contributing to unfortunate decisions are time and competition.

  42. The Blade says:

    To Mike Jaskowiak: You don’t think that “Look at those [bleeping] Samoans” is racist. If Te’o's name was “Kowalski” and someone said, “Look at those [bleeping] polacks,” would you think it was racist then?

  43. AW says:

    Why did you censor my comment? What kind of banana republic operation are you running over there at IU?

  44. Raysism says:

    And what was the offensive reference? You keep talking about racism and offensiveness, but you have yet to show where in that joke is a racist (or potentially racist) statement. “Samoan” is like saying “American”, and the rest was clearly a typical misdirection humor.

    We all know that this was a joke, and that no offense should be taken. The fact that you can’t acknowledge that this was a very silly question on the interviewer’s part is baffling. You’re defending a flat earth at this point.

  45. AW says:

    My comments didn’t show up before I asked this question. Why would I have to say something before I could voice an opinion? Who else was censored? Is there somewhere I can read all of the suppressed comments?Something bothers me about the way you’re cherry-picking comments. Do you have a policy about moderating comments?

  46. AW says:

    Malcolm, you say, “I reread the [comment containing an alleged racial epithet]. There was more than a joke involved. It was offensive. The question was legitimate.”

    Can you elaborate on this? I’m as confused as Raysism above.

  47. AW says:

    Malcolm, I understand that you’re trying to defend the honor of Indiana University in this comment section but it appears that you think the only way to do that, in the wake of this calamity of an interview, is to try to defame Deadspin. When you say, “I would suggest that the Washington Post and Boston Globe, among other outlets, have a little more credibility [than Deadspin]” can you provide examples of times when you think Deadspin lost their credibility? That’s a powerful assertion to make without evidence.

  48. AW says:

    You blocked me on Twitter because I asked you about your comments here? What’s your problem with intellectual discussion, Malcolm?

    You said, ” I’d appreciate it if inquiries were directed at the proper place. There’s a website for that.” when you blocked me. Well, here I am in your forum.

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