When I used to have a real job, I hated Mondays. Now, I love them. Apart from the surge in traffic we experience (resulting from all the people who have real jobs and who consequently hate Mondays), the first day of the work week often brings all sorts of unpredictable developments.
This Monday was no different.
I was sitting here at the PFT nerve center, the dual-screen computer hookup pumping even more radiation into the various organs residing above my neck. When at the wheel of this online Orca, I usually keep an IM conversation open with Rosenthal and MDS, so that we don’t write the same story twice. (Even then, it’s roughly as effective as the rhythm method.)
At 12:18 p.m. ET, MDS asked via IM, “Did you see Mike of Washington Post says Roethlisberger will get five games?” MDS included the link to a tweet from Wise, a presumably tenured and respected member of the journalism community: “Roethlisberger will get five games, I’m told.”
Currently, Roethlisberger has been suspended for six games. Everyone expects that the penalty will be reduced to four games. There was nothing controversial or outlandish about Wise’s claim; sure, he doesn’t cover the Steelers and he typically confines his reporting and analysis to the teams in D.C. But as we learned eight days ago, even a guy in a one-city niche can try to inject himself into the broader stream, like Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News did when reporting that the Jets and cornerback Darrelle Revis would come to terms on a new deal in a matter of days.
So we went with it, labeling it as a “report” and identifying Mike Wise as the source of it.
After posting the story, we began to hear from readers that Wise was claiming that the whole thing was a hoax. MDS later provided an updated link to Wise’s Twitter page, which had multiple more recent entries after “Roethlisberger will get five games, I’m told.”
So we updated our original story. At the time, it wasn’t clear why Wise chose to intentionally put out false information. I then remembered that he has a radio show, and so I dialed it up in order to listen to what he had to say.
During his show on 106.7 the Fan in D.C., Wise admitted that he fabricated the report in order to prove that “anybody will print anything.”
Think about that for a second. To prove that “anybody will print anything,” a guy who supposedly is a journalist made something up and published it for general consumption.
In this era of aggregation, it’s common for websites and blogs to rely on reports from journalists who are (or, in Wise’s case, were) regarded as reliable. We provide a one-stop shop for NFL news, rumors, and information; if Adam Schefter reports something interesting, we post a blurb and give him credit. Ditto for Jay Glazer, Peter King, and any other national or local reporter. It’s one of the main reasons why we’ll have nearly 40 million page views this month, and perhaps 50 million or more in September.
Our decision to post Wise’s odd but nevertheless interesting report on Roethlisberger was no different than our decision to post Cowlishaw’s odd but nevertheless interesting (and, ultimately, inaccurate) report regarding Revis. How is it, then, that we were wrong for passing along a report from a guy whom we reasonably assumed to at least be trying to get it right?
And that’s the fundamental difference here. Everyone in this business is wrong at some point. The greater the volume of content (and we have 50 or more posts per day), the greater the chance for errors. Still, everyone in this business aspires in every instance to be right.
Or so we thought.
On Monday, Wise turned that concept on its head, deliberate lying about a superficially plausible report and then wagging a finger at those who were stupid enough to believe that he wasn’t committing the kind of infraction for which many journalists have lost their jobs.
When confronted with the fact that his experiment with a magnifying glass, a pile of dry grass, and sunlight had started a forest fire, Wise fudged the facts to fit his claim that he quickly revealed that he was just trying to punk guys like Schefter and me. But Wise’s on-air explanation of his tweets doesn’t mesh with his timeline.
He first claimed that he instantly posted another message making it clear that the Roethlisberger report was phony. Then, he tried to explain that there was a delay in the Twitter site, and that the tweet that should have put us all on notice that Wise was full of crap came roughly 15 minutes later.
The truth is that Wise’s Twitter page didn’t reveal the truth for more than an hour after the first message was posted, which may as well be a week when the incorrect story hits the web during business hours on a Monday.
So who looks like the fool here? Wise for committing the journalistic equivalent of shouting “forest fire” in a crowded theater, or those of us (Miami Herald and Baltimore Sun and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review included) who opted to give his report the attention and the benefit of the doubt that none of Wise’s reports will ever get from PFT again, no matter what he reports?
When discussing the situation on the air, Wise at one point said that he did it to prove that I’m a fraud. So . . . in an effort to expose me as a fraud, he did something fraudulent.
Mike, who’s the real fraud here?