The #DeflateGate debacle instantly transformed from a strange curiosity into a full-blown controversy the moment Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were 2.0 pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. Mortensen has never address or explained the story publicly.
On Friday morning, he will. During a 7:45 a.m. ET appearance on WEEI radio in Boston.
The theory, as echoed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Wednesday, is that the NFL deliberately leaked false information to Mortensen. At a minimum, the NFL failed to dispute or to correct the erroneous report, with the Patriots not knowing the true reading until late March and the rest of us not knowing the truth until the release of the Ted Wells report in May.
The impact of the false report cannot be understated. The information caused many to assume that tampering with the footballs had occurred. The only remaining unknowns were the identity of the deflator (maybe it was “the Deflator”) and those who knew about it.
The information also put the Patriots on their heels at a critical stage of the investigation. Tom Brady’s awkward press conference only two days later was likely extra awkward because he believed, as did everyone else, that someone put a needle in those balls and released two pounds of air pressure. Brady likely continued to be under that false impression until late March, infecting everything he did (including his interview with Ted Wells) with a vague sense that someone was guilty of something.
If the real PSI numbers had been leaked (or released after the false leak), the Patriots could have shouted down any suggestion of tampering by explaining that the numbers fall within the range expected by the Ideal Gas Law — and by pointing out that the league’s shoddy procedures for calibrating footballs prior to kickoff of a conference title game included using a pair of gauges that differed by nearly a half of a pound. The strange curiosity would have quickly become a forgotten footnote to a blowout win.
Making the league’s failure to respond to Mortensen’s report becomes even more glaring in light of the fact that the NFL has not hesitated to correct other information with which it disagrees, including for example the claim from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Brady had only four hours to present his case on appeal.
Speaking of Schefter, he appeared earlier today on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show, and he addressed the criticism of Mortensen’s 11-of-12 footballs report.
“First of all, I’ve never had in-depth conversations with Chris about the story,” Schefter said. “Chris is as good a reporter as there is. And he’s been a pioneer in this industry. So when he decides to do things, he has a reason for doing them. And I’ll just stand behind him as a reporter and as a man. I love him.
“And I don’t know the particulars of what happened. I really don’t, OK?. But I can tell you this, somebody wanted information out. You’re blaming him. But I will say this. Number one, I’m sure he has an explanation. Number two, any reporter in the country, if they have high level people calling them, giving them this information, almost anyone’s gonna run with it.”
In other words, someone lied to Mortensen.
“If that is indeed the case that one, two, three high-level individuals intentionally misled him to try to smear the Patriots, I saw more shame on those people than Mort,” Schefter said.
I agree with that, completely. And Mort should be upset, because he’s been taking the heat (which has increased considerably in recent days) for reporting information that was given to him by someone in the league office whom Mort trusted.
ESPN surely would have preferred that the glaring error continue to go largely unnoticed. When PFT asked for comment on the discrepancy between Mortensen’s report and the actual PSI numbers in the Wells report, an ESPN spokesman initially said this: “[The] Wells report has been out for a week. Why are you seeking comment about his reporting now?”
More than two later, a comment from Mort apparently is coming. He’ll likely say basically the same things Schefter said. If pressed, Mort may indeed be tempted to disclose whoever it was that gave him deliberately false information.
Sure, reporters need to protect their sources. But should reporters protect sources who deliberately put reporters in professional danger?