The story behind ESPN’s Ravens story, sort of


ESPN’s bombshell story regarding the Ravens’ mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation landed on Friday at 5:47 p.m. ET, in a spot where information typically goes to not be noticed.

The decision to publish the item in a bad-news wasteland fewer than two hours after Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference has sparked questions in the industry about the thought process behind pulling the sheet off the story late on a Friday afternoon, versus holding it for Sunday morning or — as TMZ surely did with the Ray Rice video two weeks ago — Monday morning.

ESPN’s position is that there’s nothing to see regarding the timing of a story that may not have received the attention and traction it deserved beyond those who closely follow the NFL.  The story was published as soon as it was ready, ESPN contends.  Curiosity about the timing nevertheless exists.

The curiosity is enhanced by some of the circumstances surrounding the final hours before the report was published.  Although ESPN’s reporters worked on the story for 11 days, the first request for comment to the NFL came at 12:34 p.m. ET Friday, via a list of 15 detailed, written questions submitted roughly 90 minutes after the league announced that Commissioner Roger Goodell would be conducting a press conference at 3:00 p.m. ET.  The Ravens separately received a list of written questions at roughly 1:00 p.m. ET on Friday.

The NFL declined to answer any of the written questions, and it appears that ESPN did not send anyone to the press conference with the task of posing any, some, or all of the 15 questions directly to Goodell.  Spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN, “Mr. [Robert] Mueller is in the process of conducting his investigation into the pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.  His report will be made public.”

The story initially claimed that Rice watched Baltimore’s Week One game with center A.Q. Shipley, a clear error given that Shipley had been cut by the Ravens and claimed on waivers by the Colts.  The mistake quickly was corrected. Likewise, the contention that Ravens senior personnel assistant George Kokinis believed that Rice should be cut in February is regarded by some in the organization as a mischaracterization of his role and responsibilities.   At least one member of the Ravens organization privately has pointed to these errors as evidence that the entire story may lack full and complete credibility.

ESPN has said repeatedly that it stands by its reporting, reiterating that stance in the wake of the lengthy statement issued on Monday by the Ravens and owner Steve Bisciotti’s press conference.  During his 47 minutes with the media, Bisciotti accused ESPN of essentially rushing the story to publication, pointing to the fact that the reporters spent 11 days working on the story but that ESPN ultimately asked for input from the league and the team only a few hours before the story was unleashed.

Given the potential damage that an inflammatory report like this can do to the broader relationship between ESPN and the NFL, it’s odd to say the least that ESPN opted to push forward at a time when the parties against whom the allegations were made didn’t have a full and fair opportunity to respond to details that took nearly two weeks to compile.  Perhaps ESPN wanted to redirect blame from the NFL to the Ravens in the aftermath of the Goodell press conference.  Perhaps ESPN wanted to make Goodell seem less credible.  Perhaps ESPN simply believed that publishing the story within the hours after Goodell’s press conference would generate the most attention for the story, and in turn for ESPN.

Or perhaps ESPN simply decided that it didn’t make sense to wait for someone else to report the same information ESPN was poised to report.

The timing of the publication has no bearing on the accuracy of the report.  But with the Ravens now issuing a lengthy statement identifying the many flaws that it believes the report contains, ESPN may feel compelled to continue to work the story even harder, in order to prove that the Ravens are wrong, and that ESPN is right.

Ultimately, the tie may be broken by Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is investigating the Rice investigation.

33 responses to “The story behind ESPN’s Ravens story, sort of

  1. It wouldn’t be the first time OTL has run with a story that had such blatant misinformation. See John Barr’s hit piece on the Saints around the time of Bountygate which was extremely questionable, both in facts and motivation.

  2. The story was supposed to run Thursday, but got tied up in the editing room, and then in their legal department Friday. Furthermore, they couldn’t hold on to the story any longer because it was starting to leak, as other media sources started to connect the dots. There was never an intention on the part of ESPN to delay the story, so the Ravens and the NFL didn’t have time to respond. That’s more cynicism on the part of the NLF & the Ravens.

  3. The Ravens are a first class orginization that wins championships and ESPN (which is infested with pissed off Clevlanders) is hell bent on trying to make people hate us. That’s fine. We respond by winning games and we’ll do just that this season regardless of how long they want to drag this story on for. #successbreedshaters

  4. Am I the only one who stopped caring about all this ray rice, AP nonsense once the games started back up at one on Sunday? I’d say Thursday, but that was hardly a game.

  5. Bmorelikeray52 says:
    Sep 22, 2014 9:40 PM
    The Ravens are a first class orginization that wins championships and ESPN (which is infested with pissed off Clevlanders) is hell bent on trying to make people hate us. That’s fine. We respond by winning games and we’ll do just that this season regardless of how long they want to drag this story on for. #successbreedshaters

    hah. Ravens are an organization of self-serving jerks who place winning football games over womens safety. but what do you expect from a group that idolizes a man who is an accomplice to murder

  6. Dennis, if it was supposed to run Thursday, why would ESPN wait until 12:30 PM on Friday to send the NFL questions?

  7. while complaining about the failure of espn to wait more than 5 hours for comment from the nfl or ravens, bisciotti handed out the written response at the presser rather than earlier so the reporters could ask the questions raised by the ravens version of events….

    and to say with a straight face that neither him nor anyone in either the ravens or nfl management realized the leverage they had with rice and never thought to use the leverage to ask for the tape ignores the way these people got to their positions… think a guy who ignores a basic premise like that gets enough dough to buy a nfl team? not likely. same with the commish and his heavy handed team of lawyers who wring every ounce of leverage with the networks and players…

  8. The thing none of the posters are commenting on is that ESPN clearly edited Biscotti’s texts and claimed AQ Shipley was with Ray Rice. One is basically fabricating and the other is flat out false…credibility of espn article shot to hell

  9. If I were an owner, I’d remember this when it comes time to negotiate the TV contracts again. Disney might have to pony up lots of extra cash to get MNF again. They wanted the story to be as damaging as possible, that’s what the people (supposedly) want.

  10. “Everybody at ESPN wants to be the Woodward and Bernstein, but they forgot that you have to actually have facts lined up before you go to press”

    You nailed it exactly

  11. Good for you mike Florio, for reporting something that is investigative in nature. This is really good, and I mean it! My problem with talking heads is that they sensationalize information for sales (yes, the enquirer mentality) which makes for really good reading, but piss poor policy. Here, you and your staff brought light to the ABC-owned ESPN tragedy that is still unfolding…..

  12. “The timing of the publication has no bearing on the accuracy of the report.”
    I disagree. The purpose of talking to the Ravens and NFL is to gather their side of the story so ESPN can deliver the most thorough report possible. Timing the story so that those sources couldn’t have their say indicates that ESPN’s producers made up their minds about the story before they even began researching, and that they would exclude the NFL’s and Ravens’ responses to the accusations. That’s called a hit piece.

  13. Since when in about the last 20 years did the facts mean anything to the so-called “journalists” in the media? I remember when efforts were made to clearly differentiate between factual reporting and opinion. No more.

    It’s pretty comical how ESPN hid behind their “secret” sources when writing a blatant take down piece. The solution should be pretty straightforward from the league’s perspective. Just place an embargo on Disney/ABC/ESPN carrying any NFL games or using any NFL footage or audio on any of their or their affiliates’ sportscasts.

  14. I appreciate PFT attempting to remain objective here. It isn’t like it is beneath ESPN to sensationalize facts for a story. Look no further than the Michael Sam shower piece. Where were the cries for accountability following that misstep by an employee?

  15. Or perhaps (because you didn’t use that enough) all these organizations are run by money hungry richards. Or perhaps, we should watch hockey instead. You know, the sport where men fight men instead of children and women. It’s frowned on as well. Oh well, perhaps.

  16. @kingpel: PFT has not been objective. They have been hammering on Goodell and the Ravens and want heads to roll. They also hate ESPN (as almost any self respecting sports fan does) so they can kill 3 birds with one phony scandal. It’s actually quite genius by Florio. Can’t hate on the man at all.

    I am all for the owners rethinking their ESPN contract for MNF after this. Monday night games are probably the hardest to watch, with Jon Gruden loving everyone and lacking an ability to articulate his vast amounts of knowledge. Also, the pre-game show is god awful. How did they let Ray Rice get away with the rant he went on about the legacy he left behind for the Ravens and how great it was? That man is delusional to think anyone outside of Baltimore thought he left a positive legacy.

  17. Had to laugh about the Ravens being a First Class organization. If they were, you cut Rice loose when you see his girlfriend lying on the floor. You don’t call a press conference six months later to offer him a job.

  18. The comment about telling his players paranoid is a good thing, struck me as odd as he continued on about looking at people and being paranoid that they may be the one to start a fight. Really, every player that is on the list of talk right now THEY are the ones doing the hitting. maybe the best conversation should be the public should be paranoid of the players.

  19. I’d love to know why all the visceral for Goodell and the Ravens front office on this issue?

    Shouldn’t all anger be pointed toward Ray Rice and only Ray Rice?

    If Rice didn’t slug his wife. Rice wouldn’t be in trouble. IF the four letter network didn’t act like prima dona’s that want to make chit-chat and have their reporters act like fools. Goodell and the Ravens front office, wouldn’t have to say a word.

    The at issue is Ray Rice, period. If you, want more done to Rice, then the prosecutor dropped the ball.

    Btw, nice job Ray Lewis for your two-cents

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