One of the more glaring problems with ESPN’s story regarding the Ravens’ mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation relates to the text messages sent by owner Steve Bisciotti to Rice after the team cut him.
In the story, ESPN presents the text messages in italics. While quotes weren’t used, the technique created the clear impression that the text messages were being quoted verbatim. The surrounding context reinforced the idea that exact quotes were being shared.
The first, from the ESPN report: “Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.
The second: “When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.”
As it turns out, the text messages weren’t quoted verbatim. The statement released Monday by the team included the exact language of the text messages.
The first: “I’m sorry we had to do this. I still love you and believe that you will be a great husband and father If you ever need to talk just call.”
The second: “I just spent two hours talking to Ozzie. It was all about you. We love you and we will always figure out a way to keep you in our lives. When you are done with football I will hire you to help me raise Great young men. I still love you!!!”
ESPN’s story also creates the impression that Bisciotti texted Rice without prompting. According to the Ravens, Rice contacted Bisciotti first, saying: “I understand the decision but I am thankful for what you have done for me and my family. Me and my wife will continue to work on us and being better but I just wanted to say thank you for giving me a chance.”
ESPN has acknowledged that the italicized text messages did not reflect actual quotes.
“We understand the confusion surrounding our use of italics and recognize we could have been more clear,” ESPN said Tuesday in a statement. “Most importantly, the information in our story about the contents of the texts was consistent with what the team released.”
While the contents were consistent, the clear and obvious error in the presentation invites fair questions regarding whether other aspects of the story are incorrect, especially in light of the strong (albeit belated) written response the Ravens provided to 15 different aspects of the report.
This specific flaw also carries with it some irony. At a time when the Ravens fairly have been hammered for failing to ask for the notorious elevator video, ESPN didn’t ask the Ravens to confirm the precise contents of the text messages sent by Bisciotti. Instead, ESPN asked only if Bisciotti sent two text messages to Rice.
The story from ESPN doesn’t disclose that ESPN asked the Ravens only to confirm that Bisciotti sent two text messages and not to confirm the contents of the text messages. But the words selected by the authors invite a perception that the Ravens were informed of the alleged language of the text messages: “Asked about the text messages Friday, the team did not deny Bisciotti had sent them: ‘His text messages to Ray reflect his belief that everyone is capable of redemption and that others, including players, can learn from Ray’s experience.'”
Moving forward, it’s up to the reader to decide whether to overlook ESPN’s mishandling of the text messages, or whether to treat this specific wrinkle as the proverbial bite of bad beef in a pot of stew. Do you keep on eating, or do you throw out the whole thing?