Report: Comments regarding Deshaun Watson cost Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson his job

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The Deshaun Watson controversy has resulted in someone losing his job, and it wasn’t Deshaun Watson.

Diana Moskovitz and Kalyn Kahler of Defector.com report that Aaron Wilson no longer works for the Houston Chronicle due to comments made last month regarding the situation on WEEI radio in Boston.

Wilson, in an interview that remains available online, called the lawsuits against Watson a “money grab” and “ambulance chasing.” Wilson also used an unfortunate, inaccurate, and ill-advised term while clumsily attempting to explain Watson’s approach to the efforts to resolve the claims before the first lawsuit was filed.

“In his case, you know, it’s kind of like you don’t, you know, you don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Wilson said, attempting to explain the notion that players with impeccable reputations are more likely to pay to make allegations like this go away. “You know, people are demanding money, they’re asking for money. The — it kept escalating, it kept going up and up and up. And you start talking about more and more funds, I’m not gonna say how much it got to. But my understanding is, you know, that there was an admission that, it was, you know, something, you know, just that this was, you know, just a money grab.”

Wilson seemed to be passing along the mindset of Watson’s camp. Wilson should have been far more clear in doing so; his choice of words made it seem like he believed what they believed.

Wilson also vouched for Watson’s character and said that attorney Tony Buzbee’s behavior in rounding up more accusers is “looked down upon.” Wilson added that he’s skeptical about the claims.

The interview happened very early in the process, before Buzbee even had his first press conference. At the time, there weren’t many accusers and there were legitimate questions about Buzbee’s tactics and the evidence he had offered up publicly. For example, the night before Wilson’s appearance, Buzbee had posted some social-media messages from Watson that hardly amounted to smoking guns of guilt.

“I don’t know them, I know him,” Wilson said after being accused by host Greg Hill of being pro-Watson. “I’m not gonna throw the guy under the bus before I have some proof. I don’t feel like I have the proof, just it’s allegations.”

Wilson also wrote last month a lengthy feature in which friends and associates said that they couldn’t believe the allegations in the lawsuits. On WEEI, Wilson said that the Texans didn’t believe the allegations and that, as to players and teammates, “No one wants to think this of him, and they’re all saying privately to me, ‘Aaron, we’d be shocked if this was true.'”

Per Moskovitz and Kahler, the Chronicle held a sports staff meeting on Friday during which editor Reid Laymance said that Wilson was no longer employed by the publication. Although no specifics regarding the move were shared during the meeting, Chronicle executive editor Steve Riley sent a memo to the entire newsroom regarding the handling of the Watson case.

“The sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson bring those standards front and center,” Riley wrote, per Defector.com. “This note serves as a reminder that as we report, analyze and describe those allegations, those who bring them and the person they are brought against, we must approach the story with fairness and care toward all involved. Given the frequency of content we are creating, on a growing number of print and digital channels, our editors must also be more vigilant with our oversight of coverage on all platforms. . . . Facts are good. Analysis is OK. Opinion, speculation or baseless assertions are not. We won’t tolerate that sort of commentary.”

It’s likely that Wilson’s “you don’t negotiate with terrorists” line tipped the scales against him. It also would have been prudent for Wilson to clearly separate his beliefs (or to refrain from even having beliefs) from the strong, and frankly predictable, opinions held by those close to Watson. Wilson would have had no basis whatsoever to come to any such conclusions on his own so early in the process; even now, there’s insufficient evidence to make firm decisions one way or the other as to whether Watson did what he’s accused of doing.

Wilson’s role as a reporter and not a print/web/radio/TV opinion-generator also contributed to the situation. Given the obvious conflicts that arise when it comes to Wilson’s reporter function of maintaining access to Watson and his representatives, associates, friends, etc., Wilson’s broader business interests would not have been served by expressing skepticism of Watson based on the first few claims that had been made as of the morning of March 19. Unfortunately for Wilson, he went way too far in expressing skepticism of the claims being made against Watson.

The email from the Chronicle to all staff also pointed out that media appearances can happen only with the permission of a supervisor. This implies that Wilson agreed to appear on WEEI without securing such advance permission. If he had done so, he may have received some important advice that would have allowed him to more artfully navigate the minefield that he willingly entered by agreeing to speak extemporaneously about the situation on live radio.

Alternatively, Wilson may have gotten an answer that would have helped him avoid this entire mess: Don’t do the interview.

32 responses to “Report: Comments regarding Deshaun Watson cost Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson his job

  1. “Wilson’s role as a reporter and not a print/web/radio/TV opinion-generator also contributed to the situation.”

    Not trying to disagree but I see this as 100% of the circumstance.
    Journalists need to have their own form of professional integrity.
    If that is not desired, then join the cesspool of opinion-only podcasts and blogs.

  2. This is horrible! I’ve personally known Aaron and his family for years. I see his brother here in D.C. all of the time!

    Aaron is as honest a person as he is a reporter! This is a real travesty!

  3. I’m sure Wilson is a fine reporter but he should’ve known better. This is exactly why you wait for all the facts to come out, so you don’t end up in this situation.

  4. Incredibly sloppy for him to publish an assumption that the accusers were just looking for money. Fine to remind everyone that Watson had a good reputation and fine to hold a personal opinion that he is innocent, but it’s not OK to dismiss claims of bad behavior out of hand. A journalist should know better.

  5. While I understand that reporters need to maintain some semblance of impartiality, he was on a sports radio program. It’s mostly opinion. So he was giving his. I think he’s off base, but should this get him fired?

  6. While I vehemently disagree with Aaron Wilson’s take, as he is clearly sucking up to the athlete and chose to remain stubbornly naive and non objective – his comment “you don’t negotiate with terrorists” is very clearly a metaphor and is commonly used. How is that at all cause for outrage. Let’s ban metaphors now! I guess this is where we’re headed as a society. A few people get insulted over something that’s fairly inane and now everyone else has to be offended as well, or you’re “on the wrong side of history” or something…

  7. All-American Voltron says:

    April 10, 2021 at 9:08 am

    I don’t think it’s right a reporter was fired for using metaphors or giving any kind of opinion on DeShaun Watson’s case. He didn’t say anything that hasn’t been said for decades on radio or any kind of interview as far as comparisons. If the offense is referencing the accusers with the “not negotiating with terrorists” line, that is an established expression used daily by everyone. And unless all the accusers were Arab or Persian, there’s no racist reference, so no foul. It’s not illegal, vulgarly sexist, or immoral for a reporter to side with one side or give an opinion on a case before all evidence came out. This was an unjust firing.
    ————
    Well your 1st sentence actually explains the issue a “reporter” gave his opinion. It’s not a reporter’s job to give their opinion it’s their job to report the facts and possibly give analysis on it. There is a different between the talking heads on opinion based shows and an actual reporter.
    Also on the expression 1st just because something has been said for years doesn’t make it right or acceptable any longer, the semirecent backlash over not letting the prisoners run the asylum for instance. 2nd it has nothing to do with racism but it has to do with comparing alleged sexual assault victims to terrorists, how you think there is anyway that statement isn’t demeaning is beyond me

  8. sbc2556 says:
    April 10, 2021 at 9:06 am
    This is horrible! I’ve personally known Aaron and his family for years. I see his brother here in D.C. all of the time!

    Aaron is as honest a person as he is a reporter! This is a real travesty!

    ————————–

    Well he isn’t an honest reporter but a fanboy. He didn’t care to look at facts but rather went with his feelings about a person.

  9. He might be right. He might be wrong, but the statement was a reasonable position to have at this time. The Houston Chronical is just another extension of the me too movement and whomever made the decision to fire the reporter should be ashamed of themselves.

  10. redlikethepig says:
    April 10, 2021 at 9:37 am
    While I understand that reporters need to maintain some semblance of impartiality, he was on a sports radio program. It’s mostly opinion. So he was giving his. I think he’s off base, but should this get him fired?

    ————————————

    I agree with this 100%. Sometimes when people get in trouble for things they say I think it is justified, but not always. I’m sure this guy had been on this station voicing his opinion many times before – sports reporters get asked a million times a day what they *think*. No radio show is gonna have him on to regurgitate a few facts and leave it at that.

    Sexual assault is a crime that our culture still struggles to take seriously, or at least to not resort to victim-blaming. So I guess that’s what this is about.

    But, also, if the guy spoke out against Watson he’d be ruining his access to a star player, and probably the Texans in general.

    Discipline the guy, have him issue an apology – IMO this wasn’t worth firing him.

  11. Seems like the “wokes” are destroying any semblence of impartiality reporters ever had then when a reporter says something they don’t agree with they’re outraged SMH

  12. Can we stop firing people every time they make a mistake? This should have been a teachable moment, complete with an appropriate punishment, that will make him handle things better next time.

  13. Greg Hill of WEEI was not in that day. It was Gary Tangway filling in for him that did the interview with Wilson

  14. I prefer reporters try to be unbiased, but I have to wonder if he took the other side if he’d been fired. Either way it seems opinion permeates reporting too often.

  15. We’re at the point where nobody will say anything because they’re afraid of getting fired.

  16. The statements I can only think make it a liability. I can imagine it top toes around it being slander on a touchy subject. We still don’t have the facts.

    That said I don’t think the way Watson conducted himself was appropriate. I can only suspect some, if not all the plaintiffs had an idea of what they were getting into. And ultimately my opinion is that yes this is a cash grab that everyone is hopping on.

  17. Why should he be fired?
    If they want to suspend him, then maybe, but fired?
    That would be acceptable on FOX news.

  18. To the editors of the Houston Chronicle, please bear with me for a moment:

    I think covering the NFL these guys develop a small group of sources, and perhaps some fall into a trap of parroting what they’ve been told, for instance, by agents who they’ve relied on for years. I think maybe that’s what happened here, a mistake on Aaron’s part — in judgment or forgetting to think it all the way through first.

    Do we really want to crucify him? I hope we don’t do that. Let’s not nurture the unfortunate polarization of these times by throwing our people into the trash bin when they fall short of perfection, instead of guiding and mentoring them like we would our own children. Aaron is a nice guy, he has a pleasant manner, is soft spoken and I think most find him respectful. He’s human, you know.

    He woke up a few years ago (and I apologize to Aaron for bringing this up but it needs to be heard) and found his wife had died at 40. He got back up from that tremendous blow that life dealt him, he fought through it and got back on his feet again, and now he’s recently remarried. That is something we should be proud of, not turn away from.

    We’re ALL flawed, we ALL make mistakes. I just hope we can keep everything in perspective here, strive to be kind to one another and when we fall short I hope we can give each other chances to learn and grow.

    I write this as a lifelong Houstonian, HC subscriber, and Texans/Oilers fan. There has already been enough collateral damage from this unfortunate situation in Houston – this decision in my opinion just compounds it. Thank you for your consideration.

  19. It’s long been evident that the general public doesn’t know how to differentiate between a reporter and someone who’s paid to give opinions.
    Now we see that the people who actually work in those professions don’t know the difference either.

  20. If he shared his opinion that was in line with Watson being a predator, we would never know this guy existed.

  21. Character matters in every aspect of life, and it matters most when difficult circumstances arise for it determines, at its essence, whether the person encountering adverse times will survive or perish. Watson is in the jaws of a character trial, but he has been there for the majority of his life as he worked his way out of poverty. There will be no settlement, unless someone convinces Watson to just give up and succumb to the forces arrayed against him, because the intrinsic, lifelong mettle of Watson is being tested, and no quarter can be given to those who seek to crush that same spirit which impelled his rise out of poverty to success in his profession. Now, those who are anti-Watson should understand that the character of Buzbee’s clients will be on trial as well, and the human beings on a Houston jury will be asked to judge, not the evidence for there is none to be garnered, but did the respective parties act, in this matter, in a manner that was congruent with the character established by each of their lives.

  22. Some here and they know who they are have formulated opinions on this matter in the same fashion as Wilson both for and against. I just wish that everyone had the thinking of letting the facts of this case to play out before forming an opinion. But this will never be the case because of social media and cancel culture.

  23. Wilson fell into the same trap that too many reporters and commentators do. You talked to a person and have seen him play, therefore you think you KNOW him. You don’t. You’ve just talked to him and saw him play.

  24. So the man cant state any opinions now? Not a fireable offense at all, sure he’s a fanboy but still he can say sorry but that doesnt work nowdays.

  25. Aren’t you supposed to remain neutral in your reporting and not give your personal opinion on guilt or innocence? Well,he didn’t, and now it cost him his job. The conversation he had on WEEI was perfectly fine had it been over drinks at a pub…but on a radio program? No. He basically called all of the accusers liars.

  26. Isn’t there a difference between a reporter and a columnist — one reports facts, the other gives opinions? If he was in an opinion giving role, it seems a bit harsh to can the guy just for giving an opinion others may disagree with. And this is coming from a person that disagrees with Wilson’s opinion.

  27. This is alarming.. all that a decent employer would have done (to a long time employee) is a 2-4 week suspension without pay … But not in this country today. Wilson deserved better.

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