The art of sportswriting, and the Ray Rice story

newspaperIf your mother says she loves you, check it out. That’s the mantra that we live by in journalism. If you’re going to report something as fact, it had better be fact, and you’d better have vetted the hell out of it to make sure.

So how did we get the top reporters in the game covering the NFL, the Chris Mortensens, the Peter Kings, the Adam Schefters, telling us in July that NFL officials had seen a tape from inside the elevator where Ray Rice attacked this then-fiancee, now-wife, Janay, when now the NFL is saying that no one from the league office had seen the tape or even requested a copy of it from law enforcement?

We saw the TMZ video of what happened outside—when he was dragging her out unconscious—but inside, I’m told from those who have seen the video, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, she attacks him—we don’t know the reason why—and he strikes her, strikes her hard. And her head—according to the sources I’ve spoken to—struck the rail inside the elevator and she was unconscious.

Those words are from Mortensen two months ago. “In fact, she attacks him,” Mortensen wrote, moving the chains for the NFL in its effort to make the case that the two-game suspension for Rice was not only enough but may have been a bit harsh, because, you know, c’mon, she hit him first.

Rice’s attorney advanced the same cause in a radio interview in which he raised the “hypothetical” that Janay had hit Ray “repeatedly” and that Ray in defending himself had hit her back with one punch.

(Mortensen and the Rice attorney are rather curiously on the same page, aren’t they?)

We now, know, of course, that the two were engaged in an exchange of expletives, according to the Associated Press, which has seen a copy of the videotape that includes audio, then Janay, according to the AP, appears to have spit in the direction of Ray, who hits her with a short left, and when she moves forward after taking the first punch, struck her with a left hook that knocked her out on her feet, forcing her to fall in the direction of the rail in the elevator before hitting the floor.

“In fact, she attacks him.” Wrong. In fact, at most she spit at him, and he hit her, and then hit her again, then dragged her from the elevator and left her in a heap, apparently unconcerned to the macabre scene.

“In fact,” these reporters fail Journalism 101. Mortensen, Schefter, King, all who parroted the official NFL line in July that the league had seen the videotape, and reported on its contents as being exculpatory for Ray, should at the least be reprimanded by their employers, if not fired as unceremoniously as Ray dumped Janay on the floor, half-outside the elevator, half-inside.

Those who reported as fact what was in fact cynical PR spin will no doubt land on their feet. They’re already essentially on the payroll of the NFL.

– Column by Chris Graham


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