The investigation into the culture within the Washington Football Team has already led to significant fallout for someone completely unaffiliated with that franchise, in the release of Jon Gruden’s racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails. Now, ESPN’s Adam Schefter is caught in the middle of a debate on journalistic ethics after the Los Angeles Times released details of his own email exchange with former team president Bruce Allen.
Many of the Gruden emails, including the first to receive attention featuring a racist barb hurled towards NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, were sent around the 2011 standoff between players and owners on a new CBA. In reporting on the story, Schefter reached out to Allen, a source of his on the story, and gave him an unpublished draft of the story, calling him “Mr. Editor.”
“Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” Schefter said. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to espn around 6 am.”
That has set off plenty of debate around the journalism world. Some believe it is okay to double check on details with sources for important stories, if that is all it is. Others think that this was completely inappropriate by Schefter.
I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now. I’ve never let a source proofread, preview or edit any story. Majority of journalists I know have never done this either. That is a huge journalistic NO-NO. Young journalists, that is not how it’s done. Ever.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 13, 2021
There’s a reason Schefter is more well connected than basically every other NFL writer. He’s gotta walk a fine line to get the scoops he does. https://t.co/9aejMP5yuo
— Ameer Tyree (@its_ameericle) October 13, 2021
On Adam Schefter sending an unpublished story to Bruce Allen, I think context is really important.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) October 13, 2021
Wow. Now we know why Adam Schefter is an NFL insider, he allows teams to proofread his stories for their liking before he posts them https://t.co/1214ttsmkl
— 𝐄𝐱𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐫 𝐏𝐨𝐩𝐞 (@exavierpope) October 13, 2021
Gonna clarify here because the mob is gonna mob.
No, I don’t think we as journalists have all sent full, unedited stories to sources and called them editor.
I think, at least most of us, myself included, have shown pieces of stories to sources. https://t.co/L5cmSzZoXT
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 13, 2021
Adam Schefter literally has journalism degrees from Michigan and Northwestern and worked at publications under the title "journalist" https://t.co/oFKvbybdLK
— Roy Bellamy (@roybelly) October 13, 2021
getting a lot of "who cares, it's sports" about Schefter's unethical practices. In this specific instance, it's tens of thousands of people's jobs at stake.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 13, 2021
Adam Schefter responded to the situation in an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, saying that “it’s a common practice to run information past sources,” and that he was looking for clarity on the complex subject at hand.
“I’ve learned for a long time in this business not to discuss sources, or the process, or how stories are done,” Schefter said. “But I would just say that it’s a common practice to run information past sources. And in this particular case, during a labor intensive lockout that was a complicated subject that was new to understand. I took the extra rare step to run information past one of the people that I was talking to. You know, it was an important story to fans; a host of others, and that’s the situation.”
In a quote to the Los Angeles Times published in the same piece, ESPN also supported Schefter.
“Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story form 10 years ago during the NFL lockout, we believe that nothing is more important to Adam and ESPN than providing fans the most accurate, fair and complete story.”
It’s certainly a stick spot here, and we could definitely use more context on what Bruce Allen was actually granted. If Schefter was just reaching out for clarity on phrasing or something along those lines, it may not be super unfair, but if he gave Allen, who was far from a neutral party in a labor dispute, carte blanche to direct the framing of that story, it is very bad.
We probably haven’t heard the last from Schefter or ESPN on this. And, as many continue to bring up, we still haven’t heard anything about what was uncovered on Dan Snyder and the Washington Football Team in the 650,000 emails that have reportedly been reviewed.