Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Washington Post Sports Watch: Analyzing Sally Jenkins' Lazy, Inaccurate, Unfair RGIII Column

Just like Sally Jenkins does in her columns, I won't beat around the bush: Her column today on RGIII's alleged selfishness and entitlement is awful. It's not awful because of her opinion that Griffin's attitude is a major problem for the Redskins --she's free to hold that opinion and she may even be correct. No, her column is awful because it is so lazily written that most of the facts she uses to make her argument are either questionably sourced, inaccurate or out of context.

Jenkins starts off her column with some previously unreported information: according to people she describes only as "insiders," she writes that
"Griffin’s public campaign to have the offense altered for him was just the tip of his egotism in his second year. Behind closed doors, Griffin had fierce finger-pointing tensions with his wide receivers, and he bragged to teammates that he could procure favors from the owner and influence the franchise’s direction." 
These are pretty explosive charges that haven't, to my knowledge, been reported elsewhere, but these charges lack pretty much any context. For instance, since Jenkins didn't hear Griffin bragging about his relationship with Snyder, is she sure that he wasn't making a joke that was misunderstood by whoever reported it to her? And Tom Brady yells at his receivers, too--during the game! (Here and here.) Is he entitled and spoiled, too?

More importantly, the sourcing for these claims is the completely undescriptive "insiders." Who are these "insiders"? Are they other players? Perhaps, but probably not--if they were, a good reporter would probably try to mention that and get her source to agree to such identification because it would add credibility to the report. Are these "insiders" just people who work at Redskins Park and have heard stories about what goes on in closed meetings? If so, then they've likely heard these stories second-hand and not necessarily reliable. That leads most readers to believe that these "insiders" are former coaches, probably with the name Shanahan--which doesn't mean the reports are wrong, but considering the Shanahans have a huge axe to grind with Griffin, the charges warrant a solid dose of skepticism from the reader. And yet, Jenkins gives whoever these "insiders" are a cloak of anonymity to hide behind as they make personal attacks on Griffin. Post executive editor Martin Baron was quoted in the Post just a couple weeks ago saying that "reporters are encouraged to negotiate to identify people as much as possible and to provide honest reasons for their anonymity." Where was that here? There were no "honest reasons" for the anonymity of Jenkins' insiders provided whatsoever, and she was reporting about the locker room on a football team. This wasn't Dana Priest talking to whistleblowers about CIA black sites and waterboarding.

But after that weak sourcing, the column just gets worse. As more evidence of how much Griffin is disliked by his teammates, she notes that his linemen weren't helping him up after sacks, even though Chris Chase at USA Today thoroughly debunked that talking point weeks ago by showing that NFL quarterbacks are rarely helped up by their linemen. (His random sample found it happens 5 percent of the time. Does Jenkins get the Internet up in New York where she lives?) Then Jenkins notes Pierre Garcon's "barely contained anger," and links to a story in which Garcon is quoted as saying:

“I guess we’ve got to make mid-game adjustments,” Garcon said. “That’s the thing that we need. It sucks. We’re 2-5 and defenses are changing and I guess we’re not changing, we’re not doing something, we’re not communicating and doing what we need to be doing.”
That doesn't sound like Garcon is mad at Griffin, that sounds unmistakably like Garcon is blaming the coaching staff for not being able to counter what the defense is doing.

After that, Jenkins links to Santana Moss' "remarkable public lecture that Griffin needed to quit blaming others and take responsibility for his own failures." Calling Moss' comments "remarkable" is overdoing it, but I suppose she's correctly describing Moss' quotes. Still, Moss' "lecture about standing up and saying "me or I" was a little odd at the time, since it was a response to Griffin's explanation of an interception at the end of the Eagles game in which the quarterback did say, after noting that no receivers were open, that "I was trying to throw the ball to the back of the end zone. It didn't get to where I wanted it to go." That's not the most abject taking of responsibility I've ever read, but he's using the word "I" and taking blame.

Jenkins goes on to wonder why any coach would come to the Redskins when they can be "trumped on any decision, from play-calling to personnel, by a third-year QB?" Ah, play-calling. Finally, Jenkins gets to something where there are actually facts undergirding her criticism--there's no question that Griffin, and his father, have complained about too many read-option plays being called for Griffin and their desire for RGIII to be a drop-back quarterback. In fact, if she wanted to base the whole column on this issue, she'd be OK. But, of course, Jenkins then sullies this breakthrough by adding "personnel," apparently charging that Griffin has some say-so over the roster or the lineup--which I'm not aware of ever hearing. Furthermore, if Griffin has such unlimited influence with the Redskins, as Jenkins seems to think, why was he unable to stop being benched for the final three games of the season?

Remarkably, Jenkins then writes that "not every story about [Griffin's] ego is true," even though she's just spent her entire column telling exaggerated, not really accurate stories about his ego. And to top it off, she claims that "reports are that the Redskins are indeed pursuing Griffin's college coach, Art Briles." That's despite the fact that Briles has publicly denied he has had any contact with the Redskins or has any interest in leaving Baylor, and the only report since Briles made those statements about the Redskins and Briles comes from Jason LaCanfora on Sunday, who reported in a tweet that he continued to hear the Redskins had interest in Briles. Strangely, in his CBS Sports story, La Canfora says something significantly different, that "many believe" the Redskins "could still explore" Briles. Whichever you believe, it's hardly evidence that the Redskins "are indeed pursuing...Briles," as Jenkins lazily writes. (I'm presuming that Jenkins hasn't done reporting of her own to confirm that "fact," and since she references no "insiders," I think the answer is no.)

Sally Jenkins is an award-winning reporter and columnist. But just because she has an opinion doesn't mean she's allowed to stretch the facts and level anonymous, unsubstantiated personal attacks just to prove her point. She should be embarrassed by this column, and so should the sports editors of the Washington Post. Are there any standards for a sports columnist at the paper? And if so, were they followed in this case? I think Post readers would like to know.


Blogger Gray swindell said...

say Eric those "insiders were taken as gospel when it came to Mike Shannahan ? so Sally is lying and making up stuff cmon man

1/7/14, 3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that there are so many internet sites where readers can go for gossip and rumors - the majority of which usually prove true - that haven't the burden of fact checking and source identifying that a journalist should have. Unfortunately, this leaves journalists in the role of publishing the fully sanctioned version of the story days later. Perhaps Ms. Jenkins should have described this story as rumors and gossip rather than news.

1/7/14, 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every time I see a Sally Jenkins article I know its aimed at tearing the Redskins down. RGIII is not immune from Sally's rantings. When was the last time she published an article that was positive in nature? No, those don't sell as well. RGIII publicly says and does all the right things. When you win - things are rosy. When you lose - criticism comes from all corners. Unless you are Sally Jenkins - and then its criticism whether you win or lose.

1/7/14, 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's clear your blog post is lazy. You cry about legitimacy of insider sources, but last I checked, Sally is a journalist. A Pulitzer nominate journalist, so we assume she can follow the basic tenants of using unnamed sources, and how to delineate bias. Its not hard to understand why people remain unnamed, either as repercussion for going public (losing one's job, reputation etc.), and its the journalist's responsibility to assess the legitimacy through multiple sources, through second or third confirmation to sources unrelated the original. Clearly, people are confirming the story to her, and she has enough to run it through.

Don't blame the journalist for pointing out views that you don't agree with.

1/7/14, 6:04 PM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

Anonymous 6:04--I didn't say that Sally shouldn't use anonymous sources, and I didn't say those sources weren't telling the truth (I really don't know). I said that the responsibility of the journalist, according to the Post, is to identify those anonymous sources as best as possible so the readers can judge their accuracy. And by using "insiders," she doesn't do that. Other columnists at the paper have, when reporting on this matter, made much more detailed descriptions of their sources. Wise, in his piece a few weeks ago, said he had spoken to sources close to both Griffin and the Shanahans. But there's nothing in this piece that tells you anything about those "insiders" and what their agenda was in speaking to Jenkins anonymously, even though they are making a personal attack.

1/7/14, 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sally jenkins=garbage

1/7/14, 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your cherry picking of Garcon quotes conveniently leaves out the one where he says that Redskins suck at passing.


I'd say that a WR throwing a QB under the bus like that is unusual enough to qualify as extreme dissatisfaction, if not barely contained anger.

Your attack on her sources is just a deflection because you cannot argue with much (aside from the stat about line helping up QBs) of the content

1/8/14, 12:03 PM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

Anonymous 12:03--

I didn't cherry pick any quotes--I looked at the Garcon quotes that Jenkins linked to in her column and cited them in my post. She didn't link to the "we suck at passing" quote. But in fact, as this article notes, Garcon clarified that he was not referring to RGIII but to the passing offense as a whole: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000271276/article/pierre-garcon-redskins-have-struggled-in-pass-game

1/8/14, 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should fire the whole sports staff. The do nothing but write negative crap about the Skins. Boswell calling The owner a "weasel" was. Grossly unprofessional.

Alligator Jack

1/9/14, 12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding unnamed sources. Is "Anonymous", who is commenting here, one person or multiple people? .is he or she willing to to provide background so we can have some perspective about how they develooed their poiint if view? Agree with Sally Jenkins or not, she puts her name on her opinions whereas others complaining about "unnamed" wasnt to be themselve "anonymous".


1/23/14, 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



1/23/14, 10:57 AM  

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