On Wednesday, the Boston Herald apologized for a Feb. 2 story by John Tomase that reported the New England Patriots surreptitiously videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.

While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.

Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.

For the story, Tomase took the word of "a source close to the team during the 2001 season." In today's Herald, Tomase explains how he got the story wrong, but he leaves out the only real detail that matters -- the name of the person who passed along bogus information.

There has been a clamoring for me to identify the sources used in my story. This I cannot do. When a reporter promises anonymity, he can't break that promise simply because he comes under fire. I gave my word, and the day I break that word is the day sources stop talking to me.

Another word on sources: The story mentioned only a single, unnamed source because in the end, while I had multiple sources relating similar allegations, I relied on one more than the others.

I've never understood why journalists hide the names of sources who use the shield of anonymity to spread falsehoods. The agreement between a reporter and an unnamed source, like that of a criminal plaintiff accepting a plea deal to testify in court, should be conditioned on the information being truthful. A source who lies should know that it might blow up in his face. Tomase and the Herald are getting murdilated over running a fake story on the eve of the Patriots' defeat in the Super Bowl. The source remains on the loose.

Reporters have grown far too addicted to the access granted by sources who won't comment for attribution. Instead of digging around from the outside, they act as stenographers to well-connected people with inside information.

In the early '90s, I was an editor at StarText, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online newspaper. As I prepared stories for publication, I could see the "CQ notes," memos between editors and reporters that were embedded in the articles and removed before publication.

These notes sometimes revealed the identity of unnamed sources in our coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.

More than 15 years have passed, so I can probably reveal this without getting myself into trouble: The Star-Telegram's unnamed source "close to the organization" was owner Jerry Jones. The Dallas Morning News' unnamed source, according to our reporters, was head coach Jimmy Johnson. The two leading figures on the team were waging a furious battle in the press, using the cover of anonymity and pliant newspapers to keep from having to answer for their words.

But if I've said too much here, just tell people you got this information from a source close to the Star-Telegram.

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Comments

Rogers: Read Tomase's story again. He didn't have any sources. By his own telling, people passed along rumors to him in good faith, and he wound up rushing those rumors into print without checking them out. No way should he now out his "sources."


 

Are you sure Tomase is owning up to having no source? The fourth graf of his mea culpa mentions a "much stronger source" than the people passing along secondhand information, and later he says he had a "confirmed presence of a member of the team's video staff at the walkthrough." It sounds to me like he had a primary source upon which the story hung.

As an aside, the Herald apology is also loose on the issue of how many sources are involved. The paper cited "sources that it believed to be credible," and now Tomase is citing only one firsthand source.

What a mess.


 

But Tomase also says it was his assumption that the member of the team's video staff whipped out a camera and started recording, and that that assumption was based on his lesser sources.


 

Just because you obviously have no ethics with regards to sources, does not mean that others should follow suit. Your revelations re Ft. Worth are more despicable and damaging to journalism than the Herald's original error.


 

I don't think it's unethical to reveal after more than 15 years that the Dallas papers were misusing anonymity to allow Jones and Johnson to take potshots at each other. I kept it secret for a long time out of loyalty to my old paper, but it was a crappy decision. They ran the quotes to grease their sources and get better inside dirt than the competition. Any of the hundreds of employees who had access to the story queues and was keeping up with Cowboys news would've known the ID of the sources. WaterGate it ain't.


 

Following this from Boston.. I agree with what you're saying but disagree with your assessment.

If I were Tomase I'd protect my sources unless I realized they were outright lying to me, then I'd out them. like you say.

Tomase is saying, his sources might have been wrong but they were sincere, thought they were right, and not deliberately misleading.

he might be an idiot but he has some integrity, if his sources were wrong but well intentioned he is right to not name them imho.


 

Ha, I am on the 'left' of Rogers on this issue.

Without nameless sources, we wouldn't have many breaking stories.

Although I think that reporters should fully vete their information, I think the fact that they protect sources is important.

Even when the stories turn out to be false.


 

What's the penalty for shouting, "Fire!", in a crowded theatre?

That should be the minimum sentence for reporter and editor who publish libel; notwithstanding civil reply for damages.

Since "government" allows itself to be the complainent for damages under commercial law; e.g., driving rules and fines, etc.; then the federal, state and local governments should all be able to bring suit against published lies for similar, unspecified public "damages".

That's the socialist way - to restrict free speech, after all, and to find ways around all other forms of individual liberty, and practiced by "government" so busily finding ways to banish freedom and undermine our conservatively defended, and liberal constitution ...


 

This is not the first nor the last fake news they have published. Every week its something new. From "The Herald Gets Duped" Hillary Clinton's gun story to city workers BBQ on the Job. Every story they print has something behind it. Sometimes its 100% fake others its only 90% fake.


 

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