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ESPN's top NFL reporter Adam Schefter has responded after getting roped into the growing controversy around the Washington Football Team's emails.
An email exchange between Schefter and former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen was published by the Los Angeles Times and later obtained by Yahoo Sports on Tuesday, exposing a significant journalistic transgression from one of the biggest names in NFL media.
Amid negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA on a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, Schefter sent Allen an entire draft of a story to be published the following morning. He also referred to Allen as "Mr. Editor" and welcomed him to propose any changes:
"Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked," Schefter wrote to Allen. "Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to espn about 6 am."
A day after the email was published, ESPN released a statement attributed to Schefter apologizing for what it described as "taking a step too far" in trying to verify the facts of a complex story. While Schefter stressed that no one but him has editorial control over his stories, he acknowledged the criticism against him is fair.
Schefter's full statement:
"Fair questions are being asked about my reporting approach on an NFL Lockout story from 10 years ago. Just to clarify, it's common practice to verify facts of a story with sources before you publish in order to be as accurate as possible. In this case, I took the rare step of sending the full story in advance because of the complex nature of the collective bargaining talks. It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn't have done it. The criticism being levied is fair. With that said, I want to make this perfectly clear: in no way did I, or would I, cede editorial control or hand over final say about a story to anyone, ever."
Schefter is correct that verifying the facts of a story with a source or someone involved in the story is commonplace in journalism, but it's generally frowned upon to offer one side the ability to propose changes for an entire article, as Schefter acknowledges. And it's definitely frowned upon to refer to one of your sources as your editor, though it's hard to imagine Schefter wasn't joking.
ESPN had already responded to the reports about Schefter in a statement to the L.A. Times, declining to get into the details of the reporter's process while standing by his integrity as a journalist:
“Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story from 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.”
Those two statements from ESPN seem to be all the acknowledgement the email will receive from Schefter's corner. The reporter's own Twitter feed was operating as usual as of Wednesday afternoon, and he hadn't even retweeted the statement ESPN attributed to him as of an hour after its publication.