Aaron Wilson, the Houston Texans beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, is out of a job, according to Defector's Diana Moskovitz and Kalyn Kahler, just a few weeks after an eyebrow-raising interview with a Boston radio show.
During the interview with "The Greg Hill Show" on WEEI on March 19, Wilson repeatedly cast doubt on Watson's accusers, calling the allegations against the Texans quarterback a "money grab" and comparing negotiations between Watson's camp and Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the plaintiffs, to a terrorist negotiation.
On the same day, Buzbee held a news conference announcing he was representing 12 accusers. That number has since reached 22, with the Houston Police Department investigating another complaint not connected to Buzbee. An additional woman has accused Watson of inappropriate behavior through Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas.
Ex-Texans reporter Aaron Wilson: 'I made a mistake'
Wilson tweeted out a statement Saturday apologizing for his remarks, saying he demonstrated an "unintentional lack of sensitivity to the serious nature of these type of allegations."
Per Defector, Chronicle sports editor Reid Laymance told sports staffers in a meeting Friday that Wilson is no longer employed by the Chronicle, with no specifics regarding the change or Wilson's coverage of the lawsuits. Laymance reportedly told reporters to be mindful of what they say on other platforms, a message echoing what Chronicle executive editor Steve Riley told the entire newsroom.
Riley reportedly wrote about newsroom ethics and proper behavior while covering Watson, without mentioning Wilson by name:
“The sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson bring those standards front and center,” Riley wrote. “This note serves as a reminder that as we report, analyze and describe those allegations, those who bring them and the person they are brought against, we must approach the story with fairness and care toward all involved. Given the frequency of content we are creating, on a growing number of print and digital channels, our editors must also be more vigilant with our oversight of coverage on all platforms.”
The email went on to remind staffers that they always represent the Chronicle during any media appearances, and must do so with the permission of a supervisor.
“Facts are good. Analysis is OK. Opinion, speculation or baseless assertions are not. We won’t tolerate that sort of commentary.”
Wilson was a Texans beat writer for the Chronicle since 2015, previously covering the Baltimore Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.
What did Aaron Wilson say about the Deshaun Watson case?
Throughout the interview, Wilson approached the Watson case from a decidedly pro-Watson angle. Here's how he began the interview when asked if the accusations were a money grab or if there would be criminal charges:
"There's no criminal charges. Yeah, it's a money grab and it started off that way, and once the lawyer put it out after they didn't want to acquiesce and pay the money demands, then they put out a call for more. And that's what he's doing by using the Instagram, he's trying to attract more cases. Basically, it's ambulance chasing ... I tell you what, most of the legal community in Houston thinks low of what Tony Buzbee is doing. It's looked down upon.
Deshaun Watson is a guy that's highly respected. I've known him for years, been around him not just at the stadium. I've been to the charity events, a few social settings. I know his entire camp.
Here's what Wilson had to say when asked if he didn't believe the accusers:
I'm skeptical. Let's put it like that, yeah. I tell you this, I want to be careful. I'm not dismissing that it could be true in a sense that I wasn't there ... The people that know what happened are him and those alleged women who haven't put their name on it. It's all a Jane Doe situation, so we don't know the women, there's no way to vet it. There's no way to really look into it.
I'm not saying that I'm not [pro-Watson]. I don't know them, I know him. I'm not going to throw the guy under the bus before I have some proof. I don't feel like I have the proof.
Wilson proceeded to note the lack of involvement of the Harris County sheriff's department and praised Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, as "a powerhouse lawyer" and disclosing that he just spoke with him the previous night.
He then held up Watson's underprivileged background as evidence of his character, speculated that Watson's lack of previous incidents made him an easier target for the accusers and dropped the "don't negotiate with terrorists" line:
He's had impeccable character, that's accurate. He's a guy that grew up in public housing, single mom, had cancer, he was a ballboy for the Falcons, had a bunch of jobs. He was a really underprivileged kid growing up and became a football star. So it's been a meteoric rise. For Deshaun, now that he's got the money, perhaps he's a target. That was a point that was made to me by David Cornwell, who's represented a lot of the players in personal conduct cases.
It's easier, actually, when you go after someone with an impeccable reputation in many ways, because they have the means to pay. In the case of someone like this, Deshaun Watson, they're more likely to pay to make the whole thing go away. In his case, it's kind of like you don't negotiate with terrorists. People are demanding money, they're asking for money.
It kept escalating, it kept going up and up and up, you start talking about more and more funds. I'm not going to say how much it got to, but my understanding is that there was an admission ... that this was just a money grab. But they didn't expect for this to get to this point where there's other cases. That's the risk you run.
Wilson has been covering the Watson case since the beginning. His piece on the reaction from Watson's camp entitled "Who is the real Deshaun Watson?" published March 26 in the Chronicle received criticism from Texas Monthly for granting anonymity to several pro-Watson sources.
Texas Monthly also reported that the Chronicle's coverage of Watson had "generated consternation among its staff," with reporters voicing their concerns to upper management.
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