ESPN's Mortensen way out of line

The Raiders might not have a great relationship with the national media but ESPN's Chris Mortensen was way out of line with his comments that the team had lost its privilege to have him run stories by them for comment. Even ESPN felt so and pushed Mortensen to issue a follow-up comment.

Mortensen, citing unnamed league sources, reported over the weekend that owner Al Davis was in negotiations to sell at least 10 percent of the franchise to a group headed by billionaire C. Dean Metropoulos. But the Raiders quickly shot down the story, with both Chief Executive Amy Trask and Senior Executive John Herrera issuing denials.

Had that been the end of the story, it would have been no big deal but Mortensen -- a veteran sports journalist -- played it like a fresh-faced rookie out of college when he was contacted by the Associated Press for a response to the Raiders' denial.

"The Raiders have lost the privilege with me of running stories past them for comment," Mortensen said. "This stems from their history of denials to most stories I have reported, as well as others in the media, when those stories have eventually proven to be true. The latest example is I reported that Al Davis planned to interview Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, and of course the story was trashed by a team spokesman."

Gilbride did indeed have a 90-minute phone conversation with Davis over the weekend, but Herrera said it was at the request of Gilbride's agent and was not a formal interview for the Raiders' head coaching position.

Herrera told Silver and Black Illustrated that the team has not even begun a formal hiring process to the fill the spot, still currently held by interim head coach Tom Cable. That process is likely to begin shortly but might last longer than some people expect.

"(Davis) doesn't want to drag his feet," Herrera said Monday. "But he doesn't feel like he has to make an instantaneous decision, either."

The issue really isn't about whether Gilbride formally interviewed for the head coaching job or not. It isn't even whether Davis and Metropoulos have talked about a business transaction.

Saying the Raiders have "lost their privilege" of having Mortensen run his stories past them for comment is both childish and, even more to the point, terrible journalism. From day one in this business, I was taught that there are always two sides to every story and, whether you agree with them or not, it is the basic duties of a qualified journalist to print both sides.

Mortensen apparently felt because he was a national star at ESPN that he no longer needed to do that with the Raiders, that his story should stand alone on its merit. Bad decision, bad comment, bad journalism.

I've covered the Raiders since they returned to Oakland in 1995 and have been stymied at times in my attempts to get the team to confirm stories I later found out to be true. But that's life when it comes to covering professional sports. The Raiders are not the first NFL team or pro sports team to deny stories that were indeed true. It is, in an odd way, part of the game.

My response has been to quote the Raiders and let them speak for themselves. If they denied a story and it later proved to be true, then they are the ones who have to face the music, so to speak. Again, it's all part of the game that goes on between sports franchises and the media.

Mortensen made the ultimate journalist mistake when he made himself a part of the story with his claim that the Raiders lost their privilege, in essence, of commenting on stories he was publishing about them. I about spit up my morning coffee when I read what he wrote to the Associated Press because it was so out of line.

Apparently the folks at ESPN agreed and had Mortensen issue a follow-up statement late Sunday.

"Upon further review I should not have qualified any potential communication with the Raiders as a ‘privilege.' I'd say they have repeatedly diminished and discouraged efforts to reach out for an official comment based on the repeated denials of prior stories," Mortensen said. "It also would be an assumption on their part that I have not had any contact with the Raiders while reporting on this story."

Even that doesn't hold water because Mortensen said in his first statement that the team had lost its privilege to have him run stories past them for comment. Yet in his follow-up, he says it's an assumption on the Raiders part that he didn't have any contact with them while reporting on the story.

Which is it, Chris? Did you have contact with them or were you not seeking them out for comment because they lost that privilege?

Mortensen has broken several stories during his time at ESPN but he's also been woefully inaccurate several other times. In fact, the entire ESPN crew has been guilty of that.

I guess it's question of ethics. And on this one Mortensen gets an F.


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