April 24, 2014

The Merchant of Wingo Square

by Dan Snapp
[email protected]

Nobody says “quash” anymore. A verb meaning “to suppress or extinguish”, it’s been all but stricken from usage. It’s been replaced by “squash”, which sounds more like what “quash” means.

The word “accountability” is pretty well squashed, too.

Once upon a time, those claiming accountability had actions tied to their words. Something went  wrong, somebody stood up, and something got done. It wasn’t always fair, often with some scapegoat sacrificed to protect the higher echelon. But heads most certainly rolled.

Not anymore. Now all you need to be deemed accountable is to say, “I’m accountable.” No penalties, no punishments, no nothing. Say the buck stops at your desk, and we’ll take you at your word and be on our merry way.

On Friday, the Boston Herald’s John Tomase fessed up, admitting his negligent and damaging account of an alleged Super Bowl walk-through tape was skimpy on facts and bereft of journalistic process.

He told us yes, he indeed was accountable, yet he’s not being held to account. He gets to keep his job, keep his Pats beat, and it’s like it never happened. Worse, whichever editors green-lighted the article remain hidden behind Tomase’s skirt – he’s their Pats patsy – and they presumably keep their jobs as well. They get to say, “Oops, our bad,” and that’s the end of it.   

If only it were so easy for the Patriots. They violated a league rule, were investigated, and were punished heavily. So what do they do? They cooperate with the investigation, turn in their tapes and materials, apologize to the team, coaches and fans, and later apologize to the rest of the league. They give an explanation for the practice (an explanation that’s remained consistent to this day), and admit they were wrong.

In return for their cooperation, admission, explanation and apologies, every team achievement is declared tainted, and they’re presumed guilty of any charge speculated in print or on the air, from now ’til the end of Bill Belichick’s tenure.

Now Belichick didn’t comply with what the media really wanted: full explanation to each and every Spygate question, contrition for the way he treated them in the past, and a promise to respond to each text message from here on out. But then Tomase didn’t answer our questions either: not revealing his sources, which editors were involved, and the real reason anonymous third-party hearsay was decreed fit for public consumption. Somehow, he gets a pass.

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, when finally questioned on his Comcast ties and the huge conflict of interest they cast over his Spygate crusade, responded, “I’ve been at this line of work for a long time and no one has ever questioned my integrity.”  No reporter thought to follow up with, “Wait a minute; Yes we have.”

So Specter and Tomase get to say “that’s that” and apparently, that’s that. There’s no that’s that for the Pats.

Tomase’s explanation at times revealed the personal angst involved with running such a story. But it was a baser emotion that ruled that day: they didn’t want to get scooped, so they ran it.

It was a story that the editors simply had to know wasn’t vetted properly: anonymous sources describing the action of other anonymous sources, no physical proof of the tape, nor any description of where the tape went, or how it got there. They ignored their duties even more aggressively than Tomase ignored his. So where are their public explanations? Where’s their accountability?

In the end, Tomase appeals for forgiveness, speaking naively of mending relationships, regaining trust and moving forward. Like Shylock pleading for his life in the “Merchant of Venice”, Tomase is hoping everyone forgets the pound of flesh he tried to extract.

Already, the wagons are circling. Some suggest his explanation is more noble than Belichick’s apology. Others praise the courage he displayed in facing the music. All ignore the fact that his mea culpa came only after all other avenues were exhausted. To borrow a quote from the movie “Quiz Show”, Tomase shouldn’t be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.

Most damning to the Herald is that they waited until after Matt Walsh’s meeting with the commissioner before coming clean. If Walsh was their source (or source of their source), then either the story wasn’t fully vetted back to Walsh, or Walsh lied. If he wasn’t the source, then they already knew the story was wrong, and were hoping, by some saintly stroke of luck, Walsh would confirm what they were only guessing. Either way, it proves the Herald didn’t give the story its due diligence.

Throughout his explanation, it’s clear Tomase knew the gravity of what he was reporting and that there were repercussions if proven untrue. He stated it was a story he simply couldn’t afford to get wrong. A reporter friend even advised him, “There’s no coming back from this.”

And yet, there he is, back on the beat.

This isn’t a demand for Tomase’s termination; his careless editors should carry the brunt of it. But there should be some price for him as well.

Saying you’re sorry and having to explain yourself, well, that’s a punishment for children. Part of being an adult is facing the consequences of your actions. How else would you be held accountable?

Comments

  1. Jackson says:

    An incredibly astute assessment. Well-done.

  2. Thank you, Dan.

    I’ve grown awfully tired of hearing ESPN and the like call for Belichick’s suspension, largely because of the furor that arose over Tomase’s lies, while Tomase gets off with a simple apology. In other words, the media has been holding Belichick responsible for the bad feelings that arose over Tomase’s story.

    I DO think Tomase should be fired. Leaving him on the Patriots beat is an insult to the Patriots and the fans.

  3. Dan, you hit the nail on the head. Why can’t Tomase just go away? The Herald needs to take him to some farm where he can play and all that. Instead, anyone who ventures to the Herald web site will be force-fed his version of Shawshank – not going to happen in this lifetime especially with his lack of talent.

  4. The most despicable part of this whole Herald/Tomase affair is how the Herald’s minions have been doing their best to downplay the inaccuracy of the story (Felger: “it was just a question of semantics because Matt Walsh was AT the Rams’ walkthrough”), or to divert attention from it by writing flame-baiting columns that bash the REAL villains here: the Patriots fans and their blind loyalty to Belichick (Tony Mazz).

    It’s really pathetic.

  5. Dan, great point about people “taking responsibility” these days. It’s not the same as taking blame, a concept which you might say has been quashed. Today, when someone says he’s taking responsibility, what he’s really saying is he’s going to try to do better from now on. Tomase should resign or at the very least take himself off of the Patriots beat. There have to be consequences for such an error.
    I might be a Patriots fan with blind loyalty, but at least I’m not making excuses for a lazy, irresponsible co-worker.

  6. Curious how the media seems to think that Walsh was the source of the false walk-though tape story but still readily believe Walsh’s other unsubstantiated and uncorroborated assertions about the team’s efforts to “conceal” the videoptaping. Credibility, it would seem, is based on what makes a more entertaining story.

  7. Looky Lou says:

    well as far as I’m concerned, I DO demand Tomase’s termination….waiting unti THE EVE of the BIGGEST SPORTING EVENT IN AMERICA to write his FLIMSY story was obviously done for Tomase’s PERSONAL GAIN….he gambled bigtime and lost…..I want him TERMINATED

  8. George Richman says:

    John Tomase should be fired. Every editor who shared responsibility for approving the “walkthrough tape” story should be fired.

    I am hopeful that the people of Boston will not let this pass without serious and permanent action against the Herald. IMO, anyone who does not cancel an existing subscription to the Herald, as well as anyone who buys a copy from a news stand, is rewarding the dispicable behavior, and violation of the public trust that Tomase, his editors, and the Herald management, have committed.

    BOYCOTT THE HERALD!!

  9. I find it especially funny (and not in the ‘ha, ha’ sense) when people try to equate Belichick’s mistake with Tomase’s. Belichick did something that is technically legal, albeit in an illegal way–and it can certainly be argued that his interpretation of the rules has some plausibility.

    Tomase, on the other hand, *violated one of the most fundamental tenets of journalism*. The fact that the Herald, and he, do not seem to care about this fact speaks volumes about their sense of ethics. If I were Bob Kraft, I wouldn’t bother to sue the Herald. Instead, I’d just revoke their access–completely. No photographers, no reporters, nothing.

  10. This is one of the best articles on media excess I have ever seen.
    Dan Snapp has accurately portrayed something which is systemic throughout the American media (and government, corporations, etc. but we don’t have to deal w/ that now).

    Perhaps the best response, since the Herald editors won’t take action, is not only to boycott the paper, but all Rupert Murdoch creations.

  11. Looky Lou says:

    Well, I see ESPN has scrapped the bottom of the barrell to keep “spygate” going, looking to Joey Porter for comments…if that doesn’t tell you they have an “agenda” NOTHING will…

  12. Looky Lou says:

    who will they look to next?…Jose Canseco?

  13. Now why, in this day and age of media unaccountability, would we expect the Herald, ESPN or any of the Patriot haters to step up and be fair and balanced??

    Shame on those that went on this witch hunt and they all will get what they deserve – a total lack of respect and lost loyal readers / viewers.

  14. Looky Lou says:

    damn…from Bill Burt….never been that impressed with him on WEEI…maybe I haven’t really been listening, sometimes I use EEI as background noise

    Trying Belichick twice for same infraction is both boring and wrong

    Bill Burt

    The biggest roar from the Boston Garden’s standing-room-only crowd during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, outside of the basketball game, was for Bill Belichick.

    It’s a ritual every home game when the in-house camera crews search for A-and B-list celebrities, then show them on the Jumbotron.

    The fans went into a frenzy when Belichick and his significant other were shown, sitting about five seats from the Piston bench. When Belichick realized the camera was on him he waved, lifting the noise level two more decibels.

    One could come up with two possible perspectives from the ovation:

    1. Boston fans are beyond repair. Winning at all costs is obviously their Modus Operandi. They are an embarrassment.

    2. Boston fans get it. This is one of the most overblown stories in the history of sports. And, when push comes to shove, everyone else is jealous.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I pick Door No. 2.

    The most recent bashing session came from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, who did what it seems everyone else has done with regularity the last seven months — trash Belichick

    It was deemed a “great” column because he had the “guts” to go after one of his own.

    Of course, Ryan’s premise was “spygate,” yes, the same spygate Belichick was tried for and convicted of back in September. And Ryan used the dangerous word, “cover-up,” to describe Belichick’s most recent antics.

    Cover-up?

    What am I missing here? Belichick admitted guilt. He was fined and the Patriots lost a first-round draft choice. Where is the “cover-up?”

    Ryan and the rest of the country missed the boat here. Their problem was Matt Walsh was a fraud and the real cheater. It was he alone, without any prodding, that witnessed a few moments of the Rams’ Saturday walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI.

    Walsh didn’t deliver what he promised. There was no tape. Worse, there was no due diligence done on who Walsh was before everyone believed his claims.

    But back to Belichick.

    I have been placed in the “Kool-Aid camp” when it comes to Belichick. That I believe everything he says and does and have given him carte blanche when it comes to his shoddy treatment of the media.

    That is laughable.

    Here are my thoughts on Belichick: I believe he is probably the greatest football coach that ever lived. If he can win four or five more Super Bowls I will call him one of the greatest franchise architects, too, right up there with the likes of Red Auerbach.

    When it comes to football, I plead ignorance. I don’t know who really made a mistake when an interception is thrown or ball is tipped. I could guess, but I’d probably be wrong.

    Belichick is not above criticism.

    He is in this predicament because he doesn’t play the game of “I ask a question and you give me the answer I need.”

    He could give more information or storylines to ESPN and Sports Illustrated staffers who fly in from thousands of miles away. It would help his cause immensely. But he doesn’t.

    That’s his choice and he has to live with the consequences, which means he rarely if ever gets the benefit of the doubt.

    I like Belichick. I like him because, to paraphrase one of his most common torts, he is who he is.

    He has conviction. He has core values when it comes to running the Patriots organization and they really haven’t changed since our first press conference with him back in January of 2000.

    Yes, he is a sore loser. His press conferences after his last two losses, to the Colts in the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl in Phoenix, were not good. A few more accolades for the competition probably would have helped his persona. He, for some reason, chose to remain cranky.

    To be honest, several million New Englanders still are not over the loss to the Giants. And as one ex-Patriot told me, “Bill will never get over that loss. He understands what it would have meant to his legacy.”

    Belichick doesn’t say, “I love my players,” which is the biggest lie in sports. And he doesn’t say Junior Seau is playing great when Seau is playing below average, which of course hurts our storylines.

    Belichick, contrary to his “alleged” Nixonian side as Ryan put it, has a soft side. Doug Flutie’s drop-kick and Vinny Testaverde’s touchdown pass streak are examples.

    There are probably dozens more, but he they will remain private probably forever.

    What was disappointing about Ryan’s rip job was the cheap shot at Belichick’s personal life, which he called “tangled.”

    That is a slippery slope. My guess is the percentage of “tangled” personal lives in the media is equal to that of NFL head coaches, if not higher.

    Why not stick to the subject matter?

    You know why? Because there is no subject matter here.

    This is old news, spygate.

    But for those that don’t like Belichick or the Patriots, it was another opportunity, and it seems the nation has taken advantage of it.

    As much as ESPN’s analysts rally against the Patriots accomplishments, filming opposing coaches signals was probably a waste of time.

    Football coaches wasting time on some obsessions? Belichick has thousands in his company.

    In the end, we in the media want everything. We want access and we want championships.

    Former Patriots coach Pete Carroll gave us access but no championships. So he was shipped out of here.

    You want to know the funny thing. If Bob Kraft fired Bill Belichick today, there would be a dozen teams ready to hand over their franchises to him, lock, stock and barrel.

    Will the Patriots “dynasty” be tainted forever, as Ryan implied?

    I doubt it. I believe this black mark on the Patriots will eventually turn gray and then disappear a few years from now.

    Time has a way of healing wounds. So do a few more championships. And if I had to guess, I’d say with Belichick leading the way the latter will be here before the former.

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