ESPN’s Adam Schefter says running completed story by Bruce Allen was ‘a step too far’

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ESPN’s Adam Schefter issued a statement Wednesday in which he expressed regret for having provided an NFL executive a full story he co-wrote so that the executive could suggest possible changes before publication.

The revelation of Schefter’s 2011 email to former Washington team president Bruce Allen, from a June court filing first reported on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times, spurred criticism of Schefter for committing what some viewed as a violation of journalistic ethics.

Describing the decision to run his story, co-written with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, past Allen as a “rare step,” Schefter said he did that because it concerned the “complicated subject” of a new NFL collective bargaining agreement that was nearing completion.

“It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn’t have done it,” Schefter said in the statement that was issued via ESPN PR’s Twitter account, which has approximately 8.5 million fewer followers his personal account.

The 54-year-old reporter, who has been with ESPN since 2009, is arguably the foremost disseminator of breaking news regarding the NFL. He said in his statement that “basically it’s a common practice to run information past sources.”

Some observers chided Schefter, though, for going past checking with Allen on a particular fact or a quote. Showing a source an entire story and asking for feedback on “anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” as Schefter did in the email to Allen, is not generally considered acceptable practice by news operations.

What many also found striking was Schefter’s appellation of Allen as “Mr. Editor.” That suggested a league executive could exercise control over a story that purported to present a third-party summation of a process between two sides with competing interests.

“The criticism being levied is fair,” Schefter said in his statement. “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’s email to Allen surfaced in a court filing related to a lawsuit by Snyder in which he claimed that an India-based website defamed him by linking him without evidence to convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. Allen became a target of Snyder’s legal maneuvering when the WFT owner attempted to force his longtime right-hand man to disclose communications that might show Allen was a source of information for journalists.

Allen “has a long history of using the public media to advance his own agenda against anyone adverse to him — which is precisely the conduct that is at issue in the Indian Action for which Petitioner seeks discovery,” Snyder’s legal team stated in a June court filing.

Emails to and from Allen involving other media members, including reporters for The Washington Post checking on specific pieces of information or trying to arrange interviews, were also included in the court filing.

While the 2011 CBA negotiations were underway, Allen received an email from Jon Gruden, with whom he had worked with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and who at the time was an analyst on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” In the email, Gruden used racist language while belittling NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Gruden, who left ESPN in 2018 to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, apologized last week but declared he “never had a blade of racism” in him.

On Monday, Gruden resigned from the Raiders after more emails to Allen and others sent over a number of years came to light. In them, Gruden shared expressions of misogyny and homophobia, including while disparaging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction,” Gruden said Monday. “Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

The emergence of some of Gruden’s emails are linked to an investigation into allegations that Washington cultivated a toxic work environment that included sexual harassment. The NFL said Tuesday it does not plan to make public further material collected in its probe, which was initiated by Snyder and concluded in July with the owner receiving a $10 million fine. Snyder also ceded day-to-day control of team operations to his wife, Tanya Snyder.

ESPN stood by Schefter, saying in a statement, “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.”

Earlier Wednesday, those offering a negative assessment of Schefter’s decision to seek Allen’s input on a completed story included former ESPN personality and “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill.

“I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now. I’ve never let a source proofread, preview or edit any story,” Hill, now with The Atlantic, wrote on Twitter. “Majority of journalists I know have never done this either. That is a huge journalistic NO-NO. Young journalists, that is not how it’s done. Ever.”

Hours before his official statement was issued by ESPN PR, Schefter defended his interaction with Allen on Philadelphia radio station 97.5 The Fanatic.

“I’ve learned for a long time in this business not to discuss sources, or the process, or how stories are done. But I would just say that basically it’s a common practice to run information past sources,” Schefter said then. “And in this particular case, during a labor-intensive lockout that was a complicated subject that was new to understand, I took the extra-rare step to run information past one of the people that I was talking to.

“You know, it was an important story to fans, a host of others, and that’s the situation.”

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