DeadSpin, Brett Favre and Jenn Sterger: Is Real Journalism Dead?
It’s hard to know where to begin to criticize deadspin.com’s slanted, gossipy, uncorroborated reporting of Brett Favre’s alleged messages to Jenn Sterger. Let’s just get this out of the way right now: However distasteful it may be to see one of the most well-known athletes in all of sports at the center of a sex scandal, there are plenty of indications that that’s the case. But the story hardly ends there. Deadspin asks the reader at the start of its first post to “please suspend your disbelief for a moment”**, and apparently you’re never supposed to take it back.
If you, the reader, take two things away from this note, I would like them to be the following:
1) The knowledge that nothing has been proven against Favre to this point, that there is no conclusive evidence that Favre was the man in the voicemails, and none of the parties involved–Favre, Sterger, the Jets, the Vikings, anyone–have provided any supporting evidence for this conjecture, or even acknowledged it.
2) Full and complete understanding that whatever Deadspin’s pretensions in their various posts, they are nothing more than a sketchy, low-end, openly biased media outlet who broke a story and are now trying to milk it for everything they possibly can.
Let’s deal with the first point first. The Jets have told deadspin the following: “The Jets are working closely with the NFL on investigating this matter”* and Greg Aiello of the NFL has said only “We are reviewing the matter”^. And Favre said “I’m not getting into that. I’ve got my hands full with the Jets and am trying to get some timing down with our guys, so that’s all I’m going to discuss.”* And according to that last link, Jenn Sterger’s manager said “Jenn did not provide Deadspin with any information”. The messages, voicemails and pictures all came from an unnamed third party, not Sterger herself. So there’s little in the way of corroboration to be found here.
Now, Deadspin has two posts that contain most of the relevant facts, which are Links D and E down at the bottom. The first deals with the Myspace messages that Deadspin paid the third party for. Here are the three images from that post.
The person never identifies himself as Favre, but gives clues that would make it easy to infer it was him, such as “i’m new to team with grey hair”. Deadspin blanks out the seven-digit phone number but allows us to see the area code, which is 601 and does indeed cover the area where Favre’s house is (Sumrall, Miss). There is also the charge, presumably from Sterger, that someone approached her and asked for her number on behalf of someone else (which would be Favre in this scenario). The name Jared Winley, who is a Jets PR person, is mentioned as a possibility for that person. Winley also appears in the third message. Winley said to a Jets PR firm that “he never interacted with Sterger and never had a phone conversation with her”, according to the website (not Winley’s words). Deadspin also notes that in the voicemail, the caller says something like “I think Aaron came up and asked you”, so that’s open to interpretation.
The second post is noteworthy here mostly for the video. It contains both voicemails that Sterger received, some very blatantly biased editing and three pictures of someone’s penis. I’ll get to both the editing and the rest of the post in a minute.
You can find the video at Link E. Beware of the obscene pictures, which come right at the end at around 2:08 in. These are all the “strange messages” that Sterger received.
What do we make of this?
It’s a whole load of no proof, is what. If it is Favre behind all this, he never identifies himself. It seems implausible to me that Favre, having picked up and headed for a strange city and in the middle of a media firestorm, would pick that time to start harassing a Jets sideline girl. But that’s not proof, again, either way. Is there circumstantial evidence? Plenty. The “I’m new to the team with grey hair”, the mention of a hotel room in the voicemails, the 601 area code all point vaguely in Favre’s direction. However, the caller never says anything that would confirm it as Favre (for example, the room number in the hotel, which would presumably be known only to Favre). But with the total lack of hard evidence and the lack of any corroboration from a team source or Sterger, there’s not much at the core of this story. Favre himself brushed off the question in a press conference. And let’s not forget that in the original article, Sterger told the author that she had received “dick pics” before from other athletes. This was not an uncommon occurrance.
Deadspin purports to address the claims in Link E, saying that there is a possibility that someone was impersonating Favre. They then ask the reader to ‘look at the evidence’: “For an individual to put forth the effort to 1.) acquire a cellphone with a Mississippi area code; 2.) take some voice lessons; and 3.) implicate Jets handlers and perhaps other people, all within a very short period of time and for no discernible reason other than to mess with Sterger, well, that’s some very aggressive role-playing. Jenn believed it to be him. Others believed it to be him.”
This is specious reasoning. There’s nothing saying that an impersonator would’ve need voice lessons, or that he’d have had to take any special effort to get a Mississippi area code. It’s as simple as going to a phone store and changing it; I know, I worked at one over the summer. And anyone could’ve found the name of a random Jets PR person on the site to “implicate”. ‘Others believed it to be him’ is a wash, as they aren’t named and this is the first time they’ve been alluded to. None of this is convincing evidence that that was Favre on the voicemails and in the pictures.
Interpretative note: I’ve heard several opinions that Favre not openly denying the charge just makes it more suspicious. This is bullshit, for two reasons. One, it’s perfectly possible that his reaction was not “This is lunacy, I’m going to deny it”, but “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It is not worth my time”. Have you seen President Obama addressing the birthers’ allegations? The reasoning is probably pretty similar. Two, even if he had stood up and said the above, Deadspin would’ve spun it as “Favre Denies Sending Cock Shots to Jenn Sterger”. Either way, they can make him sound bad. That’s how biased journalism can work. Either way, I am not convinced that a nonanswer adds even infinitesimally to the suspicion against Favre.
Update: One more article mentions that a pair of massage therapists have their own charges for Favre. At Link F, you can read about how Favre allegedly checked out one girl’s ass. He then exchanged text messages with her and another girl, inviting them back to his hotel room to give him a massage. Obviously this sounds like a bad porno waiting to happen, but Deadspin (giving credit where it’s due here) does mention that masseuses often exchange numbers with players and do set up massages off-site.
This story has even less credibility than Sterger’s does. The masseuse and her husband came to Deadspin after they read the story in the New York Post (another paragon of unbiased reporting), which sounds a lot to me like jumping on a publicity bandwagon. There is no corroboration, as usual, and no text messages have been released. There’s no hard evidence here.
The second thing to address is Deadspin itself. Let me just say this: I get it. Deadspin, being the low-end media outlet that it is, needs every scrap of publicity it can possibly accrue. So when they find something like this, however unsubstantiated, they will work it for everything they possibly can. So far, they’ve got three distinct angles that they’re working on:
1) Brett Favre is a dirty, cheating man. They’re working this angle because, hey, if there are two things the whole country pays attention to, they’re corrupt public figures and Brett Favre.
2) Deadspin is the crusading, wild, freelance, uncorrupted media outlet who’s mercilessly sticking it to the man. They’re working this angle because that’s the persona they try to cultivate for their fringe outfit.
3) There is a big, bad ‘man’, and it’s alternately Favre and the NFL. They’re working this angle because, hey, who doesn’t like stories about fighting the man?
Put this all together and you have Head-Spinning Bullshit +5. You have pretensions like “We are the Woodward and Bernstein of athlete dong”. You have the spin of Favre’s nonanswer at the press conference. And you have this idiotically self-gratifying Link G, which slobbers all over the reporter from the New York Post who, shock, asked Favre about the Sterger rumors. He is lauded as “an awesomely ballsy outsider” who is stirring up the pot. According to Deadspin, “there is no more captive and pliant segment of the sports press than the football media”, which doesn’t “[want] to fuck with the mise-en-scene”. The article then goes on to take a few shots at “the NFL’s PR juggernaut”, which will “try to pretend the bad thing away” and levied “the league’s best efforts to bowdlerize [the story] into oblivion”.
Hold on, let’s go to the instant replay! What did the Jets spokesman say? “The Jets are working closely with the NFL on investigating this manner”. What did the NFL spokesman say? “We are reviewing the matter.”
Oh, my bad, Deadspin totally has that right. The giant NFL machine is trying to squash the little guy and “bowdlerize it into oblivion”! Holy shit, run!
…wait a second…
What a pitiable attempt at self-promotion that is.
But it’s nothing compared to the drama the video of the voicemails and pics tries, and fails, to create.
Without background music and on a blank white screen, we see the following messages interspersed with video clips and photos (all punctuation is in the video):
“Brett Favre joins the Jets in August 2008…
He apparently finds something he likes…
(Photos of Sterger.)
She begins to receive strange Myspace messages…
including one that mentions the Jets’ media relations manager
She begins to receive strange voicemails
Jenn is approached by someone who wants to set her up with Favre…
She declines and jokes that if she were to get involved with someone like that…
…she might end up in a garbage can
The voicemails grow desperate
(Voicemail 2 plays)
Then, she receives cellphone pics
Is this Brett Favre’s cock?
(pics are shown)
Jenn Sterger leaves the Jets on May 7, 2009
for more visit deadspin.com”
Well? It’s Loose Change-style bullshit, cooked up and spun in such a manner as to make Favre sound like some kind of tyrant puppeteer. Maybe this is just me recalling the film Nosferatu, but it has that kind of silent-movie creepiness to it. But “…she might end up in a garbage can”? “The voicemails grow desperate”? “strange Myspace messages”? This is needlessly creepy language. They are intentionally trying to build a mileu for purposes of selling their story. There’s nothing conclusive in either the pictures or the voicemails, which you can watch at Link E. Make your own judgment about whether the voicemails sound like Favre.
So? In a week or six months or a year, we may find out that all this circumstantial evidence really does point squarely at Favre, and that he is guilty as alleged of harassing Sterger and the therapists via text, voicemail and picture mail. Or we may find out that Deadspin took unsubstantiated rumors and spun them into a tapestry of convincing but vague crap, or some combination of the above. All we know right now is what I said above: that nothing has been proven as yet, and you should treat it as such, and that Deadspin is exploiting the entire thing for its own advantage and in doing so, making a mockery of journalism by aspiring to it. Paying for stories, needless hyping and name-dropping, open bias in articles–this is in no way proper journalistic behavior. I urge the reader to recognize that as well.