Star Tribune’s Zulgad defends Favre reporting; Souhan says QB ‘lying’

As regular readers know, I was on vacation last week, so I watched the latest “Favre retirement” dust-up from the sidelines. Star Tribune Vikings beat writer Judd Zulgad got particularly vociferous grief after reporting last Tuesday that the phlegmatic signal-caller texted a retirement decision to teammates and club officials. Favre denied it the next day.

Although some hardcore Vikings fans ripped Zulgad for making things up, I had to scratch my sunburned head over the outrage: after all, a named source — tight end Visanthe Shiancoe — confirmed that other players had received such texts.

(Zulgad’s original tweet: “Brett Favre began telling Vikings officials last night he will NOT return for a 20th season.” Next tweet: “Favre is expected to issue a press release later today. Keep in mind this is Brett Favre and it is Aug. 3.” Three minutes later: “There is a chance ownership will go back to Favre with an offer of more than the 13 million for this season.”)

Had I been working, I would’ve interviewed Zulgad about the blowback, but on Friday, Adam Warwas of the NFL Gridiron Gab blog did a nice job of it.

As you might imagine, Zulgad stood foursquare behind the story; I don’t know Judd’s sources (which of course he won’t reveal), but he has a great reputation, and I have no trouble believing his version.

And if you believe Zulgad (and Shiancoe and national journalists), the next logical step is to conclude that Favre is lying. And that’s exactly what Strib columnist Jim Souhan said — repeatedly — on WCCO’s “Rosen’s Sports Sunday.” Mainstream journalists are all-but-allergic to calling people liars (you need ascertain premeditation, not just misstatement), though sports columnists feel the freest. Souhan didn’t use the L-word in print, but did travel to Mississippi to interview Favre last week.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 08/09/2010 - 10:00 am.

    Dave: you and others have said “tight end Visanthe Shiancoe — confirmed that other players had received such texts.”

    No, Shiancoe didn’t confirm any such thing. He said he had HEARD that other players had received such texts. That is more than just a subtle difference.

    As far as the sports writers are concerned, I have no sympathy for them in this silly fiasco. They were more than willing to play the “will he or won’t he game” and resorted to some sloppy reporting and got bit on their collective butt.

    By the way, I hope you had a restful vacation. It’s good to see you back.

    It’s time that sports reporters and their editors hold themselves to the same sourcing and checking standards that news reporters usually follow.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 08/09/2010 - 10:09 am.

    Hal – I think it was a bit more than heard players had *received* the text, but that the retirement *substance* was true:

    “What I’m hearing is that it is true, that he did decide to retire,” Shiancoe told ESPN Radio. “But until I hear it from his mouth, I’m going to leave it at that.”

    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/thehuddle/post/2010/08/vikings-visanthe-shiancoe-on-brett-favre-retirement-what-im-hearing-is-that-it-is-true/1

    It’s not as good as Shiancoe having seen the text or being a named first-hand source, but it’s much better than Zulgad’s word alone (or that of AP and others, who had their own sources).

  3. Submitted by Elliot Mann on 08/09/2010 - 10:14 am.

    I thought it was interesting that Souhan needled ESPN on Twitter, saying essentially that the Strib had beaten them on the story; in reality the Strib broke the story about Favre retiring and then followed it the next day with a story that Favre isn’t retiring.

    Publishing a story that essentially refutes the first “breaking” story calls into question the quality of the original “scoop.” The situation reminded me more of Winston Wolf than of a Mission Accomplished banner.

  4. Submitted by Ron Rosenbaum on 08/09/2010 - 10:57 am.

    David, I’m a fan and friend of Zulgad, and it may be a small point, but I still don’t understand how an admission from Shiancoe that other players had received texts from Favre confirms that, “Brett Favre began telling Vikings officials last night he will NOT return for a 20th season.” I believe Shiancoe confirmed that other players received texts. Are players the same as officials?

  5. Submitted by William Souder on 08/09/2010 - 11:13 am.

    Let’s ask the obvious question: If Mr. Souhan and his colleagues KNOW that Brett Favre will return to play for the Vikings this season…and Souhan’s sarcastic, serial assertions to Mark Rosen were intended to make fun of anybody who doesn’t understand this…then where was that skepticism in reporting the retirement story in the first place? If you’re a sucker to believe that Brett Favre is going to retire, what are you if you publish that he will? I’m all for reporting whatever you can find out…but this one should have come with a whopper of a disclaimer.

  6. Submitted by T J Simplot on 08/09/2010 - 11:16 am.

    I am not a great journalistic mind so I have an honest question. If a subject claims to have a text or an email from someone, at what point does the reporter ask to see it?

  7. Submitted by Steve Rudolph on 08/09/2010 - 11:19 am.

    It’s also worth noting that Shiancoe’s quote wasn’t included in the original story. It wasn’t until after the story had gone viral and players were being asked about it that anyone went on record.

    We need to go back to the time when sources were named. Period. Sports reporters aren’t exposing Watergate. If you can’t go public with your source, don’t write the story.

  8. Submitted by Ron Salzberger on 08/09/2010 - 11:21 am.

    The amount of journalistic resources devoted to sports generally and to football in particular is outrageous in itself. These characters get more newsprint and bandwidth than almost anything else in the state at a time when the future looks plenty foreboding.

    But even with in sports, imagine yourself besieged constantly by sports reportds. “Gonna play next year? Gonna play next year?” Not just by locals but nationals as well. What do you say? Well, it would be very tempting just to say, “I quit.”

    Why anyone – even obnoxious, over-watched sports superstars – would feel obligated to satisfy the needs of the media every day of their lives I cannot imagine.

  9. Submitted by David Brauer on 08/09/2010 - 11:21 am.

    Ron –

    I think Judd has his own sources for the “officials” statement, and while Shiancoe is only confirming the “players” side, it certainly adds another data point to the idea that that retirement statements were flying around that Tuesday.

    Elliot –

    I don’t see the “refutation” as an indication that Zulgad was wrong or irresponsible in his original report. Favre simply could have changed his mind or played a contract game, forcing a different next day story. That might only indicate developing news, not that the first-day report was wrong.

    Unnamed sources do force readers to ask whether they trust the reporter. Seems to me Zulgad quickly (2nd tweet) indicated that Favre can’t completely be trusted. I understand folks thinking Zulgad was the one playing games, but his track record is way better than Favre’s here.

    TJ –

    Again, can’t speak to Judd’s sourcing but it’s possible he DID see a/the text but the source wouldn’t let him quote from it. If it happened that way, it would explain Judd’s certainty as well as the vagueness about what it said and who it was sent to.

  10. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 08/09/2010 - 11:38 am.

    Again, there was no credible source. Shiancoe saying that he heard others had received texts (that he did not see) is only third-person hearsay at the very best; not much on which to construct a story.

  11. Submitted by karl karlson on 08/09/2010 - 12:29 pm.

    and all of this about a game helps solve the big issues like the mess in irag, afganistan and the “party of no” in DC.

  12. Submitted by James Blum on 08/09/2010 - 02:07 pm.

    A story by Jay Glazer on Fox (http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/brett-favre-waffling-the-inside-story-jay-glazer-080910) essentially confirms Zulgad’s assertion that Favre was texting Vikings players (not necessarily “Vikings officials”) that he was hanging up his cleats for good.

    I trust Zulgad (and Glazer) on this, and I think Zulgad took some abuse that he didn’t deserve. Could he have been less vague or more precise in his story? Probably, although it appears from the reporting that those players who may have received text messages from Favre weren’t willing to confirm it on the record and weren’t willing to show the texts to Zulgad.

    As much as everyone whines about Favre’s actions (or lack thereof), it’s a very legitimate story as NFL training camps open. Zulgad and the Strib would be worse than fools not to be all over that story, and in fact you could argue that not reporting the story would be a greater journalistic crime.

  13. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 08/09/2010 - 02:23 pm.

    As a Packer fan, I am certainly enjoying watching Favre put the Vikings through some of what he put the Packers through a few years back. I expect that Jets fans are enjoying it as well.

    Favre has the right to be as indecisive as he wants and to skip out on as much of the preseason as the Vikings will tolerate. The problem arises when he starts throwing teammates and reporters under the bus. For those who think that Favre isn’t lying, what do you think happened here? That players didn’t tell Zulgad about the texts? That Zulgad made it up? That Shianco was lying as well? Seriously, what do you think happened?

    This certainly isn’t the first time that Favre has been “misquoted” or has been the “victim” of “sloppy reporting.” Doesn’t anyone wonder why this keeps happening to him?

  14. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 08/09/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    I’m with Karl Karlson on this. Whether or not Judd had good sources is irrelevant to a Karl’s much-bigger point: How much news space is one football player worth? My wife told me that on the night the story broke, it consumed about the first seven minutes (!) of the 6 p.m. TV newscast she was watching. That’s an enormous proportion of a very limited time once one subtracts commercials and the ever-popular (but often needlessly long) weather report.

    Granted, one can find all sorts of fault with what local television calls the news, but the same story also consumed about one third of the front-page news space of the area’s largest daily newspaper.

    Yes, I know people are bonkers about the Wilf’s football company. I’m not saying the story — on its first day,anyway — shouldn’t lead a newscast or be on a front page. But what else, of enormously greater social, political and economic significance, was crowded out of the newscast or, to a lesser extent, a newspaper, by this hugely excessive treatment?

    Does it matter one iota to humankind whether this guy plays or doesn’t play football? Sure, it’s a big deal — for a brief time — to the loyal locals, but the true significance of this matter to the course not only of human but of even local affairs is close to zero. And with or without BF, the Vikings games likely will continue to be sellouts.

    The fault here is not only that of news outlets, but of ourselves and our unwillingness to invest as much interest in what’s truly important as we do in the cult of celebrity.

  15. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 08/09/2010 - 05:58 pm.

    The original Zulgad story noted he had received the information from sources and then he noted he didn’t believe Favre was retiring (due to the pattern of this happening every year). When Zulgad was on KFAN, he said the same thing.

    What other options did he have. The entire town melts down every time that Favre texts someone. If Zulgad/Strib ignore the story, they get roasted for missing it.

    I understand the Favre gets too much attention but the reality is that the Vikings/Favre sells newspapers. The sports section is one of the main attractions to the Strib. Favre continues to be a national story, Zulgad has no choice but to report what he hears.

  16. Submitted by Elliot Mann on 08/09/2010 - 07:46 pm.

    Dave: I don’t think Judd was being irresponsible, my issue was with Souhan’s hubris.

    Did the Strib really “own” the story? What more do we know after both the stories? Has the paper advanced the public’s knowledge or understanding of the issue?

    All we know is that Brett Favre will play football next year. Unless he doesn’t. Every bartender, butcher and barber from Lake Benton, Minn., to the Boundary Waters knew that.

    It must be annoying for Judd to hear Favre say he didn’t text anyone. I’m going to assume that people are going to make that up out of thin air.

    (A poster above deserves a +1 for making a call to limit unnamed sources. I couldn’t agre more.)

  17. Submitted by Elliot Mann on 08/10/2010 - 09:06 am.

    *EDIT: I assume people AREN’T going to make up the story that they received a text.

    That’s what I get for typing on a phone.

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