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ESPN's Jared Porter Bombshell Report Is Thoughtful, Impressive Journalism

Kyle Koster
Jan 19, 2021, 3:17 PM EST
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images
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The bombshell ESPN story detailing New York Mets general manager Jared Porter's harassment of a female reporter was over three years in the reporting and was only ready to publish at 11 p.m. ET on a Monday. Its impact was immediate and far-reaching, becoming the story in the way only an unexpected revelation with certain damaging fallout can do. Porter's behavior disqualified him from a dream job, his fate sealed with an early-morning tweet from Mets owner Steve Cohen.

It should be abundantly clear here that he is not the victim. Which is the element about the story that stands out the most. Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan do essential work in establishing both the trauma inflicted on the woman, a former foreign correspondent covering baseball in America in her second language, and the decisions she made regarding how to deal with the abuse.

The first voice in the piece is that of Porter bumbling through a sloppy explanation and getting lost on his way to the truth. "The more explicit ones are not of me," he grasps. "Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images."

Vocabulary is important. That his response included the word "joke" is revealing. Compare it to the woman's thoughtful and unenviable calculus is coming forward.

""My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else," she told ESPN through an interpreter. "Obviously, he's in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry." "I know in the U.S., there is a women's empowerment movement. But in [my home country], it's still far behind," the woman said. "Women get dragged through the mud if your name is associated with any type of sexual scandal. Women are the ones who get fingers pointed at them. I don't want to go through the victimization process again. I don't want other people to blame me.""

Following that is a timeline of Porter's actions, laid out plainly in great detail. ESPN has the receipts and the evidence completely dismantles any notion that Porter "got the wrong idea" or "misread things" or any number of excuses people tend to give men in positions of power who exert it maliciously.

Sixty-two unanswered text messages over a two-month span culminating in a naked, erect penis and then returning to more lighthearted fare as though somehow this was acceptable behavior. This is not the first story, or even the 100th story, detailing unwanted sexual advances from a man on high. Sadly, it won't be the last. But it's different in tone, explanation, and straightforwardness. Effective in setting the stakes and helplessness such abuse can inflict.

In short, it's a fantastic piece of journalism. Buttoned-up and simmered until the time was right, fully aware of its importance and opportunity to present the story in a way that helps the public — which is far too routinely reticent to miss the point — get the point. Understanding that this next point is far less important than the larger issues, it's a win for journalism at ESPN, which has seen its journalism wing battered through attrition in recent months as Disney enacts widespread reductions.

This is a personal observation but it felt a lot like a 2012 or 2013 story, breaking in full with a deeply-reported story and no advanced notice on Twitter. And by getting all eyeballs on the complete piece of reporting, ESPN was able to disseminate the information in the most responsible, thorough way possible.

There have been many discussions about the lack of a "J" in ESPN, but one could make an argument that when the news side of the operation delivers an Earth-shattering scoop, it feels every bit the powerful journalism outlet it once was and can still be. Stories like this and Adam Schefter breaking Andrew Luck's retirement late on a Saturday in August 2019 are a testament to still having the unhittable fastball, if only getting to use it in high-leverage situations.

Passan's comprehensive baseball coverage is the worst-kept secret in media, yet it's still instructive to see sizzle in a straight news story and nail longform. The same can be said of Kimes, whose versatility is tough to match in recent years. To be able to channel her background as an investigator and filter through the prism of humanity is a special skill. To have lead byline on a piece like this, while doing NFL Live, the more pop-culture-focused fun shows, and blasting out the occasional arresting feature is an unbelievable skill set.

Reporters working similarly delicate stories would be well-served to use this work as a template. It was sympathetic to the desires of the victim and appropriately empathetic in presentation. All the while being fair and backed up by an on-the-record admission of misconduct. Such a tough needle to thread and yet, they did flawlessly.

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