Chris Mortensen joined Dan Le Batard’s show today. As you imagine, the discussion centered on Mort’s deflategate reporting. Mortensen said he would never consider giving up his sources, and that the important aspect of the original report was that 11 of 12 footballs were under-inflated, not that they were all two pounds under. He also said that he clarified “two pounds” as “significantly under-inflated” with no number attached, the next day on television. (I have heard him say this before, and at that time checked ESPN.com and couldn’t find any audio or video that either corroborated or disproved this claim.)
What, if anything, does he think he did wrong? “I didn’t correct it on Twitter, which was a mistake,” he acknowledged. “I can understand, after reading the Wells Report, because we had deep silence for about three months, could somebody generalize two pounds under based on the range of 12.5-13.5? Yeah, they could’ve. Now, that’s my job to do a better vetting job as a journalist. But let me ask you this question: If I had simply reported, which I did include in the original report, that 11 footballs were found to be significantly under-inflated, what would the reaction have been? The same, I think.”
He again acknowledged he should’ve clarified — not necessarily retracted — on Twitter, to say there was conflicting information on the specific number, but continue to say “significantly under-inflated.”
Mortensen also said that his original report never directly implicated Tom Brady. “I think there was some inaccurate data that was passed on to me,” he continued. “But I also talked to other sources that verified the number I was focused on — the 11 footballs. … Do I feel betrayed? By the way, this whole concept of being deliberately lied to — that means somebody called me up. No, I made an inquiry. When anybody calls me up and volunteers significant information, I always get suspicious of motive. That’s a red flag right there.”
Mort talked with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who assured the reporter his beef is not with him but with the league.
My two cents: Provided Mort did indeed make the clarification in his ESPN appearances the next day, he should have been more emphatic about backing off of the specific two-pound number — if he were, everyone would’ve heard him. He’s probably correct that the reaction would not have been much different if he’d used less specific figures, but I quibble with the notion that the Wells Report conclusively demonstrated that the footballs were “significantly under-inflated.”
As Mike Florio noted on our podcast in June, the two gas gauges differed by .45 PSI, and “if the real numbers had come out early on, the Patriots would have been able to shout this down as normal application of the Ideal Gas Law.”
Furthermore, it strains credulity to say the report didn’t implicate Tom Brady. Though it didn’t go there by name, the idea that some lowly Patriots employee(s) would go rogue and deliberately deflate balls way below league regulations strains credulity.
Nevertheless, no matter what Le Batard had asked — it would be delusional to expect outright interrogation — there wasn’t anything that Mort could say that would be satisfactory to Patriots fans. There would be no full mea culpa. In his heart of hearts, he clearly doesn’t believe that he was misled, or that his reporting dramatically altered where the story would have wound up without him. On the latter regard, he’s probably not wrong. There’s been plenty of since-debunked reporting to go around in this saga, but Mort’s shined the brightest by virtue of when they were disseminated.
The good news is that this should mercifully all be resolved by next month when actual football starts.