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Notes on a scandal



In last week's Phoenix, I suggested that the Herald stake its future on a beefed-up sports section. In the wake of today's front-page Herald apology, though, I'm not so sure that's a good idea.

Here's the apology in question:

On Feb. 2, 2008, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the New England Patriots video staff taped the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.

Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.

The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots [team stats]’ owners, players, employees and fans for our error.
Online comments in response to the apology have not been generous. Basically, a lot of people are promising that they'll never read the Herald again. They're also calling for reporter John Tomase to be fired.

I praised Tomase in the aforementioned article, and thought he might still be vindicated even after we learned that former Patriots employee Matt Walsh hadn't given NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a tape of the walk-through in question. But based on the Herald's apology, it doesn't look like any vindication is forthcoming.

A few other points:

--The Herald apology says its Feb. 2 story was based on "sources that it believed to be credible." Tomase's story only mentioned a single source.

--Some commenters at BostonHerald.com have complained that Tomase didn't issue his own apology. But he shouldn't have, since the paper's editors bear responsibility for the story running, too.

--At Boston Sports Media Watch, Bruce Allen makes a pretty compelling case that, by dismissing Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick's contrition early in Spygate, the Herald made today's apology harder to accept.

--The Globe is giving prominent play to the Herald's apology over at Boston.com. If Mike Reiss and his colleagues are feeling some Schadenfreude, I guess I can't blame them. Still, it's worth remembering that one good liar can lead even the best newspapers to report stories they shouldn't.

--Since Tomase's source(s) apparently provided bad information, I don't think Tomase has any responsibility to keep his/her/their identity secret. But if the Herald's lawyers think that outing the source(s) could pose a legal risk--or if doing so would simply add to the paper's current embarrassment--it may not happen.
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