ESPN’s Adam Schefter: Sending email to source to review story was ‘step too far’

ESPN pro football reporter Adam Schefter said in a statement Wednesday that he went a “step too far” when he sent an entire story to an executive of the Washington Football Team to review a decade ago.

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Schefter, who has been a Senior NFL Insider for ESPN since 2009, sent then-General Manager Bruce Allen a draft of an unpublished story about negotiations that were being held to avert a potential lockout between NFL owners and players in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Please let me know if you see anything that should be added, changed, tweaked,” Schefter wrote. “Thanks, Mr. Editor, for that and the trust. Plan to file this to ESPN about 6 a.m. ….”

The July 11, 2011, story, which Schefter co-wrote with fellow ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen, was published later that day.

The Schefter email is part of the NFL’s investigation into the Washington Football Team that led to the discovery of offensive emails sent by Jon Gruden between 2011 and 2018. That led to the resignation of the Las Vegas Raiders coach on Monday.

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It is not normal journalistic practice to send a full story to a source before publication. That is seen as a breach, according to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. According to The Sporting News, there is nothing wrong with checking back with a source for affirmation on a quote or the accuracy of a passage. Sending the entire draft, however, crosses the line, the publication reported.

In a statement Wednesday, Schefter said “fair questions” were being asked about his reporting approach to the story, but he insisted he did not cede editorial control.

“Just to clarify, it’s common practice to verify facts of a story with sources before you publish in order to be as accurate as possible, Schefter said in a statement that was tweeted by ESPN’s public relations department. “In this case, I took the rare step of sending the full story in advance because of the complex nature of the collective bargaining talks.

“It was a step too far and, looking back, I shouldn’t have done it. The criticism being levied is fair. With that said, I want to make this perfectly clear: in no way did I, or would I, cede editorial control or hand over final say about a story to anyone, ever.”

“Without sharing all the specifics of the reporter’s process for a story from 10 years ago during the NFL lockout, we believe that nothing is more important to Adam and ESPN than providing fans the most accurate, fair and complete story,” ESPN said in a statement.

Schefter has broken major stories over the past decade about signings, trades, hiring and firings, Sports Illustrated reported.

The emails by Gruden and Schefter were filed as exhibits in federal court by attorneys for Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder in mid-June, the Times reported. Snyder was attempting to produce discovery in a defamation lawsuit against a media company in India, MEAWW, for stories it published in July 2020, according to the Times.

“Accordingly, petitioner (Snyder) has a good faith belief that respondent (Allen) has specific knowledge of the creation and distribution of the MEAWW articles, and thus has information relevant to the Indian Action,” the filing by Snyder’s attorneys in April stated.

The correspondence with media refutes Allen’s sworn statement he “maintained a low profile with respect to the media” and “never served as an anonymous source for any news or media reports,” according to the filings.