By Kevin Sullivan
The recent Al Jazeera America report claiming human growth hormone had been shipped to Peyton Manning’s wife, Ashley, during his recovery from a neck injury in 2011 provides a new look into how the practice of journalism has changed.
Thanks to Manning’s success on the field and popular appearances in television commercials and on Saturday Night Live, he is one of America’s most well-known and well-liked superstars.
“The bottom line is that athletes don't get the benefit of the doubt any more,” Michael McCarthy wrote in The Sporting News. “Not even stars with a sterling reputation like Peyton Manning.”
Manning’s image is so squeaky clean in fact, that the story quickly went beyond the sports pages and onto the headlines of the major cable news networks.
The problem, though, was the fact that the story broke so quickly. In fact, it came out too quickly in the opinions of some veteran journalists.
Longtime and much-decorated Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News sports editor Dave Smith had this to say in a Facebook post:
What everyone is missing in the Peyton Manning accusation is that almost all media outlets reported the story without contacting Manning first. As newspapers fade away, so do journalism standards. If writing a story detailing something a person allegedly did, you contact the accused before publishing or airing the story! Period!
Award-wining sports columnist Mark Whicker chimed in on Facebook with his thoughts on the reporting methods used in the Manning story.
Peyton Manning calls the report “completely fabricated.” Media types say, well, he still hasn’t denied it. I’m not sure what part of “completely fabricated” they don’t understand, but here’s the key: When you accuse people of something, it’s your job to prove it. Not their job to prove it wrong.
Despite Manning’s swift denial – and Al Jazeera America’s source recanting his quotes – the story has remained at the top of the headlines for days. The hunger for a big, sensational story did a disservice to all involved, including Manning, his wife Ashley, the Indianapolis Colts (his team at the time of the alleged incident) and his current team, the Denver Broncos.
For Manning, the damage has already been done. Whatever truth comes out of the story will likely never get the attention that the initial report on Christmas weekend did.
In today’s 24/7/365 world of digital media, speed wins out - sadly, at the expense of journalism.