Fading football star Brett Favre is all over the news today thanks to another one of his patented "Will he or won't he?" performances. If you're a sports blogger, what better time to whip out a meaty bit of gossip about the quarterback that you've been keeping tucked away for months?
That was the thinking of A.J. Daulerio, editor of the sports-gossip site Deadspin.com, which is part of Gawker Media's blogging empire. Sometime last winter Daulerio heard an incriminating story from cheerleader-cum-journalist Jenn Sterger. While working as a sideline reporter for the New York Jets, Sterger claimed she had been the subject of sexually charged advances from the married Favre, which included the sending of pornographic photos. At Sterger's request, Daulerio kept her allegations to himself. But on Tuesday, as Internet searches for Favre's name soared, Daulerio sought her permission to publish the tale and then did so. Within three hours, the post had already racked up close to 100,000 page views.
The problem is it's not clear if Sterger actually gave her consent. What she gave Daulerio, via an email from her malfunctioning Blackberry, was closer to an indication of willingness to give her consent presently -- either "as soon as I get [my blackberry] up and running," or else in person "in a few hours." In his post, Daulerio acknowledged that what he wrung out of her was something less than explicit permission: "Jenn and I never connected yesterday, either in person or on the phone."
Journalism or Not?
Did Daulerio willfully misinterpret a source's indecision and hesitation, thereby breaking a promise to keep her information off the record? I asked him that, via email. "I definitely left the door open for misinterpretation of what Jenn's final say on it was, but my interpretation was that she was conceding to us running that story," he replies. He continued:
"As much as I'd love to have her on the record about this (and the photos/voicemails, obvs.) she was spooked by it and I didn't want to wait much longer for it. Unfortunately, she also knew who she was telling this story to and there wasn't any way possible I was going to sit on that conversation forever. She's a nice girl and I honestly believe she had real strong ethical feelings about why this story should never see the light of day with her name attached to it, but I feel differently about that, obviously."
This isn't the first time Deadspin has ventured into murky ethical territory. Last year, after a spokesperson for ESPN misled Daulerio about the accuracy of a tip he'd received regarding sexual impropriety at the network, he retaliated publicly: "Since the tenuous connection between rumor and fact for accuracy's sake has been a little eroded here, well, it's probably about time to just unload the inbox of all the sordid rumors we've received over the years about various ESPN employees."
A representative for Sterger declined to comment on any part of the episode. Daulerio, for his part, suggests the traditional relationship between reporter and source doesn't really apply here. "I don't think this was a story that falls under any form of 'journalism' whatsoever," he writes. "This is gossip. Nasty gossip. Deadspin has been known to do that every once in a while. This is one of those times."
Disclosure: I have written semi-professionally about the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre, in a blog for True/Slant. That blog ended recently after True/Slant was acquired by Forbes Media.