Journalism Ethicist: Mainstream Media Shouldn't be Covering Brett Favre Sexting Allegations

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Stephen J.A. Ward, a journalism ethicist, advised against mainstream media's reporting the Brett Favre sexting allegations without original reporting. (Credit: UW Ethics photostream, Flickr)

Journalism ethicist Stephen Ward says mainstream media shouldn’t be covering the Brett Favre sex allegations, Tony Rogers blogged.  Ward is a journalism ethics professor, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics and the assistant editor of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

Rogers is director of’s “guide to journalism.”  He’s worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and the New York Daily News and also is a journalism professor.

“Allegations are a dime a dozen,” Ward is quoted as saying. “You could look at this site as a tip service and really check out the story yourself. But don’t publish it until you’ve nailed it down.”

Because many news outlets are just re-reporting Deadspin’s report  that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Favre sent sexual photos to TV personality Jenn Sterger – without adding any original reporting, the Favre allegations shouldn’t be covered.

Ward labeled the rereporting “sleazy journalism”  and explained journalists should “independently verify” the claims before repeating them.

“This is basically a rumor story, so the way news outlets are getting at it is to make Favre’s refusal to talk about it the reason for the story,” Ward is quoted as saying. “So now Favre’s in a catch-22: If he talks about this it’s a story, and if he doesn’t his refusal to do so is a story.”

StinkyJournalism wrote to Ward to ask how journalists can ethically report on the Favre claims.  “Mainstream news organizations should ignore such rumors and ill-verified stories until there is some solid factual basis and cannot be ignored – that is, the NFL announces an investigation, or Sterger actually makes a statement, or Favre makes an explicit statement,” Ward explained.  “Simply feeding off a badly sourced Deadspin story is ethically not justified.

In the article, Ward also questioned why the AP has covered the story.  “I don’t know why the AP is picking this stuff up,” he said. “The story I saw was filled with anonymous sources – using phrases like ‘a person with knowledge of the situation’ said something – and that weakens the story to begin with.”

A Google News search on Oct. 14 at 9 AM EST produced more than 7,000 articles for “Brett Favre sex scandal”

Gawker-owned Deadspin is credited with breaking the story, such as it is. The Aug. 4 story by Deadspin’s editor A.J. Daulerio reported that Jenn Sterger had told him Brett Favre had left “strange, friendly messages on her voicemail” and texted her sex photos while she was a Jets sideline presenter.

But Daulerio also explained that Sterger said she didn’t want to publish the allegations or the photos, including Feb. 2010 e-mails from her saying not to publish anything she had told him regarding Favre.

He also included an e-mail to her prior to publishing the story letting her know he wanted to run the story and asking her to go on-the-record.

“I’m very close to running your Favre allegations today. I’ve spoken to the Jets about this. So let me know how you want to proceed, please. I’d prefer you were on the record about this stuff, but I understand if you don’t want to be. However, I do have our email conversations we had and, frankly, that’s enough to get this started,” Daulerio wrote in an e-mail to Sterger.

Daulerio noted “Her Blackberry was messed up, though. However, she did respond by saying she would (finally) go on the record with her tales of Favre’s creepy cell phone stalking:

‘I can… as soon as I get this thing back and running.. or you could meet me in person on my way to studio in a few hours.'”

But, was that her approval for publication?  Or was that Sterger saying she would let him know how she would “want to proceed”?

Poynter & Deadspin

Poynter’s Bill Krueger criticized the initial Deadspin story Aug. 12.

Krueger wrote that Daulerio’s story “may have crossed the line” because he both published unconfirmed allegations and “burned his source at the same time.”

“Daulerio not only wrote about the allegations in a post last week, he also named the woman who he says confidentially told him about the photos months ago. He acknowledged their conversations were off the record and that he’s never seen the photos in question,” Krueger wrote.

Krueger noted that at the time the story hadn’t been covered much by the mainstream media and quoted a variety of media and legal professionals commenting on the ethics of reporting the Sterger-Favre story.

In response to Krueger’s critique, Deadspin published an article criticizing Poynter.

The Aug. 12 response mimicked some of Krueger’s column.  Deadspin wrote that Poynter “may have crossed the line today when serious media person Bill Krueger posted a story in which he alleged, or appeared to allege, or quoted people in such a way that leads me to think he alleged, that Deadspin allegedly ‘crossed the [alleged] line’ in allegedly publishing an alleged story about Brett Favre’s alleged genitals.”

The article went on to slam Krueger for not disclosing that one of his Poynter colleagues, Gregory Favre,  is a “second cousin once removed” of Brett Favre.

Poynter’s managing editor Steve Myers  responded to Deadspin via the comments section explaining that Gregory Favre “has never been involved in editorial decisions on the site.”  Further, Myers noted that the only three people who worked on Krueger’s post were Poynter ethicist Kelly McBride (who edited the story), Bill Krueger (who is a freelancer), and himself (who edited and published the story).

Also Myers wrote, “Frankly, the relationship between Gregory and Brett Favre was so far from my mind, I didn’t even consider it when I edited this story. But now that you brought it up, I’ve heard that Gregory wishes Brett would get people to pronounce their name last correctly: It’s ‘Fahve.'”

iMediaEthics wrote about Deadspin in April when it was criticized for publishing a secretly recorded video of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.  The video was taken in a bar without Jones’ knowledge.

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Journalism Ethicist: Mainstream Media Shouldn’t be Covering Brett Favre Sexting Allegations

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