In a series of conflicting reports Friday, ESPN claimed Ben Roethlisberger will not be charged by Georgia authorities for sexual assault stemming from an incident at a Milledgeville, GA. bar on March 5.
(Why Suddenly Block Sharing? #rhetorical)
Between 7-8pm ET on Friday, an ESPN News anchor reported of ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack:
“ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack told me earlier that based on his legal expertise and sources familiar with the case, charges would not be filed.”
At around the same time, SportsCenter aired a report with similar wording.
But when Cossack was brought onto the air on SportsCenter and ESPN News, he went out of his way to say that his conclusion about the case was his only his “opinion.” Cossack made that distinction on multiple occasions during the separate, phoned-in appearances.
ESPN SportsCenter and ESPN News anchors then similarly referenced a Kelly Naqi ESPN.com report that the TV anchors said cited a singular “source” that “has now confirmed to ESPN” that Roethlisberger would not be charged in the case.
(Two ESPN TV outlets said Naqi had a single source)
But Naqi’s ESPN.com report claimed to cite multiple “sources.” (See above screen shot.)
For now (8:32p ET, Friday), you can go here to see the ESPN News report I’m referencing. Though ESPN, in something I haven’t seen before, has disabled the sharing feature for this specific story.
When it comes to the credibility of an anonymously-sourced report, the distinction between a single-sourced report and one that resulted from multiple sources is critical in a story of this magnitude.
Especially when “law enforcement” sources are not cited. If the sources aren’t authorities involved in the case, the credibility of the report is diminished. As is a single-sourced report, which is how ESPN News and SportsCenter characterized Naqi’s online story.
This isn’t to say that Cossack and Naqi are ultimately wrong in their reporting, but in the rush to be first, ESPN gave us a confusing, disorganized presentation of why it claimed Roethlisberger will not be charged for sexual assault.
Cossack and Naqi are seasoned professionals so I’m assuming in a story as big as this, with so much riding on ESPN’s financial partnership with the NFL, the sources they cited are one hundred percent reliable.