Erik Wemple --- The Washington Post
Deadspin yesterday published a story alleging that Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Colorado, had lied about having played football as a youngster. The story fell apart after Gardner tweeted pictures of himself in football uniforms. A spokesman for his campaign said that Gardner had played football from junior high school through his sophomore year in high school.
The reporter who wrote the piece, Dave McKenna, told the Erik Wemple Blog last night, “If it’s wrong, it’s my fault.” To advance his case that Gardner might have been making up his history on the gridiron, McKenna quoted Chuck Pfalmer, a retired teacher at Garner alma mater Yuma High School and keeper of facts about the school’s football squad. “Cory Gardner wasn’t on the football team,” Pfalmer told McKenna.
In an e-mail response to questions from the Erik Wemple Blog, Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs noted: “We thought we’d nailed it down. We had the team’s historian–the guy best equipped, after Gardner himself, to give us a definitive answer–telling us Gardner didn’t play.” The headline of the story was phrased as a question: “Is A Colorado Senate Candidate Lying About His Football Career?” Asked about the flimsiness of putting such a serious charge in the form of a question, Craggs responded, “If anything, I was worried the headline here was a little soft.”
As to the due diligence, Craggs says there was plenty: “Dave is as good a reporter as any I’ve worked with. He checked off all the right boxes. (He called up the school’s library to ask about yearbooks. The 1992 edition didn’t have a football roster, and the library didn’t have a book for 1993, Gardner’s senior year.)” Referring to Deadspin’s legendary story about the hoax of then-Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend, Craggs wrote, “If you’re looking for someone to blame here, blame me for getting way too cocky about my site’s ability to prove a negative.”