Enough is enough, Chris Mortensen has to go

Kirk Minihane
January 06, 2016 - 10:25 pm

Chris Mortensen has lost credibility. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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Chris Mortensen is ruined. His reputation is shattered. He’s a punch line. Mortensen will always, at least in New England, be viewed as the man who gave birth to Deflategate. His story on Jan. 21, 2015 -- which, incredibly, still exists without correction or an editor’s note on ESPN.com -- starts with the following:

The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots' 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday's AFC Championship Game told ESPN.

The investigation found the footballs were inflated two pounds per square inch below what's required by NFL regulations during the Pats' 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, according to sources.

Maybe you don’t remember, but the story was nothing before Mortensen broke this news. And then, for the next nine months, it was all we talked about. And we learned that Mortensen was wrong about everything. He had been used by NFL sources to push an agenda. And what did he do about it? 

Nothing. For months and months.

No anger (public, anyway) toward his sources. His tweet linking to the story stayed up forever. And guess what else we learned about Mortensen, one of the three or four most powerful football reporters in the country? He couldn’t handle the pressure, and couldn’t take the Twitter pounding he was receiving.

He first said he didn’t delete his tweet because he didn’t know how to delete a tweet. That’s almost certainly a lie, of course. And then he told an Arizona radio station both Robert and Jonathan Kraft called to apologize for the way "this thing has gone down." Jonathan Kraft was quick to call bullcrap on that one. 

So that leaves us with a blown story by Mortensen -- one that led to historic NFL ramifications and damage to the reputation of Tom Brady -- and a willingness to play loose with the truth to cover his ass in the aftermath. 

And what did ESPN do? Nothing. The network knew it was wrong -- and it heard the outcry from New England -- and didn’t care. ESPN can do that now. It owns the world. It knows we are going nowhere. We can’t leave. It can be a week-long mouthpiece for a wife-beating Floyd Mayweather, it can steal stories and credit it as its own, it can put truly awful programming on the air (hello to Dan Le Batard), and it stays the same as it ever was in Bristol.

So Mortensen remains. He’s on TV, on ESPN radio, on Twitter, where he pissed away whatever credibility he might have had left with a New Year’s Eve tweet telling us how much he loves Domino’s pizza, for which he was obviously paid. (And as Deadspin reported Wednesday, not acknowledging he was compensated for the tweet is an FTC violation.) He’s everywhere, which is remarkable and not at all surprising given the pathetic state of standards at ESPN, which hit a new low -- no small feat -- with a slap-and-tickle interview/book promotion/death of journalism with Chris McKendry and Jay Crawford lighting their souls on fire to help Ray Lewis sell copies of what must be a hideous book. Words don’t properly describe what a disaster this was. Google and watch in horror.

And now he’s a mouthpiece again, this time for Peyton Manning. It was Mortensen who was first to tell us the HGH story was bogus, the source was not to be trusted (choke on that irony) that Manning found the whole thing laughable. He tweeted a statement that noted Charles Sly never worked for the Guyer Institute. We now know that’s not true. Did Mortensen correct the tweet? Nope. Delete? Still learning.

Look, here’s the reality: Mortensen is a puppet for the Manning family. Always has been. And that’s OK, I suppose, or at least it was. But after the last year, it’s a horrible look. And I understand I’m writing this from New England, and I’m sure it’s different in Minnesota or Denver or Amarillo. But this is unshakable and reality: Mortensen cannot be trusted anymore. And that’s death when you are a reporter.

ESPN should gently push Mortensen out the door. It’s time. Other reporters are just better at the job now, or at least aren’t as compromised. And when those reporters screw up -- which they will -- I’m guessing they’ll handle it better. Also there's this (and it’s not comfortable to discuss but it’s there): Mortensen sounds and looks sluggish on TV recently. I have no idea if it’s a medical condition or something else -- no idea at all -- but it’s clear and it’s a distraction. 

I don’t know Mortensen at all. I spoke to him on the phone a few months ago, trying to get him to come on the show when temperatures were warmest against him, and he had no interest in joining us, though he had said he would days before. And I have no reason to doubt he’s a good man. And he had a hell of a career.

But it’s over. He kicked that away over the last 50 weeks. And what he lost he’ll never get back. And if those in power at ESPN cared, if they valued what you thought? Maybe they’d take some action. But we know they don’t. So Mortensen will be reporting on Manning and the Patriots, tweeting stories he’s been fed by Archie Manning and Mike Kensil. And no one around here will believe him.  

And nothing will change.  

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