On Thursday morning, ESPN broke the news that Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte would be among the players named in George Mitchell’s forthcoming report on steroid use in major league baseball.
Shortly thereafter, a link on the Drudge Report — "complete steroid list" — directed browsers to the Web site of WNBC, the New-York-based flagship station of the NBC network. There, justice reporter Jonathan Dienst had posted a roster of player names, "expected" to be included later in the afternoon in the official Mitchell Report, which included stars like Albert Pujols, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, and Jason Varitek.
But soon after posting that list, Mr. Dienst received a phone call from an official at Major League Baseball questioning the accuracy of his reporting. WNBC soon took down the list and posted a note, saying that it had received a phone call from an official at Major League Baseball questioning the accuracy of its reporting. The note added that "original sources are standing by the preliminary list provided to WNBC.com" and that they were "working to clarify" the list.
Today, The Smoking Gun called into question those WNBC "sources," writing:
"The WNBC exclusive…was posted seven minutes after an identical list of names was published by the sports blog Deadspin, which reported that it had been forwarded the names by ‘about 25 different people during the preceding hour’. The list, which was whipping around via e-mail, ‘could very likely be one of those Web urban legends that somehow got around,’ Deadspin cautioned. WNBC, though, showed no such reserve."
And of course, the WNBC.com list — which is no longer online, but which The Smoking Gun has preserved an image of – contains many names that are nowhere to be found in the Mitchell Report. In addition to the stars mentioned earlier, there were also Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Milton Bradley, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Trot Nixon, Mike Cameron, Brady Anderson, Albert Belle, Kyle Farnsworth, and Wally Joyner, none of whose names ended up in the report.
A chain email that sounded like the one referred to on Deadspin had whipped into Media Mob’s inbox yesterday morning, a fact which also made us curious about WNBC.com’s sourcing. Reached by phone yesterday evening, Mr. Dienst of WNBC told Media Mob that he had not received the list as part of a chain email, but rather that he had got it from two "separate and distinct" sources. One, he said, was "in very well with Mitchell’s people," while the other was "in very well with baseball people."
"They came to us with the same names in the same orders," said Mr. Dienst. "They had different typings. One had first names first. The other was reversed. But the lists matched exactly."
Mr. Dienst said that after yanking his inaccurate list from the WNBC.com web site, he hit the phones trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
"I spoke to a fourth person after I got the complaint from Major League Baseball," said Mr. Dienst. "His explanation was that the people who shared the stuff with me, had an earlier version that had probably been [subsequently] changed and edited because they had been working on the report up until the final minute."
Mr. Dienst said he regretted the error. "We want to be right," he said. "We like to be right and first. But we want to be right before we’re first."