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In the Zone: Journalist ethics went out the window with latest Favre report

"Don't shoot the messenger" has been an adage used by journalists when reporting controversial subjects, in essence saying the media is only reporting the facts of the story, not making them up.

But with the latest saga of the long-going Brett Favre Circus, the sports reporters have committed one of the deadly sins of journalism -- they are getting involved in the story.

Now, no one can or should defend Favre's drama queen ways, as been proven over and over since about 2007, when he started his annual retirement talk during the offseason.

He over and over and over has drawn much-wanted attention to himself with the waffling he has done when the subject of retirement has come up.

There's also no reason to rehash what Favre meant to the Minnesota Vikings last year, in their near miss of making the Super Bowl for the first time in over three decades.

But when the Star Tribune's Viking beat writer Judd Zulgad reported on his Twitter Wednesday morning that Favre intended to retire, the Circus was brought back to life.

And this wasn't just a typo or a mistake in an article, it spawned a larger story.

(Zulgad and Chip Skoggins are, by the way, two of the best reporters covering the NFL. But Zulgad blew it in this case).

The story goes -- as far as has been reported -- that Zulgad either heard or saw one or multiple texts from Favre to several of his Viking teammates that he was planning to retire, with the words "This is it."

After Zulgad posted this on his twitter, the fuse was lit, and there was nothing to stop this year's powder keg from exploding.

ESPN jumped on it and eventually ran just about three hours of straight Favre coverage, with the usual career accomplishments and the usual "this is it" talk.

So it was a "here we go again" type of feeling for football fans.

Now four days later, the retirement talk has once again subsided, with Favre coming out saying he will play if his ankle is healthy.

So this concluded the 10th or 11th media overblown "Favre is retiring" talk.

And once again, the media blamed Favre for being a "drama queen" and leaking these reports that created the attention he so desired.

But was this latest report on Favre? Or should the blame be laid on the messenger?

Unfortunately, there has been nothing but vague information brought forth by both the reporters and how they received the information about Favre's supposed texts and from Favre's camp itself.

With the technology of the Internet and things such as text messages and Twitter, instant news is craved by readers, and reporters feel they have to provide it.

But by trying to scoop each other on what has been the biggest storyline in the NFL the last three to four years, ethics were thrown out the window and mistakes were made.

ESPN also has added to the problem of sensationalized media. It can no longer be called sports reporting; it's more like WWE wrestling. This kind of tabloid journalism should be called sports "entertainment" reporting.

This type of reporting is consistently based on hearsay, unconfirmed reports or anonymous sources.

Just taking the continuation of Favre's retirement stories as an example, there are hardly ever any sources who have gone on record saying, "Brett is going to retire."

Instead, the reporters will take any bit of a rumor or unconfirmed source, run with it to get it out there first, then hope later that the story will be confirmed.

Gossip reporting at its finest.

What happened to the days where a reporter needed two confirmed sources to run with a story?

That's apparently long gone, at least in the ESPN-way these days.

They should have learned by now. Favre has waffled in his retirement talk numerous times, and it would have been prudent to 100 percent verify that those text messages were authentic. That means, see them for yourself, get the number and trace it back to No. 4's phone.

Then, give him a call and get confirmation.

It would have taken time to do that, but at the very least, that kind of work could have saved yet another overblown Favre retirement report.

Reporters who have an NFL beat should know by now they should be almost certain that the reports of Favre retiring are real, and the only way to do that is to get it from Favre himself.

And you better have a recorder in his face when he says it for undeniable proof.

Now the reporters who covered this latest fiasco are taking the easy way out and blaming Favre, saying that he is lying, and still sticking to their story that he texted this information to Viking players.

It doesn't matter, really, more work and digging needed to go into verifying this information and then reporting where they got it.

A foolproof way to actually put Favre in a box is to publish irrefutable evidence that he actually said or texted that info.

Do some real journalism and publish ironclad evidence that even the media spin master himself can't get out of.

Wednesday's reports were so flimsy and weak that it gave Favre a simple way out of it, by just saying he didn't start it.

Now, it comes down to a he-said, she-said situation.

Have a real story with real evidence, then publish it.

But the sensationalism media sells, as the all-day coverage by ESPN proved.

Yeah, people say they are sick of hearing about it, but where are they when another report on Favre comes out?

Yep, right in front of the tube watching the latest ESPN coverage, running clips of Favre's storied career. That makes the masses of viewers to blame, as well.

So can Favre be blamed in the latest retirement report for clamoring for more attention?

Sure, he could have stepped in early in the process and said these reports were not true. He didn't.

But the media, who kept forging along with Wednesday's story based on unreliable and anonymous sources, should not have created that much buzz.

Hopefully in the future when this subject is raised again -- and you can be 100 percent guaranteed it will be -- the information reported will actually have some legs to it.

Reporters need to learn to get the confirmation from Favre himself or just let it go -- and stay away from Twitter.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.