Gordon Edes wrote a nice three-part series on the Red Sox' newest slugger over the holidays. Much of it is the usual feature fluff you do when you're assigned these kinds of things — talk to the family, dutifully report the childhood foibles, add some color and a fancy lede — but, as I predicted, it also includes the most in-depth look at the turbulent day in which the trade was confirmed, then reported to have "fallen thru," then given the George Romero treatment.
The most important thing to note: At no point in Edes' paragraphs on the matter, does he say the trade was dead, or that it had fallen through. Those phrases do not appear. (In fact, he explicitly said this shortly after Gonzalez was introduced: "At no point was the deal dead.") I think this is important because for much of the day, discussion of the Red Sox and the way they do business was driven by a completely inaccurate tweet by Jon Heyman, one he has never, to my knowledge, retracted or even addressed.
First, here's the MLB Trade Rumors update thread, in all its messy glory. Not much of substance takes place, but at 1:43 p.m., Heyman tweets:
Source; gonzalez deal fell thru
That's it. A "source." The report was never confirmed; in fact, it was contradicted 13 minutes later by Ken Rosenthal, who noted the Sox and Padres might complete the deal anyway, and by 2:19 p.m. — exactly 36 minutes after Heyman turned Red Sox Nation upside down — Jon Paul Morosi tweeted:
In the subsequent hours, Gordon Edes and Peter Abraham, who one would assume have excellent team sources, both said they were unable to confirm that the deal had fallen through, and Gonzalez's agent declined to comment, saying he was still in meetings. Whoever was Heyman's source, he or she does not appear to have actually been involved with the negotiations; the tweet reads more like speculation. If the deadline has come and gone with no agreement, then the deal must have fallen through.
And by 5:17, Heyman was backpedaling from his own reporting:
Qredsox have not given up on a-gon. There's a chance they could still do a deal w/o extension
[Apropos of nothing, I know it's Twitter and you're trying to break news as quickly as possible and all that, but is it too much to ask someone who is paid money to write to at least use correct punctuation and make sure ridiculous typos are removed from their text?]
Anyway, on one level, there is the obvious question: Why was this necessary? Think about this for a second: Jon Heyman uses a free service completely unconnected from the company that employs him to break news that does not link back to his actual work (which is illogically given away by his employers, but that's another discussion). In the meantime, the "news" he breaks can rocket around the world yet be obsolete within minutes, which obviously raises the question of how relevant this "news" was in the first place.
The Twitter medium encourages reporters to write as quickly as possible, report every least whisper as breaking news, and condense potentially nuanced issues into 140 characters. On top of that, there is no method for retraction — Heyman was wrong, or at least his source was, but even had he wanted to say, "Oops. Sorry. The deal hasn't fallen thru," the original tweet is out there. It has been retweeted hundreds of times, aired on WEEI, reposted on the blogs of news aggregators and other reporters alike, with no guarantee that the correction would receive similar play. It's the antithesis of pretty much everything print journalism is supposed to be — nuanced, careful, accurate, objective. Instead, it rewards the sensational, the speculative and the simple. Twitter has a lot of great uses, but, like 24-hour cable news, it does not encourage accurate, responsible journalism.
On another level, there's the following question: Why didn't Heyman retract his tweet when it became clear 1. no one else was backing it up, 2. other reporters, including the Sox' own beat writers, were actively contradicting him, and 3. he talked to other sources who rejected his initial reporting?
Theo Epstein and the Sox' ownership are big boys, and they can take care of themselves. But they received a lot of unnecessary flak over a decision that they never made, over a failed negotiation that never happened, over a perceived pattern of actions whose most recent data point never existed. In the end, they are people, and people — even public figures, as these men are — deserve the basic respect and dignity of having professional journalists report accurately about their affairs, even if that reporting is condensed into 140 characters or fewer.