ESPN's Skip Bayless had his facts wrong, but blamed others for that (Getty)
It wasn't their finest hour. It turns out that Pacquiao hadn't quoted the biblical verse from Leviticus that they accused him of doing. They could have learned that, because six hours before they went on the air and made fools of themselves, the writer of the original report said the Leviticus quotes were his, not Pacquiao's. A slew of other reporters actually got a hold of Pacquiao and clarified the matter.
Smith and Bayless, though, didn't check. They spent about six minutes Wednesday debating whether what Pacquiao had said would impact the finances of a potential fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. They were reporting -- inaccurately -- that Pacquiao had advocated death for homosexuals, and yet they chose to discuss the financial implications those comments might have upon a boxing match rather than addressing the substance of what Pacquiao supposedly said. If Pacquiao had made that Leviticus comment, he would have deserved the excoriation he got from The Two Stooges.
Stephen A. Smith (Getty)
The true horror of this story came on Thursday, however, after they'd learned that Pacquiao had not made the comments they attributed to him.
They chose to apologize, which was a good idea. Pacquiao deserved it, and so, too, did their viewers.
What occurred, though, wasn't an apology but rather a couple of self-righteous rants in which both Bayless and Smith placed the blame for their mistakes on others.
Host Jay Crawford began the apology segment Thursday by reading a statement from Pacquiao in which he denied the Leviticus quotes. Crawford then noted that writer Granville Ampong of Examiner.com, who wrote the original story that ignited the controversy, made it clear the Leviticus quotes were his words.
Bayless then took over. Here's their initial exchange:
Bayless: Stephen A., I don't feel guilty about what we discussed near the end of yesterday's show. There's no need for us to apologize for it.
Smith: I had no intentions of apologizing.
Crawford: You were reacting to what you believed was the truth.
At that point, it became truly bizarre. Nobody at ESPN checked their sources. Someone somewhere at ESPN read a story on the Internet and believed it to be correct. It was, of course, salacious since it involved a high-profile personality and a hot button topic.
It appears a First Take producer failed to do the simple fact checking one might expect of a high school journalist. Then Crawford, Bayless and Thompson opted to discuss at length a topic about which they knew nothing.
Bayless, though, wasn't about to take the blame.
But I do feel terrible that we were prisoners of the shoddy journalism that we were handed on the fly up against the end of our show. We reacted accordingly to that. And I feel terrible for Manny Pacquiao's sake because he took a beating yesterday that he did not deserve, from all that I've gathered.
Apparently in Bayless' world, if you're running out of time, you're allowed to skip the basic tenets of journalism and rip first and report later.
On television discussion shows like First Take, the on-air talent is often told of breaking stories by their producers, and so they're often at the mercy of the information their producers give them. When they learned of the Pacquiao situation, it should have been clear a gentle touch was required. Both know Pacquiao well enough to know that he had never made such outlandish statements. They could have commented while also making it clear that there was much to still learn. Most of all, they should have stressed tolerance.
Instead, they chose to dive full bore into the fray without possession of the facts, but increduously, they somehow saw fit to blame others for their failings. Smith's attempt at an apology was even worse, if possible, than the half-baked one Bayless delivered.
Smith essentially patted himself on the back for agreeing to admit he'd utterly and completely failed to do his job.
We also have to take into account that this show right here is also one of those moments that makes me proud. We're able to sit here and correct whatever erroneous information is put out there. We're men enough to do it, which is far more than we can say for some of our contemporaries in this business who will remain nameless. They know who they are. Because you got a lot of people out there who sit there and because of the blogosphere and the social networking and the age that we live in, everybody is interested in being first. Not everybody, but a lot of people of people are interested in being first rather than being correct.
It was Smith and Bayless who were interested in being first rather than correct. Why not wait a day to address the issue when you'd had a chance to look into it? Oh, because it might have been old news by the next day.
In Smith's warped logic, he is to be commended for going off half-cocked and then coming back the next day and apologizing. He tried to insinuate it's because unlike others, he's interested in substance and not sensationalism.
But they would never sit up here and address something that was erroneous and had their name attached to it because they are devoid of courage.
What Bayless or Smith should have said on Thursday was something like this: "Folks, as we were going off the air on Wednesday, we criticized boxer Manny Pacquiao for comments we believed he had made advocating death for homosexuals. Unfortunately, we were wrong and Pacquiao had not made those comments. We know you, our viewers, expect more from us. You expect insightful, intelligent and fearless discussion of the day's hottest issues. You also expect us to have our facts correct. We did not in this instance and we apologize to Manny Pacquiao for that, as well as to those of you who tuned in."
The blogosphere that Bayless and Smith railed upon made them look like a pair of two-bit journalists hardly worthy of the prestigious positions they hold.
While reporters who care about small things like facts and accuracy went out, dug into the story and uncovered the truth, Smith and Bayless revealed themselves in their apologies as nothing more than a pair of bloviating, self-righteous boobs.
On this day, as apparently on many others, First Take was clearly a False Take.
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