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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
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How TMZ Misreported A Former NFLer's Place And Cause Of Death

Illustration for article titled How TMZ Misreported A Former NFLers Place And Cause Of Death

Linebacker Adrian Robinson, who bounced around the NFL and last played in a game in 2013, was found dead in Philadelphia on Saturday night. According to the medical examiner’s office, his death was ruled suicide by hanging. There are no more details yet, but this wholly contradicts an earlier report that Robinson had been shot to death in an entirely different city.


Earlier today, TMZ reported that Robinson had been killed in a shooting in his hometown of Harrisburg, Penn. That post has since been updated beyond recognition, but the text of the original story has been cached elsewhere:

Adrian Robinson Jr. — the 25-year-old ex-NFL linebacker who died this weekend — was killed by gunfire in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ... TMZ Sports has learned. Officials tell TMZ Sports ... Robinson Jr. died Saturday after being hit in a shooting. The details surrounding the shooting are still unclear. We don’t know if cops believe Robinson was targeted or if it was a random shooting ... but we’re working on it. Robinson — who played for the Steelers and the Broncos — is survived by his young daughter Avery Marie.


Now we know that Robinson wasn’t shot, and wasn’t even in Harrisburg.

This is a very rough fuck-up—but in its update, TMZ posted the email exchange between a producer and a Harrisburg PD sergeant. It goes some way toward explaining how this happened.

(Update: TMZ has since taken down the emails. We’ve preserved them.)


The police sergeant never specifically addressed Robinson, only noted that the shooting on North 2nd street—which was first brought up by the TMZ producer—did not involve Robinson in any way. TMZ took the sergeant’s terse clarification as confirmation that Robinson had been killed in a separate shooting, but the presumption that there was a separate shooting turned out to be faulty to begin with. In retrospect, they saw a confirmation only because they were expecting one.

The need to be first with a story—which isn’t specific to TMZ, but it is an outlet that thrives on scoops—led them to take a shortcut in a pretty standard reporting process. The sergeant had been difficult to get ahold of, so the TMZ newsroom made the decision to go with the story it was sure it already had from a separate source, rather than get a clearer confirmation. Every outlet weighs its need to nail down its story against its desire to beat the competition, and 99 percent of the time, taking that shortcut won’t burn you. (And 99 percent of those times, the mistake isn’t nearly this severe.) This was an egregiously bad error, but compared to the news industry at large, the vulnerability in TMZ’s process here is more a matter of degree than of kind.


Robinson, who was 25, went undrafted out of Temple University in 2012. He appeared in games for the Steelers, Broncos, Chargers, and Redskins, and had signed with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats last month.

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