SI.com's Peter King, the most powerful NFL writer in the business, sees his job as flattering other powerful people so that they'll allow him to uncritically pass on whatever they'd like to have passed on. He's very good at it, as the incredible correction buried a couple of thousand words into his latest column shows.
In the second item in the column, King lays out five thoughts and thought-like objects inspired by former federal judge Barbara Jones's recent determination that the NFL overstepped its authority in dropping Ray Rice into a black hole. The first four are unobjectionable. The fifth is this:
I quoted a source in July as saying Janay Rice made a moving case for leniency for Ray Rice during the June 16 meeting. My source was incorrect. According to Judge Jones' report, Janay Rice was asked only one question during the hearing—how she felt—and she cried and said, "I'm just ready for it to be over." I regret the error, and should have vetted the story further before publishing the account of one source.
The reference is, apparently, to this column, in which Janay Rice's "moving case for leniency" is presented as the single most important reason why Roger Goodell suspended Ray Rice for only two games for knocking his wife out in a hotel elevator. It's presented there not just in broad terms, but in concrete, detailed ones:
Rice's wife, a source said, made a moving and apparently convincing case to Goodell during a June 16 hearing at Goodell's office in Manhattan—attended by Rice, GM Ozzie Newsome, club president Dick Cass of Baltimore; and Goodell, Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch of the league—that the incident in the hotel elevator was a one-time event, and nothing physical had happened in their relationship before or since. She urged Goodell, the source said, to not ruin Rice's image and career with his sanctions.
(Note the language here: The phrase "apparently convincing" and the word "urged" subtly present harsh punishment as a default position that Janay Rice argued Goodell out of. King is essentially saying that if you think Ray Rice got off too light, you should take it up with his wife.)
This didn't actually happen, though! In her own account of things, in an ESPN as-told-to over which she retained editorial control, Janay Rice is clear on exactly what did:
I really didn't think they would ask me any questions, but I was asked one. I was surprised I was asked anything at all. One of the NFL executives asked me how I felt about everything. And I broke down in tears. I could hardly get a word out. I just told him that I was ready for this to be over.
There is no way to reconcile this with what King's source described over the summer. And as with a previous King correction involving an element of the Rice case, the journalistic error he's admitting to here is so basic as to be literally unbelievable.
The most generous version of what happened here would involve King getting caught up in a game of telephone, with some lower-level NFL minion's distorted version of what happened in the meeting between the Rices and league and team brass ending up in King's column. This would show King as being willing to run a key detail related by some random flunky without checking it in any way with the principals, who aren't exactly strangers to King. It would paint him as a complete incompetent, and a moron.
It's much more likely, of course, that someone who was in the room—one of the three NFL officials or two Baltimore Ravens officials King places there—lied to him. What he published, after all, wasn't an incorrect version of what actually happened, but something that never happened at all. And it had a very clear beneficiary, allowing Roger Goodell to be seen not as issuing a punishment that showed the NFL doesn't care about domestic violence, but as showing deference to the wishes of a victim.
King, in this version of events, was used as the instrument of a smear campaign, almost certainly by either the league's commissioner, its general counsel, or its senior vice president in charge of labor policy. That's a big goddamn story! A serious reporter, you'd think, would want to expose the powerful people who used his column against Janay Rice. Even allowing a more generous interpretation, you'd think anyone with any curiosity at all would want to know how exactly Janay Rice telling NFL higher-ups she just wanted it all to be over morphed into her pleading for mercy on her husband's behalf.
You don't get to be Peter King by being serious or even curious, though; you get there by doing your job.