Howard Kurtz finds there are news nuggets in the tough, often tacky blog world

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010

I didn't get into journalism to write about Brett Favre's private parts, and I suspect most of my colleagues would like that story ruled out of bounds.

But our ability to spike such tawdry tales ended many seasons ago. The story of whether Favre sent racy messages and pictures of what family newspapers call genitalia to a female New York Jets staffer started on the snarky sports blog Deadspin, and was soon propelled to the 50-yard line of MSM Stadium. If the sexting allegations against the veteran quarterback are true, Deadspin may have performed an admittedly distasteful public service.

Amid a deluge of angry e-mails, one reader wrote: "I used to visit your site for sports but now consider it to be on par with the National Enquirer." But it was the Enquirer that broke the Tiger Woods scandal, which involved a lot more than phone flirting and has mired the golfer's career in a sand trap.

In an era when sports figures from Kobe Bryant to Rick Pitino have had to own up to extramarital activities, private behavior has increasingly come under the media microscope. Many people feel it's none of our business, and perhaps they're right that off-the-court misbehavior is overly magnified in this TMZ era. But when charges are hurled and investigations launched, the situation becomes impossible to ignore -- as happened with Woods, and Ben Roethlisberger, and now Favre.

Deadspin went with the initial allegations involving Jenn Sterger -- who became an in-house sideline reporter for the Jets in 2008 after doing photo shoots for Playboy and Maxim -- without solid evidence. No mainstream news organization would have done that. Deadspin Editor A.J. Daulerio wrote in August that he had tried to get Sterger to go public with what she had told him privately. Sterger never quite agreed to that, although she did tell Daulerio in an e-mail that "if there is a way to expose this dude for the creepy [jerk] he is WITHOUT me being attached to it in any way that is fine." But he decided to attach her to it anyway, as well as publish their private correspondence, and that feels like a betrayal.

Daulerio says in an interview that he was "very transparent" about what happened with Sterger: "She was 100 percent on board about exposing Brett Favre in this way. She didn't want her name attached because she feared the backlash." Still, he admits he was unfair to Sterger.

The story didn't get much pickup outside the Web, and properly so. There was little to back it up. That changed on Oct. 7, when Deadspin obtained the alleged voice mails and texts sent by Favre, who was the Jets' quarterback at the time and now plays for the Minnesota Vikings.

Even in publishing what it called the "penis photos" (the headline used a much cruder term), Deadspin acknowledged that "yes, there's a possibility that the person communicating with Jenn was not actually Brett Favre, but rather someone trying very hard to appear to be him." In other words, Deadspin ran a story that might be untrue.

"There was no real hesitation about pulling the trigger, but I knew there was a remote, remote possibility this was orchestrated by someone impersonating Brett Favre," Daulerio says. Asked about criticism of his methods, he tells detractors to perform an anatomically impossible act, adding: "Some people just want to be scolds and tell us how we did the story wrong and violated journalistic ethics. But they don't feel too bad about talking about it now."

Yet it doesn't take an ivory-tower scold to object to Deadspin's checkbook journalism. Daulerio acknowledges that the site paid a third party a significant sum for the texts and pictures, more money than on the previous two occasions when he paid for stories.

"It's obviously been a worthwhile investment," Daulerio says. He sounds less than comfortable, though, conceding that "it's kind of shady. But I was very, very eager to get this story."

Little wonder, then, that Deadspin has been getting such e-mails as "i have 2 topless pictures of katie perry. . . . i am trying to sell them."

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