Every Sunday on NBC's "NFL '85," Larry King presents three minutes of opinions and inside information.
He reported that running back Joe Cribbs would return to the Buffalo Bills. Cribbs denied it.
He reported that the FBI was investigating the major league umpires union's handling of its money. The umpires denied it.
He reported that the Sullivan family was interested in selling the New England Patriots. The Sullivans denied it.
He reported that a drug-testing agreement between baseball's players and owners is imminent. Both sides denied it.
Larry King could report that E=mc2 and Albert Einstein probably would deny it.
If King has developed a credibility crisis, the problem is twofold: he's often reporting on items of a sensitive nature and he usually doesn't attribute his information to anyone. He doesn't even cite anonymous sources. He just tells you what he hears, stands by the information and watches as the denials pour in.
In essence, he reports things that might appear to be gossip or rumor and stops just short of good journalism -- if good journalism includes cross-checking information and reporting all sides of a story. That he's not complete doesn't much bother King or Michael Weisman, NBC Sports' executive producer, who hired King.
"I go on with what I believe to be the best information I can get as a columnist," King said. "I've never reported a rumor. Do we triple-check everything? No. A newsman would say, 'I called the (umpires) union and they denied it.' I don't have time to do that. I'm not a nuts-and-bolts type of guy."
"Larry has access to confidential information and is a great communicator," Weisman said. "It's clearly Larry's opinion and what Larry hears. I don't think Larry has a credibility problem at this point.
"We have improved our standards since Larry started with us. We were a little soft at first checking on sources . . . We've made some mistakes in facts we won't make again. We've learned the hard way, and we'll be much more responsible."
King made at least two factual errors in recent weeks. He reported a possible Norm Nixon-for-Kyle Macy NBA trade between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns a couple of days after Chicago had obtained Macy. He also identified the wrong man as the Buffalo Bills' coach.
On a recent "NFL '85," King said he had reported nine exclusive stories in six weeks and that "five have come true, four are on hold and all nine have been denied."
Among the true "exclusives" were that Cribbs was returning to Buffalo from the USFL, the Bills would fire their head coach, the San Diego Chargers would sign the USFL's Gary Anderson and Earl Weaver would manage the Orioles in 1986. (In most cases, those stories previously had been reported by local media.)
King's exclusives on hold include that Washington will get a National League baseball team in 1987, that the Montreal Expos will trade Andre Dawson to the Chicago Cubs and the umpires union and drug-testing stories.
When asked if NBC News' standards of reporting should apply to NBC Sports and himself, King said, "I've never been told NBC News' standards. I'd have no idea what they are."
So, King will continue, for now, with his unorthodox style of information-gathering: breaking bread in Washington's poshest restaurants and reporting what's said between dessert and coffee.
"Lunch in Washington is the greatest source of information," said King, who earns $3,200 a week from NBC for his spots. "When I come on 'NFL '85,' it's information I hear from the right people, and I guarantee you it's true. I never hear things 'off the record.' "
King's short-cut journalism -- and he'll gladly offer that he does not consider himself a journalist -- keeps people talking. But doubts remain about his methods. After all, isn't he just echoing the empty chatter of important people without verifying the accuracy of their statements?
"I deny that," he said with a robust laugh.