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Deadspin editor on Cory Gardner mess: ‘What else can we do?’

A recent Deadspin post questions Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), for claiming he played football in high school. Here’s how it all started, when the Senate candidate told Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty about his jock days. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Deadspin yesterday published a story alleging that Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Colorado, had lied about having played football as a youngster. The story fell apart after Gardner tweeted pictures of himself in football uniforms. A spokesman for his campaign said that Gardner had played football from junior high school through his sophomore year in high school.

The reporter who wrote the piece, Dave McKenna, told the Erik Wemple Blog last night, “If it’s wrong, it’s my fault.” To advance his case that Gardner might have been making up his history on the gridiron, McKenna quoted Chuck Pfalmer, a retired teacher at Garner alma mater Yuma High School and keeper of facts about the school’s football squad. “Cory Gardner wasn’t on the football team,” Pfalmer told McKenna.

In an e-mail response to questions from the Erik Wemple Blog, Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs noted: “We thought we’d nailed it down. We had the team’s historian–the guy best equipped, after Gardner himself, to give us a definitive answer–telling us Gardner didn’t play.” The headline of the story was phrased as a question: “Is A Colorado Senate Candidate Lying About His Football Career?” Asked about the flimsiness of putting such a serious charge in the form of a question, Craggs responded, “If anything, I was worried the headline here was a little soft.”

As to the due diligence, Craggs says there was plenty: “Dave is as good a reporter as any I’ve worked with. He checked off all the right boxes. (He called up the school’s library to ask about yearbooks. The 1992 edition didn’t have a football roster, and the library didn’t have a book for 1993, Gardner’s senior year.)” Referring to Deadspin’s legendary story about the hoax of then-Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend, Craggs wrote, “If you’re looking for someone to blame here, blame me for getting way too cocky about my site’s ability to prove a negative.”

Though Deadspin’s Gardner story appears to be false, it bears no correction or retraction, but rather an “update” notifying readers of the rather significant evidence against it. When asked whether the site has any further plans to address the discrepancies, Craggs responded, “For now, I guess, we’re going to sit here, eat some s—, and endure our Maoist struggle session in penitent silence. Our main source decided to unsay everything he’d said 24 hours earlier. What else can we do?”