Starting late Sunday, and peaking in the 24 hours before publication, a giant game of telephone surrounded the story, fed by cryptic tweets from non-Post sports journalists and leading to increasingly lurid comments about what The Post supposedly was going to report.
Some were sure it involved an investigation into the exploitation of the team’s cheerleaders. Or that Epstein, the late convicted sex trafficker, was somehow wrapped up in it. At the peak of madness Thursday afternoon, “Dan Snyder” trended on Twitter, with all manner of calumny thrown at the team’s not-so-beloved owner — already in the news this week for his announcement that the team would soon abandon a name that many criticize as offensive to Native Americans.
The orgy of speculation even involved speculation about orgies involving a former coach.
In the end, The Post’s story, by reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke, turned out to be a sobering and solidly sourced investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of the team’s young female employees by the team’s business managers. More than a dozen former staffers said they were the object of misogynistic comments and occasional unwanted touching by male executives. Snyder himself was not accused, although the story implied that he tolerated a hostile work environment for years.
Damning and damaging, but no orgies or Epstein.
The Post’s reporters were aware of the roar of the Internet crowd but tuned it out, said Matthew Vita, the paper’s sports editor. “We knew we had a solid, thoroughly reported story, so the most important thing for us to do was to filter out all the noise and trust our process,” he said. “To just keep doing our work. That’s sometimes difficult to do today, but I’m really proud of how Will and Liz managed to keep plugging away at the piece until it was ready.”
On one level, the ill-informed guessing simply confirms something pretty obvious at this late date: Not everything you read on the Internet or its social-media subchannels is true.
But in this case, actual journalists appear to have fueled the engines of fantasy by tweeting vaguely about a possible Post story — one they couldn’t actually describe nor seemed to know much about.
“A real busy week,” J.P. Finlay of NBC Sports Washington tweeted late Sunday. “And it’s not all going to be about the name and it’s not all going to be pretty.”
Finlay’s colleague Julie Donaldson chimed in on Tuesday: “What’s coming is disappointing and sad.”
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora (a former Redskins beat reporter for The Post) wrote: “The warped and toxic culture of the Washington Football Team is about to be exposed in a sickening fashion. . . . Again.”
Washington sports-radio host Danny Rouhier wryly summed up the buzz this way: “I know something and I want you to know that I know something but I’m not going to say the thing until someone else says it then I’ll let everyone know that I knew it too.”
Rumors about a major damaging story began to percolate among beat reporters on Sunday, when The Post reported that the team had fired two of its top scouts, Alex Santos and Richard Mann II. The announcement raised eyebrows because the team gave no explanation for their dismissal.
Then on Wednesday, just a few weeks before the National Football League’s projected season opener, Larry Michael, the Redskins’ play-by-play announcer for the past 16 years, suddenly announced his retirement. Not only was the timing of Michael’s announcement odd, but the team withheld any comment about one of its longest-serving and most visible employees.
The most roundabout “reporting” on The Post’s bombshell-in-waiting may have come from local ABC affiliate station WJLA, which seemed to know something but couldn’t say exactly what.
The station’s sport anchor, Scott Abraham, tweeted on Sunday: “There is much more news going on at Redskins Park than a name change. . . . And it’s not good. I did not get specifics, but get ready people.”
His colleague, reporter John Gonzales, followed up by tweeting, “Working my sources but apparently changing of the Redskins name will be old news come tomorrow when a bombshell report is expected to surface. There’s growing buzz that unflattering news about organization could come out in just hours.”
Abraham turned all his puzzlement into a story for the station’s website on Wednesday that said . . . well, not much. “There is a lot of speculation and rumors on social media right now that there’s something bigger going on and something bigger is going to come out,” he wrote. His story was headlined, “Something fishy is going on with the team formerly known as the Redskins.” (WJLA’s representative didn’t return a request for comment).
For some readers, the somber and scrupulously reported story that emerged was a disappointment, given the expectations raised by people who knew so little about it. But for others, the circus registered as an outrage.
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