What Dez Bryant’s “tantrum” says about accurate reporting
There’s an old joke about what happens when you assume things. Basing your stories on assumptions, rather than on facts, can also make an ass out of you and me. We saw it in action this week with coverage of the sideline behavior of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant on Sunday.
Bryant appeared to throw a couple of tantrums late in the Cowboys’ 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions, drawing scolds across the media. Here’s a particularly sharp rebuke by Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com, who wrote, “Put him in timeout. Because what Dez Bryant did Sunday was act like a 3-year-old.” Bleacher Report writers were less harsh and more supportive of Bryant, but did use the words “diva” and “childish.” The TV talking heads were all over Bryant.
The problem was that by Monday night, NFL Films had released audio of Bryant’s “tantrum” that revealed it had been no such thing. Bryant had been loud and animated, but, as he’d said himself after the game, “I’m not saying anything bad. It’s all positive.”
So it turned out the tantrum assumption wasn’t a good one. We’d already had some hints at that in the postgame statements of Bryant’s teammates. In a piece published Sunday night, the Detroit News had quoted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo saying the same thing:
“He’s a competitive guy,” Romo said. “He’s never complained to me about getting the ball. He knows that the ball is going to go where it’s supposed to.
“When you guys sometimes see emotions from Dez, it’s just trying to ‘rah rah’ more than it is being a ‘me’ guy.”
Commentators around the country had watched the soundless video from the game broadcast and made assumptions about what was going on. They were pretty good assumptions.
They just happened to be wrong.
There’s an argument that can be made that Bryant’s behavior was not optimal. Maybe he could have expressed himself better. His injured teammate, DeMarcus Ware, seemed to be saying that when he appeared to be trying to calm Bryant down in the midst of Bryant’s second eruption. Maybe. I made that assumption on Sunday. But Ware confirmed that reading to Will Brinson of CBS Sports Tuesday.
It’s easy to fall back on assumptions. If you’re not vigilant, you can find yourself doing it without even realizing it. An assumption repeated often enough can begin to feel like a fact. For an example of that, read this remarkable Poynter.org piece by Kelly McBride. Headlined “Bullying is not on the rise and it does not lead to suicide,” the piece explains how two popular media narratives, repeated over and over, are simply not true.
Regular readers of this blog ought to know what I’m going to say about making sure you’re not basing your articles on assumptions: Follow Bleacher Report’s Attribution Guidelines and, better yet, live by Lennay’s Law: Tell us what you know is true, and tell us how you know it.