THE LEAD: Charissa Thompson, a sports journalist (remember that word), caught hell this week after she stated on a podcast that while she worked NFL games, she would make up her sideline reports on occasion.
“I’ve said this before, so I haven’t been fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again,” Thompson said. “I would make up the report sometimes because, A, the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime or it was too late and I was like, I didn’t want to screw up the report, so I was like, ‘I’m just gonna make this up.'”
She then explained there was no harm in anything she would say to audiences.
“No coach is gonna get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves, we need to be better on third down, we need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field,'” she continued. “Like, they’re not gonna correct me on that. I’m like it’s fine, I’ll just make up the report.”
After every single journalist on earth seemingly did the obligatory “WTF?!?!” social media post, Thompson tried to walk this back with a more measured statement:
“When on a podcast this week, I said I would make up reports early in my career when I worked as a sideline reporter before I transitioned to my current host role,” she said.
“Working in the media I understand how important words are and I chose wrong words to describe the situation. I’m sorry. I have never lied about anything or been unethical during my time as a sports broadcaster.
“In the absence of a coach providing any information that could further my report I would use information that I learned and saw during the first half to create my report. For example if a team was 0 for 7 on 3rd down, that would clearly be an area they need to improve on in the second half. In these instances I never attributed anything said to a player or coach.
So, if you’re following along at home, Thompson glibly did the “I’m so cool I can make stuff up and nobody cares” thing until she realized that EVERYBODY cares about the accuracy of sports journalism. Then, she did the “I chose my words poorly” thing, which is usually saved for when people make a career-ending comment and are desperately trying to save their careers.
DYNAMICS OF WRITING FLASHBACK: We’ve poked at sports journalism before about ethical breaches, blurring the line between reporting/fanboying and other similar things. We’ve also covered the issue of people in journalism making up quotes or sources when they didn’t really have the goods they needed to have in order to get stories they otherwise wouldn’t have.
It’s not a rare thing, unfortunately, to talk about people in journalism breaking the basic ethical codes of the field. It also seems to be in some of the dumbest possible circumstances, in that you rarely see a story like the one Jayson Blair made up about the D.C. Sniper and more so in situation where a reporter didn’t feel like asking a salt-of-the-earth pancake-eating source what they thought of inflation.
DOCTOR OF PAPER HOT TAKE: The first and most obvious thing is that, as a journalist, you don’t make stuff up. You can’t include the word “reporter” in your title and then pretend that the tenets of accuracy and honesty don’t apply to you.
When I look at the career of a sideline reporter, I can’t imagine a more difficult job because of who tends to fill it, how the world tends to perceive them and how hard they have to hustle. The majority of these reporters are women, and sports have never been too kindly to female journalists. The book, “Who Let Them In?,” does an amazingly and painfully detailed job of explaining what path-breaking women in sports journalism went through and what women in sports journalism still go through.
The television element adds the issue of physical attractiveness to the topic at hand. You might get a heavy-set guy with the remnants of a bad teenage bout with acne on the screen, but you’re almost assuredly not going to see a woman of a similar description.
One of the first women to have a nationally prominent role on an NFL television program was Phyllis George, a former Miss America. Critics pointed out that George had limited television and sports experience, and was intended merely as eye candy for men. Unfortunately, as viewers got a heavy dose of female reporters on the sideline over the years, each of whom was “visually appealing,” the rap on these journalists became that anyone who could successfully rock a “Hooters” uniform could probably do the job.
The fact of the matter is that these journalists have to hustle harder than their counterparts in so many ways and be ready for almost anything. As some reports on this topic mentioned, when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field, the sideline reporters were the first and most direct line of communication to the public about his situation. When players are injured, when fights break out in the stands or when any other kind of bedlam takes place, these journalists are pushing for information and trying to keep the audiences informed.
When one person of a particular group (sideline reporters) breaks the code and kind of does it in a “oh, well, I’m not really a journalist anyway” kind of fashion, it hurts the remainder of the people in that group. That’s why you saw Laura Okmin, Andrea Kremer, Tracy Wolfson and dozens of other sideline reporters and female sports journalists coming out on social media to say, “We don’t make stuff up. Never. Don’t even think about it.”
Thompson’s actions and her disclosure in this fashion caused a great deal of harm to journalists who already have to work way too hard to be considered journalists at all, let alone equals of people who often have less journalism-based education and media training than they do. As we have seen in some of the other cases noted earlier, this is a firing offense and it should be.