Ball Carriers

Is a Post reporter offsides when it comes to the people he covers?

The Post got its man, and Schefter has been churning out Broncos pieces for the paper ever since -- so many, in fact, that some media types feel he's gone much too far in buddying up to sources. There's some evidence to support this contention: At the November 1998 grand opening of the Hard Rock Cafe, Schefter was seen hanging with Terrell Davis and other Broncos. But Schefter denies doing anything untoward, and he's defended by Neal Scarbrough, the Post's sports editor. "Adam's a real professional," he says. "People always claim he got this story or that story because he knows them or is friends with them. But they don't realize that he's called them three or four times to get to them. While they're having dinner, he's on the phone."

A few months ago Schefter was somewhere else -- in Cabo San Lucas with Shanahan, putting the finishing touches on Think Like a Champion. But Schefter says his time there wasn't a free ride. "There were twenty interview sessions I had to schedule with Mike, and after we'd scheduled sixteen of them, he said, 'How would you feel about going to Cabo?' -- because he was planning on going down there. And I said, 'If that's where you want me, that's where you have me.' But it wasn't like he sent me the tickets and said, 'I'll pick you up in the family station wagon.' I paid my way down there and I stayed in a different hotel. We met for one hour a day for four days, and that was it. What we have is a business relationship." Schefter doesn't believe that this association with Shanahan and Davis presents an ethical conflict because he was paid a flat fee for his work on each tome, meaning that, in his mind, he has no further financial stake in either project: "I made my money. I'm out." He also notes that the agreements he signed were with the publishing companies, "not Mike or Terrell -- and besides, Mike's book isn't even a football book. It's a motivational strategy book."

This last point is more than a bit disingenuous. Although Think Like a Champion is aimed at business consumers, all of the tips in it are supported by football anecdotes, and each chapter ends with testimonials to Shanahan from the likes of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and players such as John Elway. Nevertheless, editor Scarbrough, who gets a thank-you in Champion, doesn't view the book as a violation of the paper's compact with its readers.

Mike Shanahan's Think Like a Champion.
Mike Shanahan's Think Like a Champion.
Rah rah: Mike Shanahan's Champion co-author Adam Schefter, pictured as a Broncos cheerleader on the Dennis Britton Go Home! Page.
Rah rah: Mike Shanahan's Champion co-author Adam Schefter, pictured as a Broncos cheerleader on the Dennis Britton Go Home! Page.

"We try not to limit people's opportunities to do things on the side, but we have strong ethical rules around here," Scarbrough says. "And when you hire someone, you believe that they're going to follow the rules in the right ways." He adds that there are "checks and balances" in place to make sure that someone in Schefter's position doesn't turn into someone's personal press agent. "We don't want to see 'Shanahan's a King' stories or 'Shanahan's a Bum' stories unless they're supported. And if either of those stories wasn't reported properly, the person who needs to be in fear is the reporter. Because we wouldn't stand for that."

Barry Forbis, sports editor for the Rocky Mountain News (and the former overseer of Schefter during his News days), doesn't buy that argument, stating, "Our policy would be that you can't write that kind of book if you are covering the beat." As an example, he says that staffer Clay Latimer wasn't allowed to pen a book about Elway until he was no longer covering football -- "and Clay's book was unauthorized, just like the books we've written after each of the Super Bowls and after the Avalanche's Stanley Cup run. He didn't do it in cooperation with Elway, like in this other case, where they're actually making money together." With Schefter, he says, "there's the appearance of a conflict of interest. And you have to guard against that just as much as you would guard against the conflict itself."

Not that the News doesn't suffer at times from the same malady. After all, the paper owns a chunk of the Colorado Rockies yet still covers the team. The purchase "was a business decision made as a civic gesture before they were even formed," Forbis explains. "Is that a problem from an appearance standpoint? Yeah. But we're very careful about it, and I think the coverage stands on its own."

Obviously, the News is just as adept at tap-dancing around such matters as the Post. But at least the competition between the two papers' sports sections guarantees a modicum of aggressiveness. When the Post chose to run an August 16 story by sportswriter Mike Klis about the impending ouster of Colorado Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard on its front page, News baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby went on KKFN-AM/950 (the Fan) and denounced it as a foundationless collection of previously reported rumors -- and when Gebhard resigned a few days later, Ringolsby returned to the airwaves to imply that Klis had just gotten lucky. In this spirit, Schefter says that the News's disinterest in keeping him around fuels his desire to scoop the paper "every single day -- and if it doesn't make Mike Shanahan happy, that's the way it is. When I was the first one to write that Shannon Sharpe's contract was up, the first person on the line fuming at me was Mike Shanahan. I would never in any way hold back on anything I had to write if it was in the interest of the Denver Post readers."

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