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ESPN’s Britt McHenry defends accuracy of controversial Robert Griffin III report

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After being blasted by Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden for a controversial report on Robert Griffin III that aired Sunday morning, ESPN’s Britt McHenry defended both her integrity as a reporter as well as and accuracy and veracity of her reporting.

McHenry insists her report that RG3 “alienated himself,” as evidenced by the raucous environment inside the Redskins locker room on Friday as the quarterback addressed the team, is accurate.

The substance of the original report was as follows (via D.C. Sports Bog):

“Robert Griffin III, dubbed the franchise savior just two years ago, appears to have fallen from grace in the eyes of some of his teammates. Now Griffin said he was ready to play against Dallas last week, but head coach Jay Gruden wanted him to wait and work on his footwork and dropbacks. I’m told several teammates did not know Griffin would be starting today until it came out in the media last week, and multiple sources told me several teammates are not happy about it.

“Now it’s telling, when Griffin addressed the media on Friday for the first time since injuring himself in Week 2, about 15 players in the locker room began shouting. It was so loud and so distracting that the franchise quarterback and us — all the reporters around him — had to leave the locker room and go somewhere where he could speak and be heard. And, in fact the cheering got more boisterous as the entire group had to leave the locker room.

“A source familiar with the situation told me, quote, Griffin has ‘alienated himself from the locker room.’ So a lot of question marks looming in terms of his mobility after that ankle injury, his production and what we can see today. And leadership, which has been there in the past, what it can now be for the future for Griffin moving forward with this team.”

Following Washington’s 29-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Gruden, when asked about the report, harshly criticized it and McHenry, referring to the reporter as an “amateur” on several occasions (via the Bog):.

“I saw those. It was an amateurish report. It was totally not true. And for anybody who reads that to believe that, they’re an amateur. Anybody who reports that’s an amateur. It’s totally false. And just something else that you have to deal with up here at a press conference, that Robert has to deal with, that the players have to deal with, that they’re going to write about and ask about.

“But we are in D.C., and it is Robert Griffin, and they’re always going to try to tear him down and tear us down for whatever reason. But we’re going to stay united as a locker room, and that’s that. We’re not going to let anybody get to us. That’s some small-time reporter reporting fiction.”

Harsh words, indeed. McHenry’s turn to react came Monday, and she stood strongly by her original reporting in an email interview with Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch.

“I’m confident enough in my reporting to do it all over again,” McHenry said. “I spoke with multiple sources within the organization and even talked to players around the league who are familiar with the divisive relationships between Robert Griffin III and a few of his teammates. At ESPN, we don’t just go on the air without properly vetting our material. Multiple producers and editors at the network, from the one I worked with in Minnesota to our Countdown and SportsCenter producers and news editors in Bristol, were made aware of the report.”

The SI scribe acknowledged that ESPN’s PR department informed him they would likely see McHenry’s answers before she replied meaning there may have been some filtering or posturing in her responses, but that does not take away from her firm stance on the accuracy of her report.

McHenry, who is familiar with the D.C. market after spending five years at the local ABC affiliate, adds, “Even if I’m not physically in Washington, which I was the day of the incident, I’m plugged into the team.”

Gruden arguably had no choice but to deny the accuracy of the report in order to maintain order in the locker room. But to so vehemently attack the integrity of a member of the media so viciously was in poor form. By doing so, Gruden fed the flames of the controversy when a simple non-answer or downplaying of the report likely would have diminished its buzz instead of giving the report legs and extended play in the media days afterward.

Further, challenging McHenry’s integrity and essentially forcing her to defend her report only fostered an enviornement where subsequent and continued coverage was necessary, especially, as noted by Deitcsh, several respected members of the media, including ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mike Wilbon, as well as Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, came to McHenry’s defense and corroborated her original reporting.

Deitsch also notes that some media members who are considered familiar with the Redskins locker room refuted McHenry’s report, “including three Washington Post writers (beat writer Mike Jones, columnist Jason Reid, and feature writer Liz Clarke) who took to Twitter to refute the story.”

With all that in mind, the entire saga in essence has transformed into a giant “He Said, She Said” situation involving various media members. Hardly a good situation, especially for the Redskins and Jay Gruden.