Welp, it's been one hell of a banner offseason over here on the Illegitimate Media's version of the Saints beat.

Aside from the ongoing efforts of aging, overpaid grizzled, dependable veterans such as CSC, the Ralph/Kevin/Dave Podcast of the ever-changing name, and Andrew Juge's Saints Nation, (hell, even Yours Truly hasn't gone completely into hibernation this year) the ranks have been strengthened with a handful of damn strong relative newcomers as well. If you haven't yet bookmarked the Who Dat Social Club, SaintsWin and the Angry Who Dat, you should probably go ahead and get right on that. I'll wait. Those fellas have been killing it. Can't wait until camp starts and we get to tape 'em to a goalpost. Shaving cream pies to the face. That kind of thing.

The sailing hasn't been nearly as smooth over on the Legitimate Media™ side of things though, as our esteemed local print journalists have been spending much of their time and energy (whatever's left over after lecturing us fans for the thousandth time on how stupid and overly-emotional we are) circling the wagons and defending themselves and one another from the protestations of legions of dissatisfied customers.

Not that any of this recent rancor is their fault, of course. They're just doing their jobs, and we're just pissed because their journalistic integrity compels them to tell us things we don't want to hear. See, we're so blinded by our unconditional fealty to our favorite football team that we're incapable of being objective. Instead, we choose to lash out at the top-notch pros who have worked so diligently behind the scenes (no, really, trust us on this) to suss out The Truth in all this. It's not their fault that The Truth just happens to be pretty much exactly what Roger Goodell has been saying it is all along. It's not their fault that we fans simply refuse to acknowledge it, preferring instead to "shoot the messenger."

Or something.

It's easy for Duncan and Varney to dismiss a lot of it as the ranting of lunatics, especially considering the way a lot of it has been presented. It's difficult to take any message seriously when it's rife with incorrect spelling and grammar, and poorly capitalized and punctuated. (Lots of people think that kind of stuff isn't important on the internet, but they're wrong. It matters.) Not to mention rambling and poorly-reasoned to the point of being barely coherent. Many of the comments have been little more than rage-fueled personal attacks, complete with ridiculous calls for "boycotts" and firings/resignations. That stuff is just noise, and you can hardly blame them for rolling their eyes at it.

After all, we're all well aware of the fact that these days the internet is bursting at the seams with idiots and assholes. (Present company excluded, of course. We here at moosedenied are madly in love with every single one of our intrepid readers.) And sometimes even just one can make you want to shove an icepick up your nose. One need look no further than the aforementioned Who Dat Social Club, where ever since its launch, our friends over there have been incessantly pestered by one of the most miserable, self-important cocksuckers you'll ever run across on the internet or anywhere else. Just a complete waste of skin who gets off on being loathed and amuses himself by taking a daily self-indulgent shit all over someone else's blog. But I digress.

I don't blame Varney for getting pissed off about it and firing back. I'd get pissed off too if I were in his shoes, and my professionalism and that of my colleagues were being called into question by a bunch of shrieking windbags who can't even be bothered to articulate their objections intelligibly. Personally, I don't buy into the notion that they're lazy or otherwise unprofessional, and I agree with Varney that those assertions are out of line. I also don't think that the staff at the T-P actively "hate" the Saints and I don't think they're intentionally pushing any kind of "anti-Saints agenda."

(Now buckle up, fellas, because that's all the sympathy you'll be getting from me today.)

But regardless of whether or not Duncan and Varney want to acknowledge it, there are valid objections hidden beneath all the inane bluster coming from certain segments of the peanut gallery. I've got a hunch that they're not all that interested in separating the wheat from the chaff and heeding the legitimate feedback, but they'd be wise to do so. Because they really have dropped the ball on all this bounty stuff. Big time. They can deny it all they want, but they have.

We here at moosedenied have always rolled our eyes at self-important sportswriters who act like they're Woodward and fucking Bernstein. Surely you've all tired of my repeated insistence that "It's just sports, people. It ain't fuckin' Watergate." But, short of The Old Man trying to pack up and move out of town again, the bounty scandal is about as close to a "Watergate" type situation as it gets. Don't take my word for it, just ask Duncan, who has invoked Watergate no fewer than a half-dozen times since all this started. I'd go ahead and link them all, but none of us have time for that. Trust me, they're out there. And surely you're not surprised, Duncan is pretty much the epitome of "self-important sportswriter."

On the surface, it might look like the disconnect is all over who's been playing the role of Nixon here. For Saints fans, it's Roger Goodell. For the staff at the T-P, it's Sean Payton and/or Mickey Loomis. We can argue about that until the cows come home, but that's not really the issue. Nor is it really about whether or not the guys at the T-P are telling us what we want to hear.

The issue is what, if anything, the guys at the T-P have been bringing to the table through all this.

From where I sit, not much.

I'll take their word for it when they say that they've been trying. But I'll also assert that they've been failing. Miserably.

Duncan and Varney have been widely accused of simply parroting the league's narrative throughout all this. Predictably, their response to those accusations basically boils down to something along the lines of "You just don't get it, man." I certainly don't blame them for denying the accusation that they've been shilling for the league, an accusation I've made myself on Twitter. Varney, of course, obtusely inferred that I'd prefer that they refrain from "reporting the facts" because the facts aren't what I'd like them to be.

But I'm not sure what other conclusion we're to draw when our local columnist comes out on the very day the story first broke with the following snap judgment:

Duncan: Their punishment will be harsh. It will be extensive. And it will be just.

And then reiterates two days later:

Duncan: (on Sean Payton) he deserves whatever penalty he receives from the NFL.

All this within 72 hours of the league's initial statement. Duncan came back with a "guilty on all counts" verdict halfway through the prosecution's opening arguments, for crying out loud. He's had his mind made up on this whole thing since day one. Guilty as charged, and no sentence could possibly be too harsh. All based on precisely one side of the story, a speciously scathing but ultimately vague summary of the league's assertions. And Duncan swallowed it whole. Then he wasted no time in trying to shove it down our throats as well.

And when that met with resistance, disagreement and skepticism, Duncan fell back on old reliable and did what he always does. He called us a bunch of dumbasses. A "confederacy" of dunces conspiracy theorists. A bunch of overly-emotional fools who are incapable of being objective and accepting the "facts." (Not that we should take that as a criticism though.) We'd sooner believe anything anyone might concoct in a desperate effort to contradict the league's Incontrovertible Truth, no matter how ridiculous and baseless, rather than to just accept that the league "had the goods on [the Saints]."

And yet, Varney wonders why Duncan catches so much shit from his readers.

Perhaps if Duncan weren't such a dismissive prick… just a thought.

It's not like this is the first time. Nor will it be the last, I'm sure. This is an ongoing thing with Duncan. He called us a bunch of douchebags when we dared to ponder the possible implications of Sean Payton moving his family to Dallas. (To his "credit" he promptly crawfished on that and penned another, far more fan-friendly column after five days of intense backlash against his original column.) There are numerous other pre-bounty examples in the ole archives, but we'll refrain from boring you further by rehashing them all here. We all know they're there.

Meantime, Duncan (who, as a fully-credentialed member of the Legitimate Media™ is "trained to be skeptical" and "wired to be cynical") by golly just can't figure out what possible ulterior motives Roger might have here.

Really, Jeff? Because pretty much everybody else has had little trouble assembling a laundry list of 'em, right off the top of our heads. And it's not just us dumbass conspiracy theorist Saints fans. It's your esteemed colleagues in the national Legitimate Media™.

I mean, for the love of fuck. Mike Florio has been picking the league's narrative apart pretty much daily for weeks now. Mike Florio, for crying out loud!

But Duncan has chosen to be deliberately obtuse on all points of contention, and doesn't have time to ask questions. Even if he hadn't already made up his mind the day the story broke that the league is right and the Saints are guilty of all charges, he's too busy lecturing us about why it doesn't really matter who blew this whistle, or whether or not the whistleblower might also have had ulterior motives:

Duncan: Why does it matter? Maybe he blew the whistle because he thought the bounty program was dishonorable and despicable? Maybe he had a conscious [sic]

And telling us that there's nothing to see here, because the league has already told us all we need to know:

Duncan: Not sure what you think "the story" is. The NFL report was very thorough. Sure, it left a few unanswered questions but just because they listed a "22 to 27" range doesn't discredit the entire report. Is it really that hard to accept the facts?

And telling us that it doesn't really matter the degree to which the league's narrative is or isn't supported by cold hard solid facts. Even if the league exaggerated or outright fabricated some of the allegations, meh, it's still The Truth. Close enough, anyway. And besides, the league had their reasons:

Duncan: Yet, the only reason argument anyone is making is that the program was not executed on the field or that it wasn't as bad as the NFL has made it sound, etc. That's not good enough. The NFL can not allow any gray area in this matter or they would open themselves up to future litigation and the integrity of the league would be undermined.

Not that anybody's shilling for the league, that is. No sir. On that, they all agree.

Kevin Spain: Nobody parrots the NFL line

Duncan: We are not just taking the NFL's word and swallowing it.

Duncan again: And we're not just buying the NFL party line and tapping out stories.

Varney: and the sort of knee-jerk, slipshod talk that Dunc is somehow abjuring his professional responsibilities with what he's written, or mindlessly parroting a line fed from NFL headquarters is absurd.

We just don't get it, man. Nobody's shilling for the league. It's just that it's all true. Or at least "true enough." 

Duncan: We know this story as well as anyone.

(Trust us.)

And I do trust them on that. I trust that they know this story just about as well as any of us fans who have been paying reasonably close attention do. And to borrow a phrase from Duncan, "That's not good enough."

But we're supposed to trust them that they know a shitload more about this whole thing than we do. That they've been pounding pavement and grinding their sources and digging into this thing from every angle. Asking all the relevant questions. Legitimately Journalizing™ like a motherfucker. Or something.

What they can't seem to agree on is whether or not their efforts have been fruitful. On one hand:

Duncan: As I've said all along, our stories are informed by reporting. As Mike said, we have spoken to numerous sources about this story, from the NFL to the Saints to independent bodies

Duncan again: I just want to make sure everyone knows and understands how hard the staff at the T-P has worked on this story. Trust me, Jim and Mike are as good a beat as there is in the NFL. They are top-notch pros who have ground their sources on this story from the outset.

Duncan yet again: Our work is informed by reporting and talking to the parties involved. I [sic] journalism circles, it's called gathering background information. You can't publish or print the information but you can use it to direct or inform your reporting/writing. Happens all of the time. In the NFL, it's pretty much the standard for how business is done. The T-P team is doing this on a daily basis with both sides of this story. Often times we might not have sources quotes in the story or attributed but we are writing from an informed point of view, if that makes sense

But on the other hand:

Duncan: Instead, there's been nothing. Not a peep from Payton or General Manager Mickey Loomis or owner Tom Benson. Their silence has been deafening. The only ones talking are the conspiracy theorists.

Spain: What is it you want us to do winner? We've tried to get the documents and the NFL has declined. We've tried to talk to the players involved, and the've [sic] declined. Benson and Loomis won't address it. Payton danced around it. Williams hasn't talked. We're going to continue to get as much info as we can, but all we can go on is what we have. If the folks involved want to get the word out they didn't do any of this, if the NFL will show what they have, we're all ears. So far, neither side is willing to part with any more information.

Well shit. Which is it? Have they been talking or have they not? Because I haven't seen the slightest indication that they have been talking, off the record or otherwise.

Not to the Legitimate Journalists™ at the T-P, anyway.

Evidently, they've been singing like a motherfucker to pretty much everybody else. Both on and off the record.

Which begs the question: Why? Why is it that they've been talking to everybody but the T-P about all this? Why is it that we just have to trust our esteemed Legitimate Local Media™ when they insist that their reporting has been "informed" by "sources" while Hargrove and Fujita and apparently half the Saints' roster are pouring their hearts out to assholes like Mike Freeman, for crying out loud?

Why is it that every single new development in this thing, right from day one, has come from anywhere but New Orleans? Why is it that every opinion piece that questions the prevailing narrative, approaches the situation from a fresh angle, offers a different perspective, invariably comes from anywhere but the Times-Picayune? Why is it that with each passing day, more and more people all over the country have begun to realize that something really stinks in the way the league has been handling all this, yet the T-P continues to refuse to give even cursory lip service to the mere notion that there might be more to this thing than the proverbial "third rate burglary attempt?"

Why is it that all these "facts" Varney has been reporting are pretty much invariably things we already knew? Why is it always "as first reported by…" and "according to…" and "reportedly" all the damn time? Go ahead, go find a bounty-themed Varney article at nola dot com and count the instances of [according to someone else]. Then scroll down a few inches and try to find where Spain had linked to the article from somewhere else which is the source of the "reportedly" a few hours earlier. It's pretty easy, and big fun!

As our friend @elsbet so appropriately pointed out a couple weeks ago on Twitter, "That's not journalism, that's stenography."

Indeed. Basically what Varney's been giving us is the Reader's Digest account. Aggregate and condense. Which I suppose is fine, for those of us who don't have access to the internet, or TL;DR Guy who doesn't give enough of a shit to bother with anything beyond the Cliff's Notes.

But for the rest of us, the question remains: What exactly has the T-P Saints beat been bringing to the table through all this? Where's the value add?

If we want rehashed and condensed versions of other people's actual reporting, well, that's what blogs are for. And if we want a series of lectures about all the ways in which we fans suck and are too dumb to understand what's really going on, well, we've got blogs for that too. 

Tell us something we don't already know. And try not to be a condescending prick about it. Is that too much to ask?

Understand this, Duncan and Varney: I know that sometimes it might seem like we do, but we really don't need you to shill for the franchise. Honestly. We don't need you to always be on their side. Hell, we don't even need you to always be on our side. We just haven't been satisfied with the quality of your work here lately, that's all. To once again borrow a phrase from Duncan, "Is that so hard to accept?"

We need you to do better, and believe it or not, we want you to do better. We want to applaud you and cheer you on. Even when you're telling us things we don't necessarily want to hear. But we wanted you to be out in front of this thing. You've dropped the ball on this thing and squandered what could have been a singular opportunity for you to actually be something resembling our very own Woodward and fucking Bernstein. And let there be no doubt that we'd have rallied behind you and supported you one hundred percent. We'd have been so proud. And we'd have been high fiving the hell out of you as you collected your Pulitzers and Daytime Pulitzers and whatever other hardware floats around in Legitimate Media™ circles. What's the most prestigious award Del Monte gives?

But there won't be any hardware coming the T-P's way over all this bounty stuff. Because instead of leading, you chose to follow. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt (to an extent) when you insist that you haven't been "parroting" anything, but you damn sure haven't been standing out from the din either. You might not be deliberately pushing an agenda, but the fact remains that you've been marching lockstep with the prevailing narrative throughout this thing. Deny it all you want, but it's true. And you've only been falling farther and farther behind as the stink continues to rise with each layer that gets peeled from the onion, and more and more people all over the country grow more and more incredulous.

Everybody but you, that is. You're still asking "Why would Nixon lie?!? What could he possibly have to gain?!?"

With the breaking news this morning of the impending doom surrounding the Times-Picayune, I realize that this post might come off as piling on. Dancing on the grave, as it were. (Hopefully, that particular metaphor will eventually prove to be not nearly as apt as it might seem right now.) And I want to make it clear that that's not my intent. I started writing this post damn near a month ago, but May-July is the time of the year where real life eats up huge chunks of my regularly-scheduled internet jackassery time, and I'm lucky if I get to knock out a couple paragraphs in a given day. So it's been slow going, and all along I've been debating whether or not to even finish and publish this here post. That I was finally able to finish it up last night is just a matter of unfortunate timing. And even now I'm debating whether or not to go ahead and click the Publish button on this thing.

I want to be clear that I take no pleasure in whatever workplace troubles Duncan and Varney might be facing right now. On a human level, I can certainly empathize. And by all accounts, Duncan and Varney are a couple of damn good guys in person, even if it doesn't always come across in their published work. I've never met either of them personally, probably never will, and I damn sure don't have anything against them personally. Here's hoping that they, and everybody else at the T-P, land on their feet after all this shakes out. One way or another.

I do stand behind everything I've written above though. Ideally, the T-P's Saints beat will remain fully intact, take heed of the legitimate criticism, and bounce back into something we Saints fans can once again be proud of and eager to consume on a daily basis. Believe it or not, fellas, we really are pulling for ya.

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