Not done yet: ESPN’s Van Natta says follow-ups likely after takeout on Patriots

Bristol, CT - June 12, 2014 - Photo Studio: Portrait of Don Van Natta .(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Bristol, CT – June 12, 2014 – Photo Studio: Portrait of Don Van Natta .(Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Excerpts from my latest column for Poynter:


This won’t come as good news for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the New England Patriots. Don Van Natta says there might be a Round 2 to last week’s big ESPN Magazine storyillustrating how Goodell used the penalties levied on the Patriots for “Deflategate” as a make-up call for being lenient on “Spygate” in 2008.

Van Natta, who co-wrote the story with Seth Wickersham, says they have received more than a dozen calls from various league sources since the story was released.

“When you do a story like this, you shake the tree and very ripe fruit falls into your lap,” Van Natta said. “There are some interesting leads that Seth and I are going to address. I don’t think we’re done with this just yet.

Van Natta wouldn’t divulge any details or give a timetable for the next installment. He did say a couple of the leads involved other teams, although the Patriots remain the main focus.

“We heard from people we didn’t even interview who were confirming the storylines in our piece,” Van Natta said. “It confirmed the anger and paranoia around the league about the Patriots.”


Prior to coming to ESPN, Van Natta covered the White House, Pentagon, the CIA, and spent three years interviewing intelligence officers in Europe for the New York Times. He jokes that all of that experience proved to be “a good training ground” for doing investigative stories on the NFL.

“There is a code of silence in the NFL,” Van Natta said. “You can’t do a story like this without using anonymous sources.”

Van Natta says he and Wickersham try to get as many people to confirm every piece of information in the story. He said there were only couple instances where they had a high enough comfort level to go with one source.

“Every piece of information has to be bullet-proof,” Van Natta said. “On these kinds of stories, when you rely on a mix of on-the-record, documents and a vast majority of anonymous sources, you’ve got to get it right. I am not aware of one single fact in our story that wasn’t correct.”


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