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CHAD FINN I SPORTS MEDIA

ESPN apology to Patriots a long time coming

Tom Brady celebrated after leading the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.
Tom Brady celebrated after leading the Patriots to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

Turns out being the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader does not mean never having to say you’re sorry. It does mean, apparently, that ESPN can withhold its most embarrassing mea culpas for late at night.

At 12:21 Thursday morning, “SportsCenter” anchor Steve Levy issued an apology during the program for two recent references on the network to the Patriots taping the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.

Patriots fans require no explanation of what is wrong with that statement, but apparently too many around the country still do: The Patriots were never found to have taped the Rams’ walkthrough — what they were disciplined for during the infamous Spygate scandal was the misdemeanor of recording Jets coaches’ defensive signals from an unauthorized location during a 2007 game.

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But the false narrative that they taped the Rams’ signals lives on in part because of a 2008 story in the Boston Herald, which reported that they had done just that. The story was later retracted and the newspaper apologized, but the damaging falsehood is still mistaken for the truth years later. One former ESPN producer told me he used to have to correct the repeating of that mistake constantly in scripts.

Levy, with the Patriots’ Flying Elvis logo appearing on the screen over his shoulder, offered this explanation during the 17-second clip: “On two occasions in recent weeks, ‘SportsCenter’ incorrectly cited a 2002 report regarding the New England Patriots and Super Bowl XXXVI. That story was found to be false and should not have been part of our reporting. We apologize to the Patriots organization.”

ESPN’s correction actually requires a correction — Super Bowl XXXVI was played in February 2002, but the erroneous report about the taped walkthrough was written on Feb. 2, 2008, a day before the Patriots played the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The same mistake appeared on ESPN.com’s corrections page, which cites six corrections to stories since February — three related to the Patriots.

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In a statement, Rob King, ESPN senior vice president, “SportsCenter” and news, elaborated somewhat on why the correction was made.

“On two occasions recently — in an onscreen graphic and in an anchor’s unscripted remarks — ‘SportsCenter’ incorrectly referenced an inaccurate 2002 newspaper account regarding the New England Patriots and Super Bowl XXXVI,’’ said King. “We strive to be accurate in all of our reporting and fair to those we cover. Thus, we took steps to ensure that this error won’t happen again, and we deemed it necessary to make a public apology to the Patriots organization.”

Of course, a correction should never be a surprise — it should be standard operating procedure. But ESPN did not provide the correction on its own volition — the Patriots requested it. And given that ESPN has not corrected certain previous erroneous reports — most notably Chris Mortensen’s now infamous and explosive story in February that reported incorrectly that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots in the first half of the AFC Championship game were underinflated by at least two pounds per square inch — it’s tempting to question the integrity and independence of some of the network’s Patriots coverage.

It’s uncertain if the Patriots requested that ESPN correct the Mortensen story, but we do know via a series of e-mails recently posted on WellsReportContext.com that they did ask NFL spokesman Greg Aiello why the league hadn’t debunked a story it knew was erroneous.

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“I cannot comprehend how withholding the range of PSIs measured in the game is beneficial to the NFL or the Patriots,” Patriots spokesman Stacey James wrote. “I can only assume, based on the scientific evidence that has been provided to us by multiple independent scientists, that the PSI numbers will be within the scientific range. If we had been provided this data within days of the original report, we could have changed the narrative of this story before it led all national news and the damage was done.”

NFL lawyer Jeff Pash eventually brushed off the Patriots’ complaints. The Mortensen story can still be found on ESPN.com, though he recently deleted a seven-month-old tweet with the same information. In that regard, getting one apology from ESPN, even at 12:21 a.m., probably counts as progress. But New England still waits on you, Mort.

WEEI narrowing field

WEEI 93.7 has had carousel of candidates — among them Glenn Ordway, Gary Tanguay, Greg Dickerson, and Mike Giardi — fill in alongside Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria on its midday show since Tim Benz departed for Pittsburgh at the end of July. While there’s been some chatter that it’s Ordway’s job if the price is right, Entercom Boston VP and market manager Phil Zachary said in an e-mail that no one has been offered the job. “We’re thinning the herd to finalists now and will have a new host in place with Lou and Christian by Labor Day,’’ Zachary said. “It’s great to have some very enthusiastic and qualified local candidates, but nothing has been offered at this point.” . . . Kudos to WEEI and NESN for raising a total of $3,351,928 in its annual two-day Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon. They don’t do this for the ratings — numbers typically drop during the telethon. They do it because it’s right.

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