Reprinted from Consortium News
What I have learned in 35 years as an investigative reporter at the national level is that high-profile investigations are almost always driven less by fact, reason or truth than by power. The Hollywood scenario of some entity-on-high intervening in the name of justice for a happy ending rarely happens in real life.
More typically, the relative balance of power between the two sides dictates the outcome with clever lawyers or compliant bureaucrats twisting every word or action in whatever direction serves the interests of the more powerful master. Innocence can be turned into guilt and vice versa, usually with the mainstream news media falling into line and average people soon absorbing the conventional wisdom with smirks at the loser.
I have witnessed this pattern in matters of war or peace, the integrity of elections, and the treatment of individual citizens. Once power is applied to an investigation anyone who stands in the way can expect to get run over. Decent people are demonized and ostracized. Foreign leaders can become the target of "regime change." Essentially anything goes, and Goliath usually wins.
That is why I am always highly suspicious when this process gets rolling, whether the goal is to pin some nefarious act on a despised foreign leader (Saddam Hussein is hiding WMD); to fix the outcome of an election (Al Gore is a sore loser); or to disparage an honest journalist (Gary Webb deserved what he got for accusing the CIA of dabbling with Nicaraguan Contra drug traffickers).
Often in such cases the conventional wisdom, which reflects the consensus view of the powerful, is dead wrong. Hussein didn't have those caches of WMD; Gore was the rightful winner of the presidential election in 2000; and Webb was correct when he shed new light on the CIA's Contra-cocaine connection. Yet all of them lost to the power of systemic distortion.
Similarly, there are troubling aspects to the NFL's "Deflategate" witch hunt targeting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And there's a cautionary warning here for all of us. It turns out that even celebrity doesn't protect you from a process in which a more powerful entity, in this case the NFL and opposing teams envious of Brady's success, can concoct a case almost literally out of thin air to destroy a person's reputation and make it harder for the Patriots to prevail on the field in the future.
In this curious investigation, one of the most scandalous aspects has been the role of rival teams in pressuring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to sustain his harsh penalties against Brady (a four-game suspension without pay) and against the Patriots (a $1 million fine and loss of first- and fourth-round draft picks).
Beyond the peculiar process of Goodell serving as judge, jury and appeals court, there has been the intrusion by the NFL's Management Council in trying to influence the outcome, a factor cited by ESPN and acknowledged in Goodell's own 20-page report. It would seem that at minimum Brady deserved a disciplinary process without the owners of rival teams weighing in.
Though this interference by team owners who have lost to the Patriots would seem to be an obvious conflict of interest and a threat to the integrity of the game, this behavior has passed virtually unnoticed, mentioned only briefly by some ESPN commentators. Yet, this tilting of the playing field might be the biggest scandal in the entire overblown affair, especially since the Management Council holds the strings to Goodell's $35 million salary.
The Goodell Report
Like the previous Wells' investigative report -- written under Goodell's direction -- Goodell's findings on Brady's appeal brush aside the core fact that the science behind the assumption that the Patriots' footballs were intentionally deflated was dubious at best. Even according to the opinion of the NFL-hired experts, all or virtually all the drop in air pressure could be explained by the cold weather alone during the AFC Championship game on Jan. 18, 2015.
And the NFL's experts did not account for other relevant factors, such as the rainy weather and the different pre-game treatments of the Patriots footballs when compared with those of the Indianapolis Colts. A variety of outside scientists reviewed the Wells' report and concluded that its assessment of the air-pressure readings was unreliable at best because of inadequate protocols in both pre-game measurements and the hasty checks made during halftime. [See Consortiumnews.com's "NFL's Deflategate Findings 'Unreliable.'"]
(Ironically, if you relied on the air-pressure gauge that was judged more precise, the Colts played both the first half and second half of the AFC Championship game with under-inflated footballs, while the Patriots did for only the first half. Yet, the Patriots were the ones punished.)
There remain other anomalies in Goodell's report. For instance, Goodell writes that "there are several points that are not in dispute and important to this decision," including that Brady "told the equipment staff that he wanted the footballs inflated at the lowest permissible level" and "instructed the equipment staff to present a copy of the rule to the game officials."
Goodell continues: "On the day of the AFC Championship Game, Mr. [Jim] McNally [the team employee who carried the footballs to the referees] told referee Walt Anderson that Mr. Brady wanted the balls inflated to a pressure of 12.5 psi. He [McNally] told the investigators that 'Tom ... always has me pass a message to the Official's [sic] that he likes the balls at the minimum permissible PSI of 12.5.'"