Every time it seems like the Jim Harbaugh-49ers drama is going to dissipate to some extent, the media fires off another volley. I'll give you a link to Ann Killion's article, but if you want Pro Football Talk's irresponsible follow-up on the article, feel free to go to their site or google it. It's only two of the latest examples, but it follows the string of hits on Jim Harbaugh and his relationship with the 49ers.
It started with Killion writing about how "[o]ne source with inside knowledge of the team" says Jim Harbaugh's act has "worn thin" in the locker room. More importantly, she says this source said it was particularly true among "face of the 49ers" type players.
Naturally, Mike Florio ran with this at Pro Football Talk. Since getting called out for getting way ahead of himself on the Browns trade report, he seems intent on finding every little bit of information against the 49ers. I don't think he dislikes the 49ers in general, but after getting called out by Jed York, and getting into a pissing contest with Ian Rapoport, I think Florio is holding a grudge.
Florio once again showed he is an irresponsible writer. In his article on Killion's article, Florio said, "No specific players were mentioned, but the obvious candidates are..." and then proceeded to list out the most notable 49ers on offense and defense. It was incredibly irresponsible "journalism", but Florio's a hack who is looking for page hits. He originally developed Pro Football Talk into a go-to resource for NFL news, but he has developed into a bully who prefers to take half truths and do what he can to sensationalize it. PFTMZ might very well be the best way to describe his work at this point. The site still provides useful information, but that gets overrun by Florio's BS.
Moving past the Florio crap, Killion's article is another in the recent string of articles purporting to detail the inner workings of the 49ers front office and locker room. Things were fairly quiet on that front up until Florio dropped his inaccurate report about the Browns-49ers trade rumor. Once Florio dropped that one, it became too easy for people to go to their anonymous team and league sources to get juicy quotes. They could run them under the cover of Florio's bomb because they could just play the "where there's smoke, there's fire" card.
Unfortunately, basically every single report is loaded with hearsay and double hearsay. I realize the court of public opinion is not a court of law, and the traditional rules of evidence do not apply. Hearsay is strong currency in the world of professional sports. Whether it be journalists looking for a juicy quotation about a player or coach, or it's us reporting on rumors that are floating around connected to free agency and trades, a large chunk of what sports media deals in is connected to hearsay.
For those that don't know the specifics of the term hearsay, it is defined broadly as an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts. In this case, Ann Killion is reporting what someone told her about the 49ers locker room. Hearsay is an issue in the legal system because of the concerns about reliability of evidence. When it comes to the legal system, ideally you want statements that are made under oath. Even though people do lie under oath, the statement is generally believed to be more likely to be true.
Anonymous sources are a critical part of sports media because teams and leagues often treat the world of sports as though it involves nuclear secrets. People are not inclined to go on the record, and so we are left with hearsay. And in this case, it could very well be double hearsay. Killion talks about a source with "inside knowledge of the team." What the hell does that even mean? Are we talking about a towel boy? An assistant coach? A trainer? A friend of a player? A player being hidden under the cloak of even further anonymity?
My problem with Ann Killion's article is that it assumes this hearsay is true, and does not even address what agenda the source might have. I suppose Killion could have decided she trusted the source, but her story still leaves a big fat hole about why we should trust her source. As a columnist, Killion is there to offer her takes and like we see with a lot of mainstream media, it's all about the HOT TAKE! You want people checking your content, and this kind of story is juicy enough to draw in the masses. We see her opinions varying wildly, so long as they draw in readers.
I realize I'm helping Killion by linking (and to some extent, PFT), but this is reaching a point where I wanted to at least get some of my thoughts out on the subject. I think it would be foolish to assume there aren't issues between Harbaugh and other members of the front office. I think when you have hyper-competitive people, they can rub each other the wrong way. And considering what we've seen of Jim Harbaugh on the sideline, can anybody really say it's shocking he might have problems getting along with some people?
As for the locker room stuff, when you've got 53 players on the active roster, another eight on the practice squad, and additional injured list players, are you really going to be surprised that one or two might have a problem with the staff? Problems for a "face of the 49ers" type of player is not something we want to hear, but given how vague Killion is about her source, it's hard for me to take this too seriously.
I won't say there is no way there can be issues in the locker room. The big problem in my mind is this kind of stuff is providing cover for other writers to provide their own bits of smoke. Kevin Lynch followed up Killion's article by writing that it "confirms rumblings I've heard over the last year or so." I get that anonymous sources are part of the media game, but this Harbaugh story has shown us that some media members are going to wait until they have cover before having the nerve to get in on this story. It strikes me as almost lazy journalism because a writer was not willing to go out on a limb and figure out if there was more to the story. You hear of another anonymous source dropping bombs, so why not just throw a few more in. You get your piece of meat and nobody needs to be the wiser.
We're seeing more and more media members dropping in to get a piece of the action. I can understand why Harbaugh and others have a problem with the media. We are seeing the vultures circle. I think Harbaugh's sometimes brusque manner was never going to help him when this kind of situation developed. While he seems like an incredibly interesting personality to cover, he also has not made the media's job too easy. Now that things are getting difficult, the media is ready to pounce.
Obviously I have my own biases in this. I am the first person to say I'm a fan first. I operate within the media, but unlike most media, I am not in this to be objective. I am a fan of the first order, and I'm sure some will decide that makes me biased in favor of the team. I do hope for the best for this team because I want to see a winning product. This differs from mainstream media who simply want story lines, good or bad. A dominant team creates great story lines, but a team in turmoil can also create great story lines.
While I have certain biases, I also think my legal background allows me to consider things from a more logical perspective. Columnists are often not looking for logic. They're looking for the hot take, which many seem to think is necessary in a world of more and more media options. It's somewhere up there with the "shiny penny! shiny penny!" form of distraction. While I can get tripped up by emotion at times, I think I've shown an ability to at least consider things from a more logical perspective. More importantly, you know where I'm coming from with my content. I'd like to think you know my agenda. With these anonymous source articles, we don't know the agenda of the source in question, and we don't even know if it's the same source spreading this stuff to every reporter he or she can find.
In this case, there is some emotion on my part. I get pissed because Bay Area and national columnists will get away with this without any real repercussions. We're never really going to know the full truth of this whole saga, so anybody can throw [site decorum] against the wall and see what sticks. And unfortunately, too many people will get sucked in because there is going to be a bit of a vacuum, leaving the media to fill it in with every anonymous quote under the sun.
Although Jed York has provided some on the record comments about all this, I don't expect to see Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke holding a dual press conference any time soon to clear the air on the situation. And that's their right. The questions will eventually come up when we get to the next round of Harbaugh press conferences, and I suspect we won't get much in the way of answers. If the 49ers are content with that, so be it. We can just power through and hope that winning in the fall quiets it down to some extent. I doubt that is entirely the case since some columnists will latch onto a story like a dog on a bone. The Harbaugh press conferences following the draft, and during the offseason workout program will be mighty interesting.