This past Saturday night, while watching ShoBox and talking with Scott Christ of BadLeftHook, I noticed a story bouncing around Twitter a little bit. Apparently, Manny Pacquiao had taken issue with Barack Obama's coming out in support of same-sex marriage.
Initially, I read the story on Digital Journal, which stated that Pacquiao had quoted Leviticus and the whole "they must be put to death" thing (I even started yelling about it on Twitter). As I talked to Scott about writing the story up for BadLeftHook while he continued the live coverage of ShoBox, I clicked through to the original story on Examiner.com and noticed that the quoting of Leviticus never really appeared to come from Manny, but rather was a weirdly written tangential point by the author. Oh, there were quotes about "putting God's law before that of man" and a kind of weird reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, but not so much on the Leviticus thing. Some people say that the original article had Manny quoting Leviticus, all I can say is that it never read that way to me.
I'd decided at that point that the story wasn't really a story. Pacquiao, a senator in the Philippines, has always had some pretty conservative stances. He opposes safe sex education and birth control, it's not exactly a shock that he'd oppose the idea of legalized same-sex marriage. Simply saying that it is against the will of God didn't make for a particularly compelling story, it's a stance that a good portion of the country falls on. It just didn't feel like a story to me, and given how much I love traffic, I can promise I'd have run Manny effectively saying that homosexuals should be put to death in a heartbeat.
Then, Tuesday night, another Pacquiao story started gaining steam. Headlines like "Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be 'Put To Death'" were popping up. I immediately readied the ol' keyboard, thinking Manny had been asked to clarify his stance on same-sex marriage and went the extra mile into full-on-crazy. But no, it was just other outlets getting around to picking up the story and attributing the author's reference to Leviticus to Manny.
As an aside, even had Manny brought up the passage, that's hardly the same as saying they should be put to death. If we are going to take his bible beliefs as completely literal, then I guess we can also run stories about Manny wanting unruly, disobedient children taken outside the city gates and stoned to death by the men of your town.
Back to the story though...
Once outlets like LA Weekly, The Villiage Voice and USA Today had written about Manny's desire to kill 'em all, the story was never going to die.
The original author put out a story the next day clarifying and demanding retractions and apologies from the outlets that attributed the Leviticus quoting to Manny. Pacquiao's own website had statements put up making clear that he does not want homosexuals put to death, he has gay relatives, he admits they're "born that way" but also feels it goes against the will of God. But, again, the story was already very much "out there."
Well after this had all been clarified, ESPN2's First Take did an entire segment with Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith yelling at each other (because that's what ESPN is now) about Manny saying gays should be put to death. They claimed that the story had been verified by Manny's own website.
The official Pacquiao website did have a weird entry up talking about Manny being quoted in USA Today as reciting Leviticus. This was good enough for ESPN to take as proof. And I could see it as somewhat confusing. Except that you'd also hope that ESPN, the "Worldwide Leader In Sports" would have a few people doing a bit more fact checking because they seem to have missed 3 key things:
- More than six hours before the segment ran on ESPN2, the same website they were using as proof had up a post with Pacquiao clearly stating that he never quoted Leviticus (and saying he hasn't even read it yet, which is kind of hilarious) and clarifying his stance.
- The Examiner clarification was up well before the segment ran.
- Perhaps most importantly, Manny had not spoken to USA Today. If ESPN had said "well, let's read the quote on the original source" and gone to USA Today, they would have read this article. Which quotes...the original Examiner article where Manny did not quote Leviticus.
I called Smith out on it via Twitter, his defense was a rather lame ""@brentbrookhouse If politicians and Business folk in LA REPORTEDLY cancel events and lambaste Pacman for his comments, we'll talk about it!" You'd think that ESPN's importance in sports media would have resulted in wanting to run a story based in fact, but his response makes it clear that they just needed the story to exist and it would be good enough for them to discuss, facts be damned. Top Rank and Manny Pacquiao's publicist, Fred Sternberg, would, with near certainty, have talked to ESPN about the situation had they called. But doing any fact checking beyond what they did would have killed the story.
So instead, we got another powerful outlet putting out over and over that Manny said gays should die. Because it was reported! See! So it's valid!
This all led to weird situations like Pacquiao being banned from an L.A. mall over what really amounted to having an opinion shared by a lot of Americans. But then the mall changed their minds and Manny is welcome again. I assume because having a multi-millionaire come spend money is a good idea.
In the other predictable move of the situation, Floyd Mayweather came out waiving the American flag to announce that he supports Obama and gay marriage saying "I stand behind President Obama & support gay marriage. I'm an American citizen & I believe people should live their life the way they want." As Scott Christ at BLH pointed out "This from the guy who had a fit when it turned out Miguel Cotto sleeps in the same bed as his buddy Bryan, and called his own father a 'faggot' on 24/7 in front of the world last year. A real progressive, that Floyd Mayweather." This was just the reverse of when Floyd took shots at Jeremy Lin and, not willing to let one of the two get press the other one wasn't, Manny's twitter account sent out "God bless Jeremy Lin."
I'm a pretty liberal guy. I support same-sex marriage. I'm an atheist. I've also spent a lot of time bashing Manny Pacquiao for a lot of things I've found stupid over the past few years. In the end, this was only ever really a story about a known conservative "politician"/boxer having a conservative opinion. But the media's need for sensationalism and a sexy headline trumps the need to do the barest of fact checking has tarnished Manny's reputation to a point where he may have significant financial impact.
For all the talk that "bloggers are ruining journalism" it's outlets like ESPN, The Village Voice and USA Today who were guilty of almost every journalistic sin possible here. Misquoting and then repeating false information, even well after it had already been clarified.
Yes, the original article was written in a way that was oddly worded. I can see having some confusion when reading it initially. But what the hell ever happened to making a call to get clarification?
Instead of anyone making a phone call, we just got the world's dumbest game of telephone.
Note: We're not going to allow the comments to turn into a big discussion about religion and politics. This is not a story about Manny's actual feelings, it's about the media's mishandling of the entire situation.