Herald: ‘Our Bad’

1210773029Last week, we argued against rushing to judgment on John Tomase, the Herald beat writer assigned to the Patriots, until the facts from the Matt Walsh Spygate testimony were in. Well, it’s judgment time.

Today, the Herald apologized for Tomase’s Super Bowl walkthrough tape story in the form of front and backpage headlines, and a three-paragraph retraction. Clearly this is no ordinary mea culpa. You may recall, there wasn’t this much outrage when the tab owned up to printing a piece of satire about Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney as straight news.

In this town, of course, the Patriots are bigger than a bogus story about presidential politics.

If you’re Tomase, or his editors, here’s the worst part of the retraction:

Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.

This wasn’t the first time a reporter got screwed by a source, nor will it be the last, but the retraction revealed the piece to be thinner than Randy Moss. So, if we can be so bold as to ask, Herald: What the hell took you guys so long?

Last week, the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly argued that the Herald would be well-served in beefing up their sports section to take on the Globe. Reilly’s suggestion is a shrewd one. With the fortunes of the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics at high levels, and the Globe in the midst of a major reshuffling of their vaunted lineup, now is the time for the Herald to make a move.

The Herald loves to push its scrappy underdog image, which is usually good for a few over-the-top opinions and a desire to shake things up, but they still can’t get it wrong, and Tomase got it wrong. The Herald now has two choices: They can keep him on the beat and turn him into a F-You contrarian, a la Ron Borges, or they find someone else to play nice with the team. It’s hard to believe that he can cover the Pats like a normal beat reporter anymore.

There is always a political calculus in a two-newspaper town when it comes to professional sports. Once, the Herald owned the beat, and the Globe was forced to throw spitballs. Now, thanks to the fine reporting of Mike Reiss and Chris Gasper, as well as a fundamental shift in tone from both papers, the Globe is the Patriots’ paper of record. The Herald has to figure out where they want to stand.

As for Tomase, it’s hard to see where he goes from here. This wasn’t just a local screw-up, this was on a national scale. The Patriots did a masterful job of making the Herald, and by obvious extension, Tomase, the story for the last few months, and the Herald responded by throwing him under the bus. Now that the gloves are off, does he reveal his source (see Dan Kennedy‘s always-sober analysis) or does he merely fade away?