**Editors Note** This piece contains language that may be offensive to some.
On Wednesday night, former Washington Post sports reporter Dave McKenna published a scathing hit piece for the sports website Deadspin, an affiliate of the blog Gawker, in which he claimed that Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) lied about playing high school football.
With early voting underway in a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate, McKenna thought he had an angle aimed at destroying the Republican Congressman’s electoral hopes. Unfortunately for the former Post reporter, within one hour the Deadspin smear campaign began to unravel as the sloppiness of the story quickly emerged.
From the original Deadspin piece:
First: So, in high school, Gardner played both ways?
No way, says Chuck Pfalmer, a now-retired Yuma High School teacher: "Cory Gardner wasn't on the football team."
Everybody around Yuma (pop. 3,524) knows everybody around Yuma. Even when Gardner was a kid, folks around town saw him as somebody who was going to run for political office someday. And for an even longer time, Pfalmer's been known as the go-to guy for football facts about Yuma High, Gardner's alma mater. He kept stats for the Yuma Indians varsity squad from 1971 to 2010, a streak of 394 consecutive games.
But Gardner, who graduated in 1993, never played in any of the Yuma games Pfalmer saw under the Friday night lights. Not at "fullback" or "middle linebacker" or anywhere else.
There's no mention of Gardner's football career in his online bios or in any news outlets in the LexisNexis database, at least not that I could find. An editor at the local newspaper, the Yuma Pioneer, said everybody knows Gardner, but nobody remembers him as a football player.
As Hot Air’s Noah Rothman pointed out, McKenna’s story began to fall apart “within an hour of its publication” following a tweet from Congressman Gardner showing himself actually wearing his high school football uniform.
Furthermore, Rothman noted that that when Denver Post contacted primary source in the attack ad the Deadspin story collapsed even more:
The main source for the story by the online site Deadspin — former Yuma High School teacher Chuck Pfalmer, who had Gardner as a student and kept football stats — says the report mischaracterized his comments. Gardner graduated from the Eastern Plains high school in 1993.
In fact, Pfalmer says, Gardner played football his freshman, sophomore and junior years at the high school.
"He was not a starter, but he played in those years," said Pfalmer, 77, who retired from the school in 1997.
A day after Deadspin’s attack piece on Gardner, the website finally somewhat admitted that their story was bogus in a piece entitled “How Deadspin Fucked Up The Cory Gardner Story”:
We're still not sure what happened with Pfalmer between his certainty Tuesday that Gardner hadn't played and his certainty Wednesday that Gardner had—Pfalmer told us last night he'd checked his records after our initial conversation and discovered Gardner's forgotten three years—nor can we explain why he is now giving Gardner a year on the varsity team that the candidate himself isn't claiming.
But whatever the case, the most damning implication of our story, that Gardner didn't actually play high school ball, is wrong. That's shitty of us. As serial collectors of media fuck-ups, we add this self-portrait to the gallery. For more thorough coverage, you can read Erik Wemple over at the Post. As I told Wemple—and I sincerely meant it—given that our main source went and unsaid everything he'd said 24 hours earlier, the only thing for us to do now is to eat shit.
While the initial McKenna smear piece only appeared online for a day, voting in the Colorado Senate race has already begun and voters could have been influenced by the phony Deadspin accusations. Republican Cory Gardner currently leads his Democratic opponent by an RCP average 3 points and it seems as though the Gawker subsidiary was willing to do anything, even by promoting a false story, in order to tip the scales in favor of Democrat Mark Udall.