On Tuesday the National Football League’s legal council sent a letter to The New York Times demanding it retract and apologize for a story on the league’s ties to the tobacco industry and its policies on player concussions. On Wednesday the paper officially responded, calling the demand bizarre.
In its March 30 reply, the Times slammed the NFL, saying the league’s letter conflated “facts” with “opinions” and insisted the league’s point-by-point letter from Tuesday didn’t refute a single part of its original story.
“As you know,” Times VP and assistant general counsel David E. McCraw wrote, “The Times has a policy of correcting factual errors as promptly as possible. I have reviewed your letter with our editors and reporters, and nowhere does your letter identify any factual error that we have made in our reporting on the ties between the NFL and the tobacco industry. The crux of the letter is the NFL’s complaint that the connections identified by the Article between the NFL and the tobacco industry were not “meaningful.” Obviously, that is an opinion, not a fact.”
McCraw also said some of the NFL’s criticism over the its own public assertions on concussion research was bizarre.
He writes, “The letter bizarrely quibbles not over whether the research was valid (we all agree that it was not) or whether the NFL defended the research for years (we all agree that it did) but whether the NFL has continued to ‘stand by’ the research.”
The paper’s response letter goes on, saying, “Little needs to be said about the letter’s second criticism of the reporting on the data. The criticism is premised on a falsehood: that the Article alleged that the NFL ‘intentionally concealed concussion data.’ It said nothing of the sort.”
The Times also skewered the NFL for denying the article’s claims about its close ties to the tobacco industry.
“While your earlier letter to The Times called the tobacco industry ‘perhaps the most odious industry in America history,’ you somehow fail to mention in either letter that it was your firm that represented Phillip Morris in that RICO case,” McCraw wrote.
It appears, then, the paper is standing by its story and isn’t considering any retraction. This matches with the comment made by sports editor Jason Stallman, who, immediately after the NFL’s letter was made public, said, “We see no reason to retract anything.”
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