A right-wing blogger was, at best, intellectually dishonest with our reporting on the geopolitical drama behind the theft of Tom Brady’s jersey. We’d like to set the record straight
Bloggers rule our industry. The success of an MMQB story like the one Jenny Vrentas and I wrote on Martín Mauricio Ortega, the infamous Brady jersey thief, is reliant, first and foremost, on our ability to gather new information and present in an entertaining way, and secondly, on the fine men and women who clock in every day and synopsize sports news for public consumption. We care about who links to our stuff and what they say about it. We don’t agree with every take, but we appreciate the bump.
Enter Breitbart, the conservative site that gave our story a bump, a spin, and a wallop into its far-right, ethno-nationalist sweet spot. Breitbart’s Dylan Gwinn seizes on the following quote in our story, from a U.S. investigator who worked on the case, in an effort to paint American officials’ approach to the crime as timid and impotent.
• THE GREAT JERSEY CAPER: The investigation into Tom Brady’s stolen jersey involved two nations and unfolded against the backdrop of a tense geopolitical drama. And the culprit might never spend a night in jail.
“American officials were also cognizant of the charged atmosphere. ‘We had [Ortega] identified—that wasn’t the point,’ the investigator said. ‘It was now the point of walking that political minefield as delicately as we could to appease everybody. We didn’t want to upset the Mexican authorities, we didn’t want to upset the Mexican people, we didn’t want to upset the U.S. embassy.’”
Writes Gwinn: “So concerned were U.S. authorities that they didn’t even want to ask the Mexican police for help.”
To be clear, nothing in our story—nothing from our numerous conversations with investigators and security personnel in Houston, Boston, New York and Mexico City—suggested that U.S. authorities did not want to ask Mexican police for help. As we discuss in the story, American officials collaborate with the Mexican government on all kinds of investigations, including the 2016 arrest and extradition of El Chapo, whose absence has created a drug war and a flood of violence the Mexican government is currently scrambling to stem.
The unnamed investigator was speaking not out of a fear of ruffling feathers, but out of recognition of that context; Mexico is in the midst of a drug war, with trash bags filled with human remains regularly turning up on the highways. You can understand U.S. investigators not taking a heavy-handed, ham-fisted approach to the theft of a jersey of indeterminate value, especially when dealing with an ally. And as we mention in the story, even Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, was pleased with the cooperation between the two countries.
Later in the Breitbart post, Gwinn suggests that the FBI chose not to charge Ortega, and that’s just as well, Gwinn writes, because “If the only people we had to worry about crossing the border to commit crimes were Mexican sports memorabilia thieves, then the world would be a far better place.”
Let’s just set aside, for a moment, the objective fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Gwinn’s wrong on a far more basic point: The extradition treaty between the U.S. and Mexico requires extraordinary charges, such as rape, murder, or large-scale narcotics trafficking. The theft of a jersey, for which no clear value can be determined in a court of law, does not fit the bill.
All of this, we made clear in the 6,861-word piece published Tuesday. But Gwinn handpicks quotes out of context and misrepresents the words contained therein in an attempt to further the anti-globalist agenda that accompanied President Trump’s rise to power. Through misdirection and falsehoods, Gwinn tries to paint the FBI as feckless in its diplomatic handling of international crime. He bypasses our discussion of the jersey’s unfixed and potentially minuscule value in Mexico—and the accompanying legal ramifications—because it doesn’t fit his agenda.
Meanwhile, the majority of our readers wondered why so many resources were apparently being spent on a stolen shirt.
Gwinn goes on to decry the attitude of U.S. law enforcement “which prioritizes niceties and appeasement of foreign countries and foreign people over and above justice for Americans citizens…” His interpretation of the story constitutes, at best, the machinations of a deadline writer who reads only the first 1,000 words of the source material, or, at worst, a willfully ignorant misrepresentation of the geopolitical realities painstakingly exposed by our reporting.
If this were Joe Blow’s blogspot, we’d laugh it off. But this is Breitbart, the 58th-most trafficked website in the United States, 14 spots behind the Washington Post. Hundreds of thousands of people take what Breitbart authors write at face value (and, as we learned last November, they vote, too).
As for Gwinn’s parting shot—“The wall just got ten feet taller”—our sources indicate Mr. Ortega travelled to the United States by plane.
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