On the morning of Thursday, May 30, Bleacher Report’s Twitter account sent out the following tweet — a post that anyone inclined to assign absolute truth to news coming from an account officially verified by the blue bird hellsite would have assumed meant the Lakers had already decided not to trade Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers plan to keep Russell Westbrook. LA refuses to give up "additional assets" to send him out, per @TheSteinLine— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 30, 2022
Westbrook is expected to exercise his $47M player option for next season pic.twitter.com/jSRXRr2MP3
In reference to a report from Marc Stein’s newsletter, Bleacher Report claimed that the Lakers “plan to keep Russell Westbrook.” Despite spawning a tweet that garnered almost 20,000 likes, the report itself read quite differently.
This is what Stein actually wrote (emphasis mine):
The Lakers are tuning out the skeptics yet again and insisting to anyone who will listen that they would rather keep Russell Westbrook on the roster for next season than surrender additional assets to convince someone to trade for him. The Lakers are also said to be adamant that they won’t release the former MVP and eat his $47.1 million player option for next season after Westbrook picks it up.
Stein made it as clear as possible that he was not reporting that these stated plans are what the Lakers will actually do:
I’m as skeptical as anyone that those plans can work. I still struggle to picture how Ham can possibly pitch a fresh start to everyone in purple and gold on the first day of training camp if Westbrook is still in the gym. Ham, however, instantly becomes the point man for Russ’ reintegration with the team if the Lakers hold firm on those intentions for the next three-plus months.
So while the folks at BR portrayed Stein’s report to mean that the Lakers actually plan to do as they say, in reality — and especially in the entertainment industry’s capital — there’s an ocean between claiming a plan to do something and actually intending to do it. In the town where “let’s do lunch” is more often followed by inaction than a date in the calendar, it would be foolish to expect the Lakers’ to do as they say they will. If anything, a closer read of Stein’s report makes it seem like the Lakers are projecting a feigned interest in Westbrook’s retention, even if in reality, they plan on doing the opposite.
In fact, the Lakers doth protest too much, methinks — proclamations of intent to retain Westbrook is one of the Lakers’ only low-cost modes of heating up his ice-cold trade market, after all.
In a marketplace where a blue-chip sports media monolith like Bleacher peddles distortions of the truth for engagement, accounts on the very bottom of the totem pole get by on a combination of disguising themselves as bigger accounts and pushing fiction as fact. To be clear, there is a difference between honest and dishonest aggregation — as much as some folks in the industry might want you to believe otherwise. Honest aggregation, in my opinion, maintains the central truth and context from the primary source with the appropriate linkage and accreditation, while the dishonest variant — like the Bleacher tweet above — distorts or obscures relevant context for clicks.
But bad aggregation isn’t even the most detrimental crime against truth in sports journalism today — that honor belongs to the entirely fake report passed off as news. Not once, but twice this week Jake Fischer (ironically) of Bleacher Report took to Twitter to set the record straight about faux aggregations of his “reporting.” My own editor here at SSR Harrison Faigen even caught a stray, but jovially sniped down the erroneous allegation online.
It’s hard to pinpoint a singular cause for the preponderance of fake news, but journalists are (mostly) not the ones fueling the NBA’s fake news revolution. Tech platforms’ preference for a profitable algorithmically-determined content feed to one that emphasizes the proliferation of truth, and the media corporations who feed their machine have to be higher on the list of reasons than journalists, if they’re even on it at all. But in a world where reporters decry fake news accounts for perpetrating a more extreme version of their own outlet’s behavior, something has gone awry.
Fighting fire with fire, some accounts have crafted funhouse mirror images of typical Twitter aggregators and their fake equivalents like NBA Central/NBA Centrall, or newsbreakers and theirs like The Athletic’s Shams Charania and his evil twin, Shams Charanvia. With varying degrees of wit, charm, and bile, these actors distort the typical MO of a fake aggregator by securing eyeballs with laughs in lieu of lies.
However, the dupees are not constrained to everyday fans on Twitter. These joke accounts have, on a concerningly frequent basis, found their way into the diet of mainstream outlets hungry to feed the beast that is the 24-hour news cycle. In contrast with the defiant confidence with which they tend to deliver information, some of the worldwide leader’s most prominent talking heads have been caught slinging silly stories on their airwaves as if they were insider scoops. These false reports show just how little can separate blue-chips’ blue checked accounts from the openly fake ones.
As eager consumers of the offseason rumor mill, I encourage all of us Laker fans to exhibit a modicum of restraint as we await the team’s impending blockbuster transaction. If you see a Westbrook trade on Twitter that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Before furthering the spread of some fake news designed to trick, check the handle for an extra character — even if the tweet tags a real account. Sports are ultimately among society’s lesser concerns, but their coverage has been warped similarly to the rest of the information landscape. The invisible hand of fake news that subtly guides our world far beyond sports is likely here to stay, but just like a seatbelt, a mask, or a condom, a little discretion on the interwebs can help keep us all a little bit safer.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.