Holes in NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Report

Exclusive: A high-profile NFL probe into the champion New England Patriots concluded that “it is more probable than not” that quarterback Tom Brady’s footballs were intentionally deflated prior to a January playoff game, but the report sloughs off scientific evidence that undercuts the finding, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Perhaps New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did conspire with two locker room attendants to deflate footballs below the minimum permissible levels in a big game, but the report by NFL investigator Ted Wells reads more like a prosecutor’s brief than a balanced presentation of the facts as he obscures the collapse of one principal argument for believing in Brady’s guilt.

A key assertion by people accusing Brady was that it made no sense that the footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game last January when tested at halftime would have lost significantly more air pressure than those used by their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts. But scientists hired by the NFL discovered that measurements varied sharply depending on when at halftime the balls were tested.

New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady.

New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady.

According to a study by Exponent, a California-based testing firm, footballs lose air pressure during games in chilly, rainy weather, the conditions that existed on Jan. 18, 2015, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but when returned to the warmth of a climate-controlled room, their air pressure rapidly rises close to the original internal pressure.

Since the Colts were alleging that the pressure of one Patriot football that had been intercepted before halftime weighed below the minimum level of 12.5 pounds per square inch, NFL officials rushed all 11 remaining Patriot game balls into the referees’ locker room and began testing them, finding the balls to be significantly below the 12.5 psi minimum where they were set before the game began. The referees then added air pressure to bring the balls back to legal standards.

After testing the Patriots’ balls, NFL officials turned to the Colts’ footballs, but only had time to test four before the 13.5-minute halftime break ended and the balls had to be returned to the sidelines for the second half.

Of the Colts’ four tested balls, all had lost air pressure when compared to the 13.0 psi that Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck preferred but not as much as the Patriots’ balls had. However, Exponent scientists noted that much and possibly all of that discrepancy could be explained by the fact the Colts’ balls were tested toward the end of halftime.

Also, one of the four measurements was apparently taken down incorrectly, leaving only three reliable halftime tests on the Colts’ balls.

Further uncertainty was injected by the fact that the two gauges used by NFL officials at halftime recorded different measurements, off by a third to nearly one-half psi, and it wasn’t clear which gauge was used to test the balls before the game. According to Exponent, the lower of the two gauges referred to in the report as the “non-logo gauge” was the accurate gauge and was most likely used by referee Walt Anderson in his pre-game measurements.

Colts’ Underinflated Balls

Ironically, however, if the data from the accurate gauge is used, all three Colts’ balls were themselves underinflated, averaging 12.27 psi, thus below the 12.5 psi minimum, but nevertheless those balls were allowed back in the game for the second half.

At the end of the game, four balls from the Colts and four from the Patriots were tested again. Three of the four Colts’ balls were underinflated while none of the Pats’ balls were. In other words, while the Patriots’ footballs were deflated in the first half, the Colts’ balls were deflated in both the first half and second half.

Another possible factor why the Pats’ balls tested relatively lower in psi could have been the way the balls were prepared before the game. The Pats’ balls were rubbed down to remove any slickness while the Colts’ balls were left slicker or more water resistant. One of the findings by the Exponent scientists was that wetter balls recovered their psi more slowly than drier balls when brought into a climate-controlled environment.

It also turns out that an initial claim by an NFL official in a letter to the Patriots that one of the Pats’ balls had been measured at 10.1 psi, 2.4 psi below the minimum, and that the Colts’ balls all met specifications was false. The letter stated: “In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12½ to 13½ psi. In contrast, each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.”

In excusing these errors, Wells wrote that the NFL official who wrote the letter drafted it “based on communications with colleagues with first-hand knowledge of events that had taken place at Gillette Stadium. In fact, none of the Patriots game balls measured 10.1 psi when they were tested at halftime. We believe that there was an inadvertent error in communication of the results

“We also note that the statement in the letter about the Colts measurements did not make clear that the Colts game balls inspected met the requirements on at least one of the two gauges used to measure the balls.” However, Wells does not note here that the one gauge in which the Colts’ balls met specifications was the inaccurate one.

Though the errors in the NFL’s letter were almost surely innocent, the media stampede that these initial claims helped set off clearly shaped the PR environment in which the Wells investigation was conducted. The NFL would have looked foolish if Wells had simply concluded that the so-called “deflategate scandal” had been just a lot of hot air or cold.

Argumentative Case

Wells did take note of the question regarding when the balls were tested at halftime but tried to blur the point by suggesting to the Exponent scientists that the NFL officials might have waited a couple of minutes before testing the Patriots’ balls and then proceeded immediately to the Colts’ balls, thus minimizing the time differences between the measurements.

But that makes little sense because the NFL officials would have realized how little time they had to check the 11 Patriots’ footballs and they followed up those measurements by readjusting the air pressure. The testing of the Colts’ balls would have likely come at the end of halftime, explaining why the officials only had time to test four before heading back to the field.

The motive for why Wells pressed for the unlikelier time sequence appears to be that the more likely timeline could have provided an innocent explanation for the “deflategate scandal.”

There were other signs of bias in the report. For instance, Wells makes a big deal out of the fact that the Patriots organization declined to arrange a follow-up interview with Jim McNally, the part-time locker room attendant who carried the game balls from the referees’ locker room to the field and stopped briefly at a bathroom en route. But Wells knew how to reach McNally and could easily have contacted him directly, rather than making the Patriots organization act as middleman and thus making its hesitancy to arrange another meeting look like a sign of guilt.

Wells also zeroes in on sketchy text messages between McNally and John Jastremski, a Patriots’ equipment assistant, containing comments about Brady’s anger over the apparent over-inflation of the footballs in a home game against the New York Jets in October 2014, with Brady apparently wanting to make sure that NFL referees understood that he liked the psi in Patriot balls to be at the low end of the 12.5 to 13.5 psi permissible range.

McNally, whose job included interacting with the referees before a game and reminding them of Brady’s preference regarding psi levels, joked that he might make sure the balls are over-inflated even more. “Tom sucks…im going make that next ball a fuckin balloon,” McNally wrote.

Jastremski noted that Brady apparently was correct regarding the over-inflated balls in the Jets game. “I checked some of the balls this morn,” Jastremski wrote. “The refs fucked us … a few of them were at almost 16” psi. “They didnt recheck them after they put air in them.”

McNally, apparently sensitive to criticism that he had not done his job correctly, responded: “Fuck tom … 16 is nothing … wait till next Sunday.”

Oddly, although the point of the Wells investigation was whether the Patriots intentionally under-inflated the footballs, the text conversations appear focused more on McNally’s threats to ensure that the balls were over-inflated, against Brady’s wishes.

In another exchange, McNally writes, “Fuck tom … .make sure the pump is attached to the needle. …. fuckin watermelons coming. The only thing deflating sun[day] .. is his passing rating.”

According to the Wells report, Jastremski and McNally dismissed these comments as joking banter, but Wells detected something more sinister, as he did with references to Jastremski providing “a needle” to McNally, a presumed reference to a needle that is used to inflate or deflate footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, etc.

Though Wells treats the “needle” as if it’s some exotic piece of equipment that Jastremski would have to obtain for McNally, these inflation needles can be obtained from any sporting goods store for less than a dollar and are common in any athletically minded American household.

Suspicious Actions

But Wells does compile a number of suspicious circumstances that could support a case of intentional doctoring of the footballs, such as McNally moving the footballs to the field without specific instructions to do so, stopping at a single-toilet bathroom with enough time theoretically to let some air pressure out of the balls, referring to himself in one message as the “deflator,” and suggesting that he might take some unspecified information to the sports network ESPN.

Wells also cited Brady’s autographing items for Jastremski and Brady’s unwillingness to give investigators access to his phone records and text messages, although Wells had the messages between Brady and Jastremski because the Patriots handed over Jastremski’s company phone. None of those messages contained any explicit instructions regarding deflating footballs.

Another possible scenario that Wells does not consider is that — if McNally did deflate Patriot game balls in the bathroom — that he did so not on Brady’s instructions but because he feared that the referees had pumped them up excessively as they had done before the Jets game, incurring Brady’s wrath toward McNally. The Wells report describes McNally watching the refs as they added air to some balls as he reminded them that Brady likes the footballs at 12.5 psi. Perhaps, McNally feared that his pleas had been ignored.

So, while Wells does build a circumstantial case that establishes the possibility of wrongdoing by Brady and the two locker room employees, it is far from conclusive as even Wells acknowledges.

“We have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” Wells wrote.

“In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally and John Jastremski participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

The phrasing, which arguably pumps up the circumstantial case to its outer limits, is lawyerly and vague with its references to “more probable than not,” but if there were to be an adversarial proceeding a smart defense lawyer would surely have little trouble deflating the NFL’s case.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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34 comments for “Holes in NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Report

  1. davidg
    May 7, 2015 at 10:20 am

    The only interesting thing about all this nonsense is an analysis of the religion of sports as social psychology in a political economy. Beyond that, let’s grow up.

    • Thomas Lowe
      May 10, 2015 at 8:05 am

      Bread & Circuses. That’s all modern professional sports are to the morally and financially bankrupt United States which parallels the decay of the Roman Empire. Mr. Brady et al are court jesters who assist the population in being Driven to Distraction as we slouch toward Sodom & Gomorrah.

      • DB
        May 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

        Uh huh.

        Maybe you might offer something more insightful than a self-righteous “I must be smarter than everybody that likes to watch sports” rant.

  2. Zahary Smith
    May 7, 2015 at 11:16 am

    “Holes in NFL’s ‘Deflategate’ Report”

    Disclaimer: I don’t watch football. I don’t even follow football. A year ago today I couldn’t have identified “Tom Brady” as anybody I’d ever even heard of.

    That said, It’s my opinion that the NFL’s report is a carefully crafted pile of crap. They had a problem – a professional football team under their direct supervision has been shamelessly cheating for years. How to handle it?

    Their solution was to turn the aging quarterback for that team into a sacrificial lamb. Not that the man didn’t play a major role, but they dumped the ENTIRE truckload of guilt onto him and a couple of low-grade flunkies.

    The NFL solution smells to high heaven, and it shows great promise of being eventually successful as the debate is channeled into nitpicking questions of questionable gauges and air temperatures and “circumstantial” evidence.

    I’ll end by quoting Abscam politician Michael Myers: “Money Talks, and Bullshit Walks.”

    • Dash
      May 15, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      “a professional football team under their direct supervision has been shamelessly cheating for years” sounds pretty definitive and NOT from someone new to sports. You sound like a Jets fan with a brain.
      Jets fan because you believe the problem as you stated is a real one that the NFL truly believes in.
      You have a brain because you know the report is crap.

      Beyond that, you’re speculating about the NFL’s motive which is not clear at this point. The only “cheating” the Patriots have been punished for in this century (outside of this framed up bullshit) is placing cameras in open-view on the sidelines – which was prohibited. They could put it in the owner’s box, 2 press-boxes, guest lounge, end-zones – JUST NOT THE SIDELINE. They did and got penalized. Look it up – that’s what all the “cheating” cries are about. :-) Incidentally, they won their next 18 games after they stopped doing that. But I digress…

  3. sam
    May 7, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    All this time and money spent on this investigation, and all I come away with is the sense that this is a really stupid rule. If the NFL wants to enforce this rule, they should set up much better procedures to do so. Amazing how something so trivial and silly can be inflamed into such a circus.

    • Charlie
      May 10, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      That is THE answer. The NFL does not need to enforce this rule at all. The NFL already lets teams play with their own balls, so let them play with their own pressure – no rule, no policing, no problems, everybody’s happy (except I guess the sensation seeking media) – such, such babyshittt

  4. andrewt
    May 7, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Nice summary of the Wells report. To my mind, a major failure, besides the timing of the half-time measurements that you point out is that the highly-paid consultant (see Appendix 1 of the report) did not answer the question. “If a 250 lb man (113 kg) carrying a football is travelling at 20 MPH ( 9 meters/second) runs into a human ‘brick wall’ then how much force is applied to the ball? “Since the Patriots had a first half time of possession advantage of approximately two-fold, their balls were used twice as much, and therefore would have external pressure applied to them far more. How was that accounted for in the assessment? A: It wasn’t.

  5. Fred Taylor
    May 7, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I really appreciate seeing the other side in print to this weird episode that doesn’t deserve prime time and convicts a great player without a fair trial.

  6. Eddie
    May 7, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    A multi-billion dollar premier entertainment industry / ‘brand’ like the NFL and they don’t have a rule stating something to the effect that both teams shall use ‘randomly’ assigned footballs? As another non-football fan, it’s hard to fathom why the NFL would allow teams to ‘prepare’ their own set of footballs? Do they do that in soccer, baseball, basketball, etc?

    • Fred
      May 9, 2015 at 8:19 am

      Eddie wins the common sense award for the week.

    • Brian
      May 9, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Ten years ago, both teams would have used the same ball. But Brady, Manning and a few others got together and had the rule changed so that each team brought their own. This is done in college and HS too (and good college trainer has a trunk of footballs with other teams logos on them, since one always gets left behind. In NJ we had balls from Eastern Michigan and Texas Tech, whom we’ve never played). Hence, the door is open for someone to alter the ball. This should be a non-issue, but 24/7 news, SJWs and FB & Twitter make fake outrage to easy these days.

    • hjs3
      May 13, 2015 at 10:39 am

      The big change in NFL policy re: footballs came in 1999 when the league was lobbied to allow the visiting teams to have their own balls. In 2006 the competition committee re-affirmed the practice, lobbied by such marquee names as Brady and Peyton Manning.

  7. May 8, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Why is it important ? It’s all about offense. Let the quarterback inflate the ball to his desired pressure.

  8. Lo
    May 9, 2015 at 2:42 am

    I’ve read the report and watched that game. There’s nothing in the report that even suggests that Brady sought to have the PSI below the lower side of the permissable PSI range. It’s been public knowledge, even spoken by Brady, that he prefers a softer ball. But what does that mean? The report even states Brady told his ball guy, after checking the rule on the PSI, that he wanted it on the lower side of the permissable range.
    There’s nothing wrong or illegal with that in the NFL.

    Only saying, that they circumvented NFL rules, which the ball boys did by messing with the balls post inspection, doesn’t mean Brady requested or ordered them to do it that way. How Well’s framed his conclusion leaves out too much. Certainly, Tom knew he wanted them to ensure his balls were right. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing illegal in the NFL either.

    Kraft refuted the claim that the Patriot’s organization didn’t cooperate regarding another interview with the ball guy. There were already 4 interviews by Wells and Kraft felt that a 5th was excessive.

    Recently, reports have come out about the scientific experts used on the physics. They are hired guns for companies to get the conclusions they want. This firm, Exponent, even claimed asbestos didn’t cause mesothelioma.

    In the meantime Aaron Rodgers has openly admitted he gets his footballs overinflated beyond the legal range, to suit his large hands. No outrage there.

    Besides, a QB getting the ball to his preference doesn’t make it more catchable for another player either.

    Lastly, Zach Smith, alleges the Patriots have been shamelessly cheating for years without backup. He probably doesn’t even understand Spygate either, which is the only other one. But is another ridiculous rule because stealing signals is allowed just not in a particular spot and with a video camera. One guy recanted his report that got into the press regarding the Rams game. Even the Ravens tried to dump another false charge on the Patriots for what was a legal play. In the NFL the moral code is to push the rules to their limit.

    • Fred
      May 9, 2015 at 8:17 am

      You can always tell when it’s a Pats fan.

      • Tom Brady
        May 9, 2015 at 8:59 pm

        True. They are the only ones who look at the evidence.

  9. May 9, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Tom Brady refused to appear for an Obama photo op at the White House last month. He’s lucky to escape an IRS audit.

    • Dash
      May 15, 2015 at 11:22 pm

      LOL – Okay this was the funniest shit I’ve heard all day. Good one, man! :-)

  10. Dave
    May 9, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Robert – I predict this will be one of your most read pieces in a long time – it may go viral within the next few days

  11. May 9, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Finally someone makes some sense out of this ballshit !! Well Done !

  12. Tom
    May 10, 2015 at 3:24 am

    Qui bono ? If not Brady, who ? The Easter Bunny or Santa Claus ?

  13. Phil
    May 10, 2015 at 7:19 am

    NFL is in a tough spot as the 31 other teams are really enjoying watching the patriots squirm while the NFL knows 1) football PSI is not competitive issue 2) the wells report is weak as demonstrated by Parry and 3) so many want Patriots/ Tom Brady blood

  14. Sayers
    May 10, 2015 at 8:57 am

    This article is typical for our times and degraded generation. It’s a bunch of situational ethics. Every excuse possible for being dishonest. The fact it, this was done. There is a rule against it, hence it was illegal. The fact is, Bellichick is a control freak, and knows everything that goes on with the team. Fact, they were caught cheating in spygate, which was a big deal of dishonesty, and the rest of the league knows it wasn’t just a one-time little thing. Fact, cheaters/dishonest people are dishonest most of the time.

    My assessment, Bellichick has been called a genius. Unfortunately, his genius is finding dishonest ways to gain an advantage over other teams and win games, and then bask in the glory of phony accolades by dumb sheeple.

    • Opie
      May 10, 2015 at 4:42 pm

      About spygate – making unsupported assertions about how the rest of the league views it is meaningless. Jimmy Johnson (Fox analyst and former NFL head coach) , had this to say: “… I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That’s why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn’t make Belichick right, but a lot of teams are doing this.”

    • hjs3
      May 13, 2015 at 10:45 am

      A bit of a broadstroke don’t ya think?
      Supporting data would be helpful to your thesis…

    • Dash
      May 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      You’re not smart enough to “assess” BB’s intelligence. He has 6 superbowls – 4 as a HC. You can hate him (as you clearly do) but don’t look stupid by calling him a fraud.

  15. Hamilton
    May 10, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    The game is long over and this is nothing but more NFL Bullshit.

  16. Lo
    May 10, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Sayers,
    There’s a rule against what? You used “it” and “this” but didn’t specify. Lowering the air in the ball? That’s over simplified to the point of being deceptive.

    Eili Manning’s balls are months in the making even ground down which is allowed. He has these balls protected even in the official’s room before the game.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/sports/football/eli-mannings-footballs-are-months-in-making.html

    Why can’t the Brady have his balls on the lower side of the psi WITHOUT the refs screwing him by inflating them over the allowed psi at 16? I don’t see anything as cheating if Brady wants his equipment guys to make sure that doesn’t happen again, as it did before or have it on the lower side of the psi. So wanting them deflated to the legal psi limit on the lower side is not cheating. So he was “generally” aware of this. Big deal!

    Nothing in the report shows Brady asked those guys go about it by circumventing the rule on when it could be done– just get it done. If he did, I’d say he circumvented that rule.

  17. Libertymike
    May 11, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    How about a little balance, for some perspective?

    (1) Brady prevaricated. Examples:

    (a) He told the Wells investigation that he neither knew the identity or role of Jim McNally. That, alone, is check-mate – at least for those of us who insist upon personal accountability.

    (b) In his January 24, 2015 press conference, Brady lied to the public in his dissembling delivery.

    (2) “Everybody else does it” or some variation of “they all cheat”. Why would any person who prides herself on being a critical thinker make such irrelevant asseverations. That the Denver Broncos may have illegally chop blocked during the tenure of Alex Gibbs is not material to this matter. That Aaron Rodgers has publicly expressed his preference for a heavier, more inflated, Duke is not germane to the question of whether Tom Brady had any involvement with the deliberate deflation of balls and whether he fibbed.

    (3) How about the red herring of comparing Brady’s sins to those of Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson? Did Ray Rice’s interactions with his then fiancé affect any game on the field? Did Adrian Peterson’s discipline of his child alter the outcome of any game? What Rice and Peterson did had no impact on the integrity of the game. The NFL should be more concerned about the integrity of the game and less so about the shortcomings of its players off the field.

    • p1b
      May 15, 2015 at 11:40 am

      Brady knew who “Bird” was (well, he thought it was “Burt”), he didnt’ know who Jim McNally was though. Bruschi talkd about this too. Bruschi did not know who Jim McNally was, but he did know who “Bird” was. Brady has never texted Jim McNally and vice versa.

    • Dash
      May 15, 2015 at 11:43 pm

      Your point #1 is BS – user p1b answers it. Brady knew who Bird was – he had no idea who “James McNally” was. You also say Brady lied in his “dissemblin’ delivery” (who uses that word!) – are you still talking about not recognizing Bird’s name? If not, don’t throw around statements like that – makes u look stupid.

      No one – NOT ONE Pats fan has said “everyone does it” – it DID NOT HAPPEN – no one has established wrong-doing – only voiced suspicion by piecing together random half-baked and sometimes twisted facts. We don’t care if anyone does it – we’re not the NFL – we’ll play (and beat) any team on Sunday.

      There is no red herring (commonly used to obfuscate and distract from issue at hand) about AP and RR punishments. Their cases were used as a reference to REAL HARM that had PROOF and the slap-on-the-wrist treatments it got. NO ONE in an objective frame of mind will think 4 games for Brady is justified – dragging his reputation and legacy thru the mud – docking the Pats ANOTHER #1 pick this time WITHOUT establishing proof of crime. The disproportionate punishment is obvious – MORE SO in context of these other cases. You can call it a red herring all you want but there has NEVER been a punishment of this magnitude handed down over something the NFL has a $25,000 fine for.

      You’re being a jackass if this is all you’re coming away with after reading the above report.

  18. p1b
    May 15, 2015 at 11:34 am

    If McNally is the self-proclaimed deflator as stated in the Deflator/ESPN texts in May 2014, then why weren’t the balls deflated in the October 2014 as stated in the October 2014 16psi texts?

    The same 16PSI texts is where JJ talks to Bird about “he mentioned you…must be stressful getting them done.” Yet, obviously McNally didn’t get any deflation done in the October Jets game, as the balls were 16psi, that was a home game.

    You can take this further. Wells states that 4 balls are explainable by Ideal Gas Law in the AFC Championship game. Are you telling me McNally only decided to deflate 66% of the balls? If you believe Walt Andersen’s recollection that he used the Logo Gauge pregame, then all the balls are explainable by Ideal Gas Law. So, if McNally is the deflator, he decided not to deflate in the AFC Championship game too?

  19. GStorm
    May 18, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    All this hoopla really is a very good study in how perception fosters opinion, particularly first impression. In this case, the NFL officials reportedly told the Patriots that they had nailed them immediately after making the halftime measurements, even before testing the Colts balls. The NFL then sent the Patriots a letter notifying them of the investigation. In the letter, it reported that “none of the Patriots balls were inflated to the specifications required,” that “one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1” and that “the Colts game balls met the requirement.” We know now that the Patriots balls should – by law of physics – have dropped below the required 12.5 and that the other two statements were completely false.

    Nonetheless, as we all know, information from this letter was leaked to the press.

    Maybe the Patriots are guilty, maybe not but this is a good lesson is how effective public opinion can be swayed by misinformation.

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