When it comes to journalism in this Internet era, there should still exist a difference between opinion pieces and stories fabricated out of thin air. That difference, however, apparently matters little to Mike Florio or NBC Sports.
It is really my own fault for reading the web site. Florio runs profootballtalk.com which, as of recently, is part of NBC Sports.
And it appears Florio, a notorious spreader of baseless rumors in my opinion, is at it again. This time, with his "reporting" on a story about Randy Moss, he has in my mind erased any semblance of standards that might apply to what he writes.
Florio probably hit his head on the ceiling from jumping up for joy when he saw that a writer from a different media outlet had written a story suggesting that Randy Moss has been dogging it. Any follower of his site knows that Florio loves a story depicting an NFL player in a poor light, especially if it involves a high-profile player and team like Moss and the Patriots.
Now, I may disagree with the original article, especially since Moss played injured yesterday, was observed leaving the locker room limping, caught a team-high 10 passes, and played in 76 of 83 snaps (or more than any New England player but Tom Brady). Or that Moss's teammates said things like this about his performance on Sunday, "He's a great player," "[H]e always comes up big for us," "[Moss] is a great player, but he came out here and sucked it up for us." Bill Belichick said of Moss's game against the Falcons, "He sure made a lot of plays."
Nevertheless the article was written, and cited specific plays to support the author's argument. Journalists, like anyone, are allowed their opinions.
On his site Florio linked to the original story, something he likely could not have done fast enough.
But it does not end there for him, as he then wrote a piece that looks to me to be purely a work of fiction.
The original writer had an opinion and used facts to support that opinion, which is what good writers do. Bad writers do what Florio did: They write stories that appear to be made up and likely have no connection to reality.
From reading Florio, one might think that his site is the home of all the baseless rumors that would not be fit to print elsewhere. He first writes, "Indeed, rumors snaked through the league in early September of  that Moss possibly was in danger of being released."
Really? September of 2007? You sure about that time line? Any detail of said rumor that Moss was "possibly" in danger? Were those rumors before or after Moss caught a pair of touchdowns and had nearly 200 yards in receiving in Week One on September 9, 2007? Or continued to do more of the same throughout the early part of the season?
Not surprisingly, Florio writes that statement without providing one shred of information to support it.
He wasn't even close to being done though because apparently for Florio a story about Moss and the Patriots wasn't enough. To ensure a strong reaction from the highest percentage of readers, he had to throw in one more ingredient, even if there was no connection.
Florio believes that Moss is now dogging it because...wait for it...his good friend Brett Favre is whispering in his ear to come to Minnesota to win a title. And Moss is listening.
Patriots plus Randy Moss plus Brett Favre equals jackpot for Florio.
Naturally it does not matter that his story makes absolutely zero sense. Moss wants out of New England, a team that, just in this decade, has won three Super Bowls, and in total has played in four, reaching the AFC title game five times; a team that has an all-time great quarterback in Tom Brady and despite what anyone may think of him, one of the league's best coaches in Bill Belichick.
So, according to Florio, Moss wants to scrap all of that to go play for the Vikings whose best season of late came 10 years ago when Moss was still with the team; and to go play with an aging QB who very well might retire after the season and possibly won't be healthy enough at the end of this year to still be throwing passes; and to play for a head coach who is playing checkers to Bill Belichick's chess.
Florio knows he has no basis for this, too, but qualifies his fiction by writing, "It's pure speculation."
That does not make it ok. Chances are if you ever have to begin a sentence by writing "it's pure speculation," then you should not be writing that sentence.
From reading Florio, it appears to me that he believes he can write whatever he wants so long as he begins the sentence with some sort of qualifying statement. It reminds me of the scene from Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby says, "With all due respect," and then thinks there is no problem, under the protection of the Geneva Convention, insulting the person he is talking to.
Just because you write something is pure speculation, doesn't mean you have free reign to simply make up whatever you want.
There has to be some level of standards while writing under the umbrella of NBC Sports to not be allowed to make up stories at the expense of someone's reputation. Florio should take note of this line from Season Five of The Wire, "A lie ain't a side of a story. It's just a lie."
There is no evidence anywhere that the Patriots were ever considering cutting Moss in September 2007.
There is no evidence that anyone with the Patriots has ever been unhappy with Randy Moss's effort for even one second. All I have ever heard is praise from the Patriots about Moss, including this from Belichick, "He is one of our most consistent, competitive and team-oriented players and it is undoubtedly a relationship we are excited to continue." Belichick does not exactly strike me as someone willing to heap false praise on someone.
There is no evidence that Moss wants out of New England. He did take a pay cut to get to New England and then re-signed for less money to stay a Patriot in 2008 - facts apparently that aren't relevant to Florio.
There is no evidence that Favre is talking to Moss.
There is no evidence under any conceivable theory of the Patriots trading Moss to Minnesota.
Other than all those holes in his story, I guess Florio's theory makes sense.
A good writer, columnist, reporter, is allowed to connect the dots. A bad writer, however, takes one dot, and then makes up all the rest. That is Internet journalism at its worst.
The real shame is that if Florio would quit this fiction-writing act, he otherwise does as good a job as anyone in uncovering stories from all over the NFL.
But, so long as NBC Sports does not care, I am sure he will keep at it, if for no other reason than, despite whether his reports are fact or fiction, he got a reaction from at least one reader.
It may be pure speculation, but I think that is all he really cares about anyway.