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Revisiting the disgraceful 2009 CBS 60 Minutes piece on Tim Donaghy

On May 21, 2023, CBS posted (on YouTube) the full 2009 feature their formerly venerable 60 Minutes program produced on Tim Donaghy.  Donaghy had just completed his 15-month federal sentence for his role in the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal (he pleaded guilty to two felonies: conspiring to commit wire fraud, and conspiring to transmit gambling information across state lines), and was starting a media tour for his recently-released book.  Although at the time CBS producers could not have known just how prolific a con man and pathological liar Donaghy was, basic fact checks were not done on all the key claims Donaghy made and his disturbing off-court behavior was apparently ignored when considering his credibility.  In 2009, I was midway through the research for what would become Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (published in 2011).  As such, I intended to interview Donaghy when he got out of prison (just as I planned for his co-conspirators).  Until, that is, I read Donaghy’s book and attentively monitored his media tour, starting with the outrageous 60 Minutes piece.  I soon devoted an entire portion of my site to debunking – with evidence – dozens of crucial claims made by Donaghy in his book, and chronicled his media tour all the while.  Because the 60 Minutes program kickstarted the Donaghy disinformation campaign, it got more attention as can be gleaned from the below analyses.  It is remarkable and telling that CBS is re-posting this disgraceful show almost 14 years later now that it looks even worse given all we know.  If people wonder why I seem so preoccupied with media malpractice, the 60 Minutes outrage is a prime example of what so animates me.  I was able to assail entire portions of the program in real time simply by relying on the public record (i.e., the CBS producers could and should have easily done the same before ever airing such demonstrable falsehoods as facts; they didn’t need access to all the exclusive information and data I had obtained by then).  I am reposting my 2009 analyses below to illustrate this is not being conducted through 2023 eyes with the benefit of hindsight, and note when I have added information.  Please know I am not critiquing each word or statement made in the 23-minute package, and present the most consequential issues by topic/area below (“A” through “C”):

(A) CBS 60 Minutes Donaghy preview part I (overview of the segment)

CBS correspondent Bob Simon’s preview of tomorrow’s Tim Donaghy piece is posted online, as is another of Donaghy’s interview.  (A transcript of each is posted on this blog.)

After viewing the posted previews, I quite seriously question whether anyone at 60 Minutes bothered to look at the substantive court filings in the case.  For instance, in Simon’s preview, he is asked how many games Donaghy bet on during his officiating career, to which Simon oddly replies:

Well, he says be bet on about a hundred games  He won’t say how many of those games he officiated, but he says, ‘A lot,’ and it went on for four years. 

A court filing  in re: Donaghy’s sentencing (which you can quite easily find online quoted on p.23 of the NBA’s Pedowitz Report) states:

“Beginning in or about 2003, and continuing into 2007, Donaghy provided betting recommendations or “picks” on NBA games ― including games he officiated ― to Jack Concannon, who was one of Donaghy’s friends. Donaghy and Concannon bet on approximately 40 games per season…Donaghy temporarily stopped betting with Concannon in December 2006, when . . . Donaghy began dealing with James Battista and Thomas Martino, both of whom Donaghy knew from high school. He resumed dealing with Concannon, however, in approximately February 2007.”

Another court filing (which can also found online quoted on p.26 of the Pedowitz Report) states:

“In the Spring of 2003, Donaghy provided picks for games he refereed on only 2-3 occasions. Over the next three full seasons (2003-2004, 2004-2005, and 2005-2006), however, Donaghy bet on numerous games that he worked. The government’s investigation revealed that Donaghy provided picks for anywhere from 30 to 40 such games for each of those three seasons. During the 2006-2007 season (the time period charged in the information), Donaghy bet on approximately 30 games…”  The government later noted that although Donaghy bet on 30 NBA games during the ’06-07 season, only 16 of those were games he officiated.

So, according to the federal government, the low estimate for Donaghy’s bets on games he officiated = 2 + (30 x 3) + 16 = 108, while the high estimate = 3 + (40 x 3) + 16 = 139.  Why CBS correspondent Bob Simon states flippantly that Donaghy “says he bet on about a hundred games” and that Donaghy “won’t say how many of those games he officiated” is anyone’s guess.

(B) 60 Minutes on Donaghy’s betting success

(Offscreen) Anchor: Yet, based on investigations by 60 Minutes and the FBI, was [Donaghy] actually influenced in the way he was refereeing?

CBS Correspondent Bob Simon: He says he didn’t let his betting influence his games.  Now, this is rather hard to believe, but the FBI and the NBA thoroughly investigated him and they agree that he did not let his betting influence his games.

Anchor: However, he had an accuracy of about 70-80%, so how does he explain this?

Simon: He explains his accuracy by knowing the relationships that different refs had with different players, different general managers, and different owners.  He said that refs had biases; they liked certain players, disliked others, the same with managers and owners, and by knowing which refs were ref’ing which particular games, which teams, he then knew which team to bet on.

Whew.  Where to begin?!  The easiest issue to address is Donaghy’s assertion that he won “70-80%” of his bets.  For starters, is this according to him, exclusively (i.e., not supported by the FBI, independent reporting, etc.)?  Next, is he saying he won “70-80%” of the 122-153 games he bet between 2003 and 2007? Lastly, though most importantly, is he claiming he had this (outrageous!) betting success rate for games he officiated and for NBA games he did not?  Let’s hope that CBS at least asked him this last question.  Incidentally, I am giving 60 Minutes the benefit of the doubt by assuming the interview was taped before Donaghy’s co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, finally spoke publicly last week.  As Battista explained to Bryant Gumbel on his HBO “Real Sports” program, the referee’s “unheard of” betting win rate (37-10, or 78.7%) applied only to games Donaghy, himself, officiated.  According to Battista, Donaghy’s bets on NBA games he didn’t referee were so bad that the gambler ultimately stopped taking them.

Battista’s claims are relevant especially when you consider Simon’s assertion that “the FBI and the NBA thoroughly investigated him and they agree that he did not let his betting influence his games” (emphasis added).  Again, there is a written, official record we can reference for clarity on this issue of primacy.

According to the federal government, as quoted on p.27 of the NBA’s Pedowitz Report, Donaghy admitted that he “compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance.”  Furthermore, regarding whether the FBI and/or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York supposedly concluded Donaghy didn’t alter the outcomes of games, let’s look at what little has actually been said on this controversial topic (and please pay close attention to the government’s choice of words – what is said and what isn’t).

The government’s brief statement on this issue is readily available on pp.15-16 of the Pedowitz Report: “There is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”  That’s it.  It is carefully worded, stopping far short from concluding anything, and for good reason.  Short of: incriminating wiretaps, cooperating witnesses and/or government informants (who could, for instance, claim a referee was explaining how the scheme worked or bragging about it, etc.), what other options remain to conclude whether or not a referee was fixing games?  Betting success rate?  According to whom, and are there valid records to support the claims?  Even if there was a credible witness who maintained such records, against whose betting success would the referee be compared to demonstrate he was altering the outcomes of games, and how would one determine what winning percentage was proof of game-fixing?  Some suggest reviewing Donaghy’s game tapes.  Sure, worth a try, I suppose, but considering how subjective calls are in many sports including basketball, I think experts agree you’d be hard pressed to actually show that Donaghy “intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.”

There are two key remaining factors to consider vis-a-vis the government’s assessment (to date) of Donaghy’s possible game-fixing.  First, recall that his co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, has never been interviewed by the FBI.  Second, also recall that looking into the possibility an NBA referee was altering the outcomes of games was far removed from the original intent of the FBI investigation, and it is quite possible determining the fixing of games was never a major FBI concern.  To my knowledge, no one has asked the FBI precisely how interested they were in possible game-fixing, and precisely what efforts were made to assess this.  Given these two concerns, let’s turn to Simon’s assertions that “the NBA thoroughly investigated” Donaghy and that “they agree [with the FBI] that he did not let his betting influence his games”.  Pay attention to the soft and vague language – and the repeated assumptions – in the NBA’s Pedowitz Report:

We have no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the government’s investigation on which it based its conclusion. We believe that the government would have been naturally skeptical of Donaghy’s assertion that he did not go beyond exploiting “inside” information and did not intentionally make calls to influence the outcome of games. Before concluding that there was no evidence that Donaghy intentionally made incorrect calls, the government investigators doubtless questioned Donaghy carefully about the specific non-public information on which he based his picks, and his conduct while officiating those sixteen games. Because the NBA provided video of games that Donaghy officiated, the government also would have had the opportunity to review these games and to cross-examine Donaghy ― and assess the logic of his explanations and his demeanor. While we do not know what Donaghy told the government, he clearly convinced them that he had not manipulated these games” (p. 28, emphasis added).

In addition to the apparent lack of access to the FBI, the NBA/Pedowitz group did not have access to gambler Jimmy Battista or to referee Tim Donaghy.  Without the two key conspirators, the NBA was left to assume the federal government had treated possible game-fixing with the same degree of seriousness the league ostensibly would have (if only in-house) – and to find other avenues of investigation.  According the the Pedowitz group, they reviewed several of Donaghy’s game tapes, and interviewed scores of NBA referees, NBA experts, and sports betting experts, resulting in the following conclusion (p.33): 

“Given the information currently in our possession, we and the League’s experts are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion that ‘[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct’” (emphasis added).  This tepid statement is a far cry from the one suggested by Bob Simon in the CBS piece and cited above, namely that the NBA has matter-of-factly concluded that “Tim Donaghy did not let his betting influence his games.”

All of the above has been in the public domain (as evidenced by my incessant linking), and was thus readily available to CBS/60 Minutes and to any other news organizations which cared to look.  Needless to say, my 20+ months of research into this subject matter – complete with my exclusive access to former pro gambler Battista – have afforded me a MUCH more detailed and nuanced understanding of the above that the public has not seen or considered.  Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen will be the most comprehensive treatment of this story available.

May 2023 Updates:  For starters, Gaming the Game was published in 2011, quickly became a best-seller, and received considerable media attention and critical acclaim.  The book examines all of the above, of course, complete with the supporting evidence and references.  On Donaghy’s gambling success claims, these have since been even further and more explicitly debunked.  For example, numerous parties (including Donaghy’s co-conspirators and other other government cooperators) have since explained the bets were exclusively on games officiated by Donaghy and electronic betting records and betting line data support their arguments.  On Donaghy’s claims the NBA and FBI concluded he did not influence game outcomes to advance his bets, claims parroted by Simon, each agency (no doubt in part because of Donaghy’s persistent claims about this) has repeatedly stated publicly they never concluded he didn’t fix games (I explain all of this in great detail in Gaming the Game, too).

(C) CBS 60 Minutes Donaghy previews about the mob allegations (Parts I and II)

Part I

For my purposes, at least, one of the key areas of interest in the upcoming 60 Minutes interview of former referee Tim Donaghy involves the assertion he was threatened in December 2006 by organized crime figures to provide them with his NBA picks (which he had been placing, according to him, since 2003).  Here is a transcript of the preview released by CBS yesterday:

CBS Correspondent Bob Simon: “‘The Mob’ found out about it [his successful betting on his NBA games], and wanted in on the action.  That’s when Donaghy discovered what it means to be really scared.  It started outside this hotel in Philadelphia.  The FBI says two men associated with the Gambino crime ‘family’ requested a meeting with Donaghy.  They took him for a ride.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy: They came down and picked me up.

Simon: They picked you up?
Donaghy: Mm hmm.

Simon: And what happened then?
Donaghy: They basically told me that I needed to give them the picks and if I didn’t, that, um, it’s a possibility that somebody would go down and visit my wife and kids in Florida.

Simon: Wow.  And you believed them?
Donaghy: Yes.

Simon.  [Were] you scared?
Donaghy: Sure.

May 2023 Updates:  As many people thankfully have come to realize, this exchange is among the most absurd and demonstrably false in the program.  How this was presented on the formerly venerable CBS show is a disappointing mystery, it was so easy to fact check and debunk.  For starters, “the mob” turned out to be Donaghy’s lifelong best friend (and fellow government cooperator) Tommy Martino and Martino’s longtime friend pro gambler Jimmy Battista!  The three men knew each other well for years and had attended the same high school.  More importantly,  please recall (1) the FBI never described the case as an extortion scheme, and (2) never mentioned (even in confidential files) a role for organized crime.  Also recall that during the sentencing phase, (3) the U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t charge anyone with extortion, and (4) wrote Donaghy “has never taken the position that he was anything other than a willing participant in the scheme with Battista and Martino, and, before them, with Jack Concannon” (Concannon was a Donaghy golfing buddy with whom he placed bets).  Lastly, recall (5) Judge Amon described the scheme as a business “arrangement” before noting that (6) Donaghy was “more culpable” than his two co-conspirators.  Beyond all of this, in 2020 Martino exposed the scam in a podcast interview and Donaghy has been in communication with Battista many times throughout the last 15 years, including, for example, pitching a mutual business venture and inviting Battista to watch a documentary on the scandal together.

Part II

Wow.  ‘Just watched the online preview of the upcoming (Sunday, 12/6/09) 60 Minutes piece on former referee Tim Donaghy.  In particular, I was waiting with interest for the “Mob” comments dominating today’s NBA scandal-specific news cycle (resulting in part from the brief AP story linked below, but mostly from the CBS story headlined “Ex-NBA Ref Tim Donaghy: Mob Threatened Me”).  Talk about misleading – or worse!

I don’t know what was more surreal, watching the video preview or reading the “news” story.  Each is obsessed with the salacious – though incredibly dubious – organized crime angle, and neither mentions the names of the two individuals who visited Donaghy at the PHL airport Marriott in December 2006.

When I saw today’s headline re: “The Mob” threatening Donaghy, I assumed the reference was to his stint in prison during which, according to a Donaghy spokesperson, an “inmate claiming ties to the New York mob beat Donaghy with a heavy object.”  Thus, imagine my surprise when I learned Donaghy was referring, instead, to the fateful December 2006 meeting with his longtime, close friend Tommy Martino and mutual pal, pro gambler Jimmy Battista!  These are the two unnamed men “associated with the Gambino crime family” referred to in the video segment?!  The “news” story may be worse (emphasis added):

When the Mafia learned of his [betting] success, they wanted him to work for them, he says. “They basically told me that I needed to give them the picks and if I didn’t, that it’s a possibility that somebody would go down and visit my wife and kids in Florida,” says Donaghy…He spent 11 months in prison and provided evidence against his mob cohorts.

Thus, Jimmy Battista and Tommy Martino are the mobsters referenced in the hyper headline and throughout the organized crime-obsessed article?  Has anyone at CBS even searched Google for these characters?

On a more serious note, Donaghy told a much watered-down story to the FBI, where he apparently made no mention of Martino.  As the NBA’s Pedowitz Report, quoting a court filing, states (p.24):

“Battista also threatened harm to Donaghy’s family. Battista told Donaghy that ‘you don’t want anyone from New York visiting your wife and kids.’ Over the preceding years, Donaghy had come to believe that Battista had organized crime connections, and so he interpreted ‘New York’ to be the Mafia.”

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the former gambler’s recent interview with Bryant Gumbel, “Battista denied blackmailing Donaghy as Donaghy had claimed.  ‘I never threatened him – I didn’t have to. He was a degenerate gambler,’ said Battista, pointing out that he wasn’t charged with extortion.”

Here’s hoping the full 60 Minutes interview provides some new information, preferably based in part on documents, and that what has been released is not a representative sample of things to come.  Wow.

ESPN 12/3/09 on Donaghy’s Personal Foul

Related AP Story 12/4/09

May 2023 Updates:  In addition to the remarkable details offered exclusively in Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen, I have posted specific critiques of Donaghy’s absurd “mob” allegations online.  For example, in reaction to his seminal media tour in 2009, I explained the hustle here.  He has changed his version of events numerous times since, depending on the audience and needs of the moment.  In this regard, please see here and here.

“impeccably researched…insightful…[Griffin’s] street-wise writing sounds anything but academic…After reading ‘Gaming the Game,’ you’ll never watch an NBA contest the same way again.” Las Vegas Review-Journal

“[Griffin] straddles the line between academic and storyteller, cop and journalist…[Gaming the Game] will blow your mind.”  Philadelphia Magazine

“An exhaustively researched book threatening to overturn some comfortable assumptions about the NBA’s referee scandal …[Gaming the Game] delivers the intrigue you’d expect from a true crime thriller”  ESPN.com

“Griffin’s impressive work…contains footnotes, source notes, cross-referenced facts from many officials and resources and exhaustive due diligence conducted by a forensic expert with a Ph.D…Gaming the Game is definitive, vital to comprehending the NBA scandal and how sports-betting money zips around the world. The book is gold, a forensic masterpiece.”  Chicago Sun-Times

“Sean Patrick Griffin is the single best person [to explain the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal].  He wrote Gaming the Game and has been on this story since the late 2000s.” Bill Simmons, The Bill Simmons Podcast/The Ringer

“[Gaming the Game] is amazing…a must read for any NBA fan or someone who’s just into true crime or gambling…the definitive account of the Tim Donaghy scandal…It’s a fascinating read…It’s a must for gamblers if you’re interested in the world of sports gambling. You’ll get just as much out of it even if you know nothing about the NBA…Sean Patrick Griffin is the Tim Donaghy expert…he is the authority [on the NBA betting scandal].” – Tom Haberstroh, Basketball Illuminati Podcast/Dan Le Betard’s Podcast Network