Harbaugh and a question of media ethics

Our recent discussion with San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh brought media ethics to the fore.

The way Harbaugh sees things, reporters committed "character assassination" by doubting the coach's contention that the 49ers evaluated Peyton Manning without pursuing the quarterback. Submissions to the NFC West mailbag raised similar complaints.

Paul from San Francisco has seen no evidence suggesting the 49ers pursued Manning more aggressively than Harbaugh suggested they had.

"Do any of the sportswriters have inside knowledge of the 49ers' front office, the agents involved, or Manning himself?" Paul wrote. "What do these stories claiming Harbaugh is a liar stand upon? No one denies interest or evaluation took place, but no one has offered a shred of solid evidence that the 49ers were interested beyond that. What have you got for me here? I hope the standards of sportswriting do not continue evolving toward that of the celebrity gossip machine."

Mike Sando: Manning suggested the 49ers were viable suitors up until the end. Manning alluded to calling Harbaugh and Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak with the news that he would be signing with Denver instead.

"I wish I hadn't gotten so close to 'Munch'," Manning said of Munchak, according to Peter King. "That was a tough call. Same with Jim Harbaugh."

That qualifies as a shred of evidence that the 49ers' interest went beyond the evaluation process, or at least that Manning thought so. That doesn't mean Harbaugh was lying. It's possible Manning notified Munchak and Harbaugh before talks with Tennessee and San Francisco ever became serious.

Harbaugh would have a good feel for how close the 49ers came to signing Manning. I believe him when he says he wanted Alex Smith back no matter what. I believe him when he implies that the 49ers wouldn't have signed Manning at any price. I also think this story has played out -- unless Harbaugh addresses it again.