The Lowe down

HERE AT ESPN, we support the highest standards of journalistic integrity and transparency. We want to assure our millions of viewers and dozens of readers that in an era defined by the sheer volume and velocity of information -- information that's often erroneous or even totally, obviously made up -- we take the accuracy of our reporting seriously. Before we pass even the smallest snippet of news along to you, we verify its authenticity through a process that's unsurpassed in the industry. We know that entire fantasy seasons and billions of dollars in wagers are at stake every time we advance our ticker. We do not bear that responsibility lightly.

You'll remember, for instance, that we did not fall for the premature account of Peyton Manning's retirement, despite its announcement by Rob Lowe* -- the renowned former junior hockey player, White House deputy communications director and current city manager of Pawnee, Ind. -- which he made on that normally unimpeachable platform, Twitter. Hearing my fave, #18 Peyton Manning will not return to the #NFL. Wow. #Colts, Lowe carefully thumbed into his high-end mobile device. (Full disclosure: That's just a guess.) Literally everybody else ran with that story. ESPN did not, and I've been asked to explain to you in this space why.

We would ordinarily trust Lowe, a source we've vetted through his previously 99.7 percent accurate tweeting history. Congratulations to Martin and Janet Sheen on 50 years of marriage. Love you two! he wrote on Dec. 23, 2011; Martin and Janet Sheen did, in fact, celebrate their 50th anniversary on or close to that date, and measurements of Lowe's heart rate indicate that he does indeed love them, although not as much as he loves a good espresso, which really gets things going. Happy New Year!! he wrote in another instance, on Jan. 1, the generally accepted start of a new calendar year except in globally insignificant places like China. He further supported his assertion with a photograph of himself wearing novelty 2012 glasses in front of a palm tree strung with festive white lights.

With news as big as Manning's retirement, however, we had to dig deeper. Unfortunately, Wikipedia was black that day, you might also remember, because of some problem with Kate Middleton's hot sister that we don't fully understand. We had to go to what we call "secondary sources," otherwise known as "places on the Internet other than Wikipedia."

First, we searched whether Peyton Manning wears the number 18, and that "held up," to use the professional lexicon, although there are some photos of Manning wearing the number 16, albeit only in an unfamiliar and ultimately meaningless orange jersey, which we're guessing is some kind of Fark Photoshop prank to tease fans of the Buccaneers. Manning also plays -- or, if Lowe was correct, played -- in the NFL for a team called the Colts, based in the quaint seaside village of Indianapolis (a team not to be confused with the Baltimore Stallions of the defunct Canadian Football Association, a mistake we can see being made). And, last, if Lowe's news were accurate, we determined that it would be worthy of his emphatic Wow, because Manning is a fairly high-profile player despite his lackluster 2011 season, when his statistical records indicate that he did nothing except glower stiffly.

Even more credence came through a search of Lowe's followers on Twitter, all 250,000 of whom, presumably, are close personal friends of his. Among their number is Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts, who, his Twitter feed indicates, is a discreet man not given to impetuous or inflammatory statements. It was possible, we thought, that Irsay told Lowe the news about Manning in confidence, such as via DM, and that Lowe had accidentally let the word slip.

Still, we held back. Deep down in what we call "Hunchville Station," something didn't feel quite right. Then we remembered that NO TELEVISION ACTOR HAS BROKEN SPORTS NEWS OF ANY SIGNIFICANCE IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY ON EARTH, unless you count the time Telly Savalas talked about the future of his promising gelding, Telly's Pop, to People magazine in 1976. Therefore, Lowe's tweet did not meet our Poynter Institute-sanctioned standards of journalistic excellence, and we went back to shouting at each other about Tim Tebow's bruised lung and possible stigmata.

*If, since the time of this writing, Rob Lowe has been somehow proved correct, then we regret the error that is this column. What a doozy!

Chris Jones is the backpage columnist for ESPN The Magazine. Follow The Mag on Twitter, @ESPNmag, and like us on Facebook.