Paul Tagliabue, the new commissioner of the NFL, has an acute way of turning a phrase.
"Journalistic Molotov cocktail," is what he called the special report televised by a Washington station that erupted into an ersatz drug scandal.
"They took racism and drugs, two of the most volatile factors in society today and mixed them," without regard to fact or absence of fact, said Tagliabue.
He took aim at the charge that the NFL covered up drug transgressions by three white quarterbacks and sliced it up with his switchblade logic.
But even without Tagliabue's defense-attorney performance, the "white quarterback" story was running on a thimble of low octane.
It's a matter of Journalism 101.
If names can't be named in a story of that accusatory nature, then there is no story.
Roberta Baskin, the WJLA-TV consumer reporter who headed the investigation that led to the story, provided no names. When she appeared on ABC's "Nightline" Thursday night, Ted Koppel, an interviewer of international reputation, never asked her why she failed to provide names.
The opportunists jumped all over this thing.
The NFL Players' Association used its annual Super Bowl press conference to screen a showing of the Washington TV show. It was hard for the NFLPA officers to suppress grins. They have been fighting any workable anti-drug program for years and they knew this may be a chance to kill off this one.
Someone held up a sheaf of papers and claimed that they contained the names of the three white quarterbacks. Someone else mentioned the name of the late Sen. Joe McCarthy.
It was opportunity time for the politicians, too. On "Larry King Live" Friday night, Jesse Jackson tap-danced around the reasons why he declines to run for mayor of beleaguered Washington. He refused to admit that Marion Barry was a hypocrite, even after King continually pressed him on it. But as soon as the issue of the NFL drug scandal came up, Jackson said "There should be an immediate congressional investigation." He didn't mention proof, evidence or substantiated facts.
Koppel, who spars with prime ministers, generals, commissars and congressmen, never pressed Baskin for essential details.
Journalism 101. No names, no story.
Without them, every white quarterback in the NFL, which is most of the quarterbacks in the NFL, are smeared by innuendo.
The favored quarterbacks story is dead, unless some fact, evidence, proof is provided.
Dead along with the story is the NFL anti-drug program as currently constituted, or at least Dr. Forest Tennant's part in it.
After the Washington television program, an earlier expose in Sports Illustrated and other developments, Tennant comes off resembling "Doc," the more-than-slightly-off-center wizard in "Back to the Future."
It seems obvious that the drug-testing system is flawed. Tales of insecurely packaged urine samples, names instead of codes on urine vials and Tennant's decision to give on-the-job training as a drug tester to an office courier gives the program a slapstick image.
During Tagliabue's press conference Friday afternoon, a questioner asked him if he was aware that Tennant advertised a mail-order business that offered a home cure for cocaine addiction.
"No, I wasn't aware of that," admitted Tagliabue, who said he plans to discuss it with Tennant.
During the Washington TV show, Tennant also said that his opinion was that counseling and rehabilitation were useless for addicts, a view that is not shared by most professionals in his field.
It seems the commish has a lot to discuss with Dr. Tennant.
From this view, they might as well stick a fork in Tennant. He's done, and the same may be true of the NFL's present anti-drug setup.