Nice double standard, ESPN.

Among the many laughable things contained in this ombudsman’s report absolving the WWL of any serious blame over how it reacted to excerpts from the Bruce Feldman-edited book from Mike Leach being published is this doozy:

… The first decision was whether to let Feldman participate at all in the book. Even though this decision was made before the Leach-James controversy, we can’t overstate what a bad idea we think as-told-to books are for independent journalists. Feldman covers NCAA football. By all accounts he is one of the best reporters on the beat. Leach was arguably one of the most innovative coaches on the job. In order to write the book, Feldman had to assume Leach’s point of view, right down to the cadence of the coach’s speech. How do you do that for a side job, then go back to the independent, more distant point of view for your day job?

… As the college football season heats up, ESPN must still figure out what Feldman can report on independently. When a reporter has a clear conflict, it’s standard in journalism to isolate that reporter from the conflict. Having authored a book in Leach’s voice, Feldman clearly can’t cover Leach, or Texas Tech, anymore. Leach’s former staffers, who are now spread far and wide — some of them now head coaches — make for questionable material too. Is the entire Big 12 off limits?

If helping Leach write a book indelibly taints Feldman’s judgment to that far-reaching an extent, you’d think that being the parent of a kid caught up in the same controversy and being the broadcast partner of that parent might have similar ramifications, too, right?

Surely you jest.

… After the Leach controversy boiled over with his suspension the last week in December, ESPN took James off the telecast — but not Patrick. ESPN’s rationale was that Patrick is a professional and his season-long work with James did not represent a conflict. Patrick’s professionalism notwithstanding, ESPN’s decision put him in an untenable position. In media, perception is reality, and it was clear the relationship between the two commentators could — perhaps should — raise questions for the audience. Word choices, phrases, even inflections are subjective. Everything Patrick said could be filtered through the subtext of “Would he have said that if he hadn’t been James’ partner throughout the past season?”

The circumstances surrounding Leach dictated that Patrick would have to discuss a controversy that had sparked heated emotions among many in the audience. And he fueled the flames late in the first quarter when, after ESPN showed graphics with statements from the university on the firing and a snippet of a Leach interview on why he believed he was dismissed, Patrick said of the reserve receiver, “There is Adam James, who is the young man who was actually punished for having a concussion.”

That comment articulated ESPN’s point of view for the audience: What happened? A player was punished. Who was the victim? Adam James. Who was the perpetrator? Mike Leach. What was the motivation? The player suffered a concussion. That thesis coincided with Texas Tech’s position, not to mention that proffered by Craig James. Clearly, there were various versions of what happened between coach and player, but Patrick’s statement offered no nuance. Opinion was stated as fact. James was “actually punished for having a concussion.”

So, while James was removed from a broadcast of a Texas Tech game, the restriction went no further than that.  And Patrick presumably is under no restriction at all.  I’d add a “so much for standards in journalism” here, but it’s hardly worth the effort.

ESPN is so big and so entwined in the world of college athletics at this point that conflicts of interest are part and parcel of its corporate DNA.  (Hey there, Longhorn Network!)  It’s difficult to see how the network could ever develop a consistent approach in response because it’s likely there will be too many instances where it will feel inconvenienced to do so.  (Presumably that’s the case with Craig James still playing a major role in ESPN’s college football coverage.)

So while your first instinct might be to cringe when Kelly McBride writes, “Feldman’s authorship of the book became untenable when Leach sued ESPN…” without batting an eye about Adam James’ daddy – who’s part of that very same lawsuit, remember -  being permitted to pontificate on a daily basis on all aspects of the sport for the same company, you might as well change that motion into a shrug.  Because that what the suits at Disney are doing.

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23 Comments

Filed under ESPN Is The Devil

23 responses to “Nice double standard, ESPN.

  1. PauldingDawg323

    I will never understand 75% of what ESPN does. I’ve only watched actual sporting events there for the past 3 years or so, nothing else. I don’t understand the attraction to ever hire James in the first place. (Reasoned in-depth analysis?) Then, to circle wagons around him- why? Is he really that crucial to their college football coverage? The fact that he is speaks volumes about the quality of ESPN programming. Everything ESPN has offered in the way of College Football for the past 4-5 years has been unwatchable and more than a little patronizing to college football fans.

  2. Joe

    Meanwhile back to Urban Meyer, still on payroll at UF with an office for crying out loud, analyzing potential Florida recruits all national Signing Day…

    • Joe

      Did I say analyzing? Sorry, slip of the tongue, meant to say INFLUENCING!

      • Go Dawgs!

        Incidentally, while I’m here to film this “leadership” segment, Kellen Moore, let me just drop off our last few gameplans from our games against Georgia…

  3. Reggie Ball

    Edward Bennett Williams, the famed Washington, DC lawyer had both Georgetown University and the Washington Post as clients. When GU sued the post, he convinced both parties that his firm would just keep the cases separate on each side of the office and represent both plaintiff and defense sides! Both wanted his firm so bad they went along with it. ESPN seems to be in that position now.

    • NCT

      Clients can expressly waive conflicts or potential conflicts all day long after full disclosure. In journalism, it’s the public interest that should be protected, and “the public” does not have the capacity to waive such conflicts. I know I haven’t waived a damn thing.

  4. Chuck

    I have to wonder about whether there is a parallel of some sort between the troubles of News Corp and the WWL. They both are enormous ‘journalistic’ organizations, both seem to have the idea that ‘if we do it, it must not be wrong’, so can an Erin Andrews cream pie be in our future?

  5. Go Dawgs!

    I tried to wade through that Poynter review yesterday, but bugged out as soon as I figured out that they weren’t going to throttle ESPN for their mishandling of the entire affair. It definitely damaged Poynter’s reputation in my eyes. If conflicts of interest are so bad for a journalist, then why can all of ESPN’s other journalists? Everyone in their organization has conflicts of interest with the NFL, SEC, Big Ten, MLB, whoever else. If they can somehow look past those interests and remain “objective”, why can’t Feldman?

  6. Hogbody Spradlin

    Reminds me of an excerpt from The Official Lawyer’s Handbook: Ethics are great, but let’s not get carried away here.

  7. heyberto

    I think ESPN gets away with what it does because it’s Sports journalism.

    I hope Feldman gets an opportunity to give ‘em the middle finger and get a bigger better deal somewhere else.

  8. Co signed. Good work, Senator.

  9. Eric

    I also think ESPN gets away with it because they have a monopoly on what they do. I’m sorry but if I’m interested in seeing highlights or sports coverage, I’m sure as hell not going to Fox Sports Net or my local news station. I do hope he pulls a Dan Patrick and gets a better deal somewhere else because I always enjoyed his work (although he always seems to mention Miami or Notre Dame in like every article)

  10. Cojones

    Sometimes we shake our heads at each other for comments, but when it comes to ESPN we seem to bond. Many of us probably are still shaking our heads when Donnan was fired for not winning any of the big ones and the fan base was specifically maligned for YEARS.

    ESPN couldn’t preface any show that included Donnan on the panel without mentioning “the spoiled fanbase at Georgia” as a prelude to intro. At least it seemed to come out that way. Local Atlanta stations seemed to ride that horsy as well.

    ESPN continued to show their disdain for several years and CMR was the target. No interview after a win, broken interviews as if something was wrong ( but they would return to their studio to finish up w/o mentioning Richt), hyphenated moment at the mike after a big win. The fan base and Coach were short-shrifted for years until Donnan showed up on camera; then we were pilloried.

    I ain’t gon’ never forget.

    • Dog in Fla

      “No interview after a win,”

      I always thought that was because ESPN thinks Mark’s too Vanilla Nice

  11. Cojones

    Now the story of ESPN entering the market of recruiting pay sites by giving info for free. Sure. Then when competition is dashed, shove the stick to ‘em. That’s how monopolies begin.

    I don’t pay for sites and still get great info from Socrates. So some could say that I really don’t have a horse in the race. They could say that and would be wrong. My horse is the dark horse way in the back. The horse of the future omens. The one warning of monopolistic power in all sports right down to the Adidas shoelaces. The monopoly that spreads it’s fingers into and influences opinion at all levels that someday will have sports fans in awe of the “Good Ole Days” where free expression on blogs was free and you weren’t charged by the click
    .
    ESPN is becoming the World News of the sports world. And we are glimpsing how that can work out. As facts come out how World News can manipulate governments with unprofessional yellow journalism and end up swaying the opinion of the masses by influencing elected leaders leads me to believe that ESPN can at the very least become the Fox News of the U.S. and college football. They already have a head start with the Craig James/Leach/Feldman story.

    The flower of revenue from ESPN through the SEC and into UGA’s coffers looks more and more like there is a prickly pear attached. Careful what we wish for.

  12. Dog in Fla

    “ESPN can at the very least become the Fox News of the U.S. and college football.” And thereby set a goal to have consistently misinformed viewers

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_06/the_most_consistently_misinfor030360.php#

    Not that there’s anything wrong with being misinformed as long as ESPN does it with Fox News-equivalent babe play-by-play and color announcers to start spreading the…….news

  13. Cojones

    Thanks for the link DiF. It hurts to read it and not know how to get your friends and family back who have listened to and believe the drivel over the years. Growing up into a teenager in Sowega and believing segregation was wrong doesn’t help any either. Growing up as a liberal in a segregationist’s body politic gives me empathy for gay people.

  14. Didn’t Mark Schlabach co-write Bobby Bowden’s book? Following, is his journalistic objectivity somehow tainted?