SBD/Issue 79/Sports Media

Ombudsman Criticizes ESPN Personnel For Becoming Part Of Story

Schreiber Says ESPN Personalities
Drawing Attention To Net, Not Sports
In her latest contribution as ESPN Ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber noted on "at least four separate occasions" recently, ESPN reporters, analysts and announcers "became part of the stories they were covering, reinforcing the common perception that ESPN often draws more attention to itself than to the sports it covers." Schreiber labeled the first case "Denial," and noted NFL reporter Chris Mortensen said that the Raiders had "lost the privilege with me of running stories past them for comment" when he reported Raiders Owner Al Davis was selling a portion of the team. Mortensen: "I was wrong on both counts: one, for not soliciting comment, and two, for daring to label it a privilege. I called [Raiders Chief Exec] Amy Trask and apologized." Schreiber: "Why didn't someone at either ESPN's television or online news desk remind Mortensen of that basic journalistic principle when he needed reminding? And just as importantly, after failing to do that, why didn't someone at ESPN elicit that straightforward 'I was wrong' statement that Mortensen handed me on a platter?" Schreiber labeled the second case involving an ESPN personality as "BAM!" NFL analyst Cris Carter on December 29 made several references on ESPN Radio to shooting Cowboys WR Terrell Owens, a comment for which he later apologized. But when an apology is issued for a "gross overstatement (i.e., put a bullet in him), the apology should not be worded as a gross understatement (i.e. not the right choice of words)." Schreiber: "To get out of the glare, better just to say, 'I'm sorry. That was a really stupid thing to say.'"

ESPN Viewers Complain About Overhyped
Announcer Swap Featuring Vitale (l) Calling NBA
INTO THE SPOTLIGHT: Schreiber labeled the third case "Liar, Liar," and discussed ESPN's Stephen A. Smith interviewing Owens following comments that NFL reporter Ed Werder made up a story about disharmony in the Cowboys locker room. Smith's questions were "far from hardball, but he did get Owens to concede that Werder was not a liar, but rather a conduit for lying sources." But follow-up questions that "might have underscored the inconsistencies in Owens' statements were not asked." Schreiber: "Yes, ESPN wanted the liar label publicly removed from Werder, and that was achieved. ESPN also wanted a highly promotable exclusive 'SportsCenter' interview with Owens, simply because he is what is called 'a good get.'" But ultimately "neither Werder nor Smith nor viewers were well served by the interview." Schreiber labeled the fourth case, involving ESPN's NBA/college basketball announcer swap, "Asking For It," and wrote ESPN "asked for the attention." Schreiber: "I received no complaints about the switch, but I was deluged with complaints about the ESPN-aggrandizing inflation of the 'Announcer Swap' into a news event worthy of coverage on several 'SportsCenters,' and even of booth discussion during a college football bowl game." Schreiber wrote of the four cases, "I recommend that whenever ESPN accidentally steps into the spotlight, it find a way to get out as quickly and deftly as possible. When out of the spotlight, don't ask for it -- at least for a while. Let fans get over their ESPN fatigue" (ESPN.com, 1/12).

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