SBD/Issue 9/Sports Media

ESPN Ombudsman Weighs In On Mariotti, Spiking Of LeBron Story

Ohlmeyer Contends ESPN Was Professional
In Its Coverage Of Jay Mariotti's Recent Arrest

ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer in his latest contribution notes the network is "occasionally challenged to report on its own employees and contributors," and its coverage of Jay Mariotti's arrest "appears to have been professional and responsible." ESPN on Aug. 21 posted a news story on the front page of its website about Mariotti's arrest on "suspicion of felony domestic assault," and then on Sept. 14 reported the news when the L.A. County DA's office concluded that there "was not enough evidence for the felony charge." Many ESPN viewers "anticipated more extensive coverage of Mariotti, commensurate with ESPN's past practice with scandalous situations." Ohlmeyer notes viewers criticized the net "for not doing more, but more doesn't seem to have been justified." ESPN Senior VP & Dir of News Vince Doria: "We reported on the Mariotti arrest (all day Saturday) on 'SportsCenter' and on The Bottom Line. In general, ESPN has not covered media personalities to the same degree and emphasis that we do athletes, teams, leagues, associations, etc." He added, "If the transgression directly touches sports -- Don Imus' comments on the Rutgers women's basketball team a few years ago, for example -- we may spend some time in discussion, but the Mariotti story did not fit that description." By comparison, Ohlmeyer notes ESPN in November "did an extensive piece" on "Outside The Lines" focusing on Raiders coach Tom Cable, who "had been accused of domestic violence but not arrested." ESPN Senior VP & Managing Editor of Studio Production Mark Gross: "In our judgment, we believe we offered the appropriate coverage for both stories. ... The Mariotti story was a news report with little factually confirmed detail, so we reported it as a straight, quick news item"

BOW DOWN TO THE KING? Ohlmeyer also addresses ESPN's decision to spike a story on ESPNLA.com detailing reporter Arash Markazi's night out in Las Vegas with Heat F LeBron James. Reaction from ESPN readers "wasn't aimed at the story itself but rather at the perception that ESPN was hiding something, trying to protect a star athlete from embarrassing revelations or covering up news to protect a valued relationship." But ESPN Digital Media VP & Editor-in-Chief Rob King said, "It's hard to recall a story that encountered such a series of breakdowns in our editorial process." Markazi told his editors that he "had not identified himself as a working writer, nor had he spoken directly with James or business manager Maverick Carter, both of whom were quoted in the story." King said, "Reporters at some point traditionally confront their subjects with the information they've managed to gather, offering them a fair opportunity to comment. It would be hard to argue that this story qualified as important journalism. And it's inarguable that our approach to covering LeBron in Las Vegas fell short in terms of fairness." Ohlmeyer contends "finalizing the editing process and republishing the story -- which didn't contain earth-shattering revelations, and was already floating through the blogosphere -- would have raised more questions than it answered." Attention would have "turned to the comparison of the two versions, leaving readers and critics to question every change and demand that ESPN explain and justify every word, phrase or characterization that was inconsistent." The entire situation was an "almost tragically comedic sequence of misconceptions and miscommunications, compounded by human error" (ESPN.com, 9/23).

TOO LONG OF A WAIT TO ADDRESS ISSUES: THE BIG LEAD’s Jason McIntyre writes, “After nearly a 60-day summer siesta, Don Ohlmeyer finally got off the bench to write about the Arash Markazi-LeBron James-Vegas story and Jay Mariotti’s arrest. Ohlmeyer waited far too long to address these issues, as both are stale and nobody cares about Mariotti until his next court date” (THEBIGLEAD.com, 9/23). Sports media writer Dan Levy on his Twitter feed wrote, “New ESPN Ombudsman column is up. 4,411 words and not ONCE does @JennBrownESPN or Icehouse appear. It's an absolute joke. … Ohlmeyer's work has been embarassing, frankly. And the thing is, ESPN knows it. But it's not like you can fire an ombudsman halfway through their term. How would that look?” Slate’s Josh Levin: “Ohlmeyer's new ESPN ombud column is his weakest, most equivocating yet.” CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman: “That was a pretty lame effort on Ohlmeyer's part.”

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