SBD/March 24, 2011/Media

Poynter Institute Discusses Obama's Call For Japan Aid In Debut ESPN Column

Andy Katz made sure White House staff understood ESPN's editorial independence
In the first column for ESPN as part of the Poynter Review Project, Poynter Institute Ethics Group Leader Kelly McBride examined President Obama plugging Japan relief website USAID.gov "before he made his picks on camera" for both the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. Prior to ESPN filming "what has become its annual installment of Barack-etology, Obama's critics chimed in, suggesting that the leader of the free world had better things to do, given the civil unrest throughout Middle East and North Africa, and the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown in Japan." ESPN reporter Andy Katz and the rest of the net's crew "were not surprised when the president's staffers informed them that Obama planned first to plug the relief site." Katz said that he "never felt pressured by the White House to leave the president's remarks intact as a condition of the interview." He said, "There were no conditions. It was never said, never, that if you don't do this, we won't do this. Never." McBride noted Katz "planned to say something about the earthquake anyway," so when he "learned that Obama was thinking the same thing, he wanted to make sure the White House staff understood ESPN's independence." Katz: "We just said we can't promise how this will be edited, but this seems like the right thing to do." McBride wrote, "Those are tough choices to make. Aid to Japan had nothing to do with the president's NCAA picks. But Katz went into the story thinking it was relevant, so the charity plug made the cut. Ultimately the ESPN staff directly involved in the story had a lot of independence."

A CHANGE OF PACE: McBride explained she and partner Regina McCombs will "look for the pressure points, big and small," as part of ESPN's aspiration to "serve and hold the network to its own high standards." McBride and McCombs "will write a monthly column, as well as a couple of shorter installments as developments warrant." Some of those "might look a little different than those of previous ESPN ombudsmen." McBride added, "We hope to bring transparency to this very large company by peeling back the layers of decisions that culminate in both success and failure, and all that falls in between" (ESPN.com, 3/23).
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