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Volume 26 No. 178
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Le Batard Safe At ESPN, Pitaro Not Budging On Political Policy

ESPN's Dan Le Batard "emerged unpunished" after meeting with with network President Jimmy Pitaro in N.Y. on Thursday after the host violated ESPN’s policy "against overt political commentary," according to Greg Cote of the MIAMI HERALD. Le Batard will "remain at ESPN as host of the 'Highly Questionable' TV show" and of his show on ESPN Radio. He will be back on air hosting both shows on Monday. A source indicated that Thursday’s meeting was "'a positive conversation' and that progress was made." However, there are "no indications ... that Pitaro will relax the policy that Le Batard openly criticized last week" (MIAMI HERALD, 7/26). In N.Y., Andrew Marchand notes since Le Batard made his comments, he and Pitaro "have had several conversations leading" to the meeting in N.Y. Pitaro has "chosen to handle the situation differently than his predecessor John Skipper." While Pitaro is "not opposed to suspending broadcasters, he has chosen in this case to talk it out, though there would likely be more severe ramifications if there is a repeat offense" (N.Y. POST, 7/26).

WALKING THE TIGHTROPE: In DC, Ben Strauss reports the Le Batard incident has "raised questions from others inside" ESPN. Stephen A. Smith "emailed Pitaro, expressing support for the politics policy but seeking guidance for how to handle moments that do transcend politics." He "predicted politics would become a bigger story during an election year in which athletes are poised to be vocal, and wondered what those athletes might think of ESPN." There will "almost certainly be more political moments coming that could test the company’s red line," but Pitaro "remains resolute in what the network’s viewers want." Asked if he was sensitive to talent feeling compelled to speak out during this political moment, Pitaro said, "Of course I am, and I have my own views. But I also recognize that when I or one of our on-air personalities speak publicly that that is received as the opinions of ESPN, and that can’t be. We look at what our fans are telling us" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/26).

BACKED INTO A CORNER: In N.Y., Dennis Young writes Le Batard "dared Pitaro to suspend him for telling the truth or admit that the policy didn’t exist." Pitaro "chose door No. 3, which ensured the survival of the meat shield: don’t punish Le Batard but very publicly stand by the policy, making his next violation of it not about truth-telling, but insubordination." Pitaro might have been "short-sighted to win this round, though." Feuding with "your highest-paid and most valuable employees isn’t a recipe for long-term success" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/26).

PAST PERSPECTIVE: Jemele Hill was engaged in the net's highest-profile incident regarding ESPN's policy, and she wrote for THE ATLANTIC that Le Batard's situation "only crystallized how unreasonable -- and ultimately untenable -- the network’s position" is on politics. ESPN has "chosen a side, which is no side at all." Since becoming president 18 months ago, Pitaro has "made it clear publicly and internally that it’s bad business for any of its personalities to spew their political views, based on the feedback received from sports fans." Pitaro "no doubt believes that he is just executing sound business strategy, but polls can’t properly contextualize the broad subject of politics." ESPN "clearly believes in the notion that sports should be a refuge for fans." But "unfortunately, sports don’t take place in some alternate universe where real problems can’t interfere" (THEATLANTIC.com, 7/25).