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Volume 26 No. 232
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ESPN Faces Challenge To No-Politics Policy Amid NBA-China Controversy

ESPN's coverage of the NBA-China controversy that is shaping up to be "one of the biggest sports stories of the year underscores the challenge" the net faces in "attempting to stay away from politics," according to Claire Atkinson of NBC NEWS. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro in the past has told staff not to get into politics, and the net has been "consistent on this point even as one of its biggest names" in Dan Le Batard "veered into politics in July." While ESPN has "not ignored the NBA-China controversy, it has chosen to focus on the wisdom" of Rockets GM Daryl Morey's tweet supporting Hong Kong protesters, for which he has "since apologized, and on how it will affect his career and the Rockets franchise." Despite having "anchors in China to cover preseason games there this week, there has been no coverage of the protests in Hong Kong or China's reaction to them" (NBCNEWS.com, 10/9). CNBC's Joe Kernen sarcastically said, "ESPN, it's crazy -- they've resorted to talking about sports." The net is not "talking politics after five years of not talking any sports and talking all politics" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 10/10).

MAKING THE ROUNDS: ESPN officials bristled at a Deadspin story that cited a memo from a senior news director that "explicitly discouraged any political discussion about China and Hong Kong." Execs at the company said that the idea to address politics when it intersects with sports has been a focus for Pitaro since he was named president in March '18, and this would appear to be a textbook case of that intersection. Meanwhile, ESPN programming spent a lot of time on China yesterday, particularly on "SportsCenter." Its reports did not focus on what has caused the people in Hong Kong to take to the streets in protest. Rather, ESPN had Rachel Nichols on the ground in Shanghai providing news of the situation for shows like "The Jump," "Get Up" and "SportsCenter." ESPN's daily news show "OTL" led with the China story both Tuesday and yesterday. Scott Van Pelt's "One Big Thing" segment focused on the NBA and China Tuesday night. ESPN's opinion shows like "First Take," "PTI," "High Noon" and "Around the Horn" also touched on it (John Ourand, SBJ Media).

GEOGRAPHY LESSON: The net earlier this week in its reporting on the NBA-China dispute mistakenly used a disputed map of the country that has led some critics to accuse it of kowtowing to the Chinese government. During “SportsCenter” yesterday morning, ESPN used a map that indicated China owned Taiwan and disputed areas in the South China Sea. The Chinese government uses these maps inside their own country to show their ownership over these territories; they are not accepted internationally. ESPN declined to comment on the use of the graphic. Scott Van Pelt’s “SportsCenter” on Turesday used a completely different map of China that did not include those disputed territories. The use of these two disputed maps, and the expected fallout that comes with it, illustrate why Pitaro and other ESPN execs want to stay out of politics and stick to sports (Ourand).