Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Further evidence of the pointlessness of public editors

I have to admit that the ESPN ombudsman sometimes makes a lot of sense. Le Anne Schreiber told the Southern Pines Pilot

One of the most satisfying things about being the ESPN ombudsman is that it provides a very good perch for watching what is happening to journalism in general.
She is on to something there. I had the same thought and was going to use the Mike Gundy/ Jenni Carlson dust-up to illustrate the pernicious attitudes that hurt the Dinosaur Media. The public editor, though, beat me to it in her most recent letter.

The instigator of Gundy's Saturday rage was an opinion column couching itself as fact. I am not ombudsman for the Oklahoman, but through a week's ridicule of Gundy on ESPN, I never heard or read a clear account of the column that ticked him off. In what was supposed to be a balanced, give-both-sides-of-the-story report on ESPNEWS, I saw the full three-minute, 20-second videotape of Gundy's news conference for the umpteenth time, followed by a videotape of reporter Jenni Carlson's response on "Good Morning America," in which she says, calmly, "I stand firmly on the facts of the column." He looked bad. She looked good.

"What facts?" somebody at ESPN should have asked before ridiculing the coach while giving the columnist a pass. In building her case against the benched quarterback, Carlson introduces her evidence of his no-can-do attitude with these phrases: "If you believe the rumors and the rumblings …", "Tile up the back stories told on the sly over the past few years …", "Word is …" and "Insiders say …". In my book, those are not phrases from the realm of fact; they barely count even as speculation by anonymous sources.

Several commentators faulted Carlson for criticizing an amateur athlete so harshly, and ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski raised questions about the accuracy of her observations But why did I hear no one at ESPN explicitly note that the column that so enraged Gundy was based on rumors and rumblings and the sayings of "insiders"? Because they want to be allowed to take those same liberties? Because they didn't bother to read the column? Because all that mattered was milking that videotape for a week's worth of commentary? Because the boundaries between fact, opinion and rumor have become so porous that nobody noticed rumor crossing the border with a fake passport
All of this is true. Moreover, it came from ESPN’s internal conscience. How can a mere blogger compete?

Actually, it’s pretty easy. Schreiber comments on espn.com and my non-post on an unread blog had exactly the same effect on the World Wide Leader:

ZERO. Nada. Zip.

Despite Schreiber’s trenchant criticism, the same clueless blowhards hold forth on ESPN. Bayless, Lupica, Forde, et. al. still cough up their fact-lite punditry on subjects they are too lazy to study.

It’s a perfect case study of corralled rebellion.

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