By J. Henderson
I don’t imagine there are many who still give credence to rumors related to the Arkansas coaching search. Those that do, shouldn’t, because the deja-vu reports that Will Muschamp is on the verge of a jump to Fayetteville are likely unsubstantiated hogwash, if you will. In fact, as I write this, ESPN is reporting that Bobby Petrino has resigned as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons… and is on the verge of a jump to Fayetteville. (If so, the SEC West = Billionaire’s Boy Club)
But that’s beside the point. As was pointed out during the latest Tuberville fiasco and which was confirmed by the outcome, the legitimacy of so-called main-stream news reporting – the same reporting that seemed to force many Auburn fans (against their will?) to doubt Tuberville’s denial of the Arkansas rumors – has taken a deep hit in recent years. The reasons are complex but the reality is plain to see, as the most recent column by ESPN’s ombudsman demonstrates.
Written by Le Ann Schreiber, a woman ESPN pays to watchdog their own bias and journalistic malfeasance, it does just that and in spades. Of particular pertinence to the above is her condemnation for “the Worldwide Leader in Sports'” coverage of the Miles-to-Michigan rumor on the day of the SEC Championship Game.
…To avoid distraction before the title game, all directly concerned parties at LSU and Michigan had reportedly agreed to avoid any job-change maneuvering until the week after the game.
But early that Saturday, on ESPN and ESPNEWS and later ESPN.com, the word was out: “Sources have told ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Michigan will announce early next week it has reached an agreement with LSU coach Les Miles to be its next head football coach.’ As Herbstreit’s later remarks would make clear, that information came not from ‘sources,’ but from a single, anonymous, uncorroborated source [emphasis mine]. Miles called a short news conference two hours before the game to angrily label the report “misinformation.” Herbstreit stood by his source, despite Miles’ continued emphatic assertion that he was staying at LSU, until the ESPN college football analyst finally was forced by circumstances to concede his error the next day. By the end of the week, LSU, the SEC champion, announced that Miles had signed an amended contract that extends his stay at LSU through 2012. Given an anonymous source, who to judge by repeated on-the-record denials was not Miles, his agent or Michigan athletic director Bill Martin, and given the degree of at least slight doubt implied by “barring any unforeseen circumstances,” why did ESPN go with a story that risked affecting outcomes — the championship game and the job negotiations — by itself becoming an unforeseen circumstance? As to how breaking a story might impact events,” Doria said, “unless those events are life-threatening or equally monumental — we don’t consider coaching job negotiations or preparation for a football game in either category — we wouldn’t withhold information.” That is fine, but only if ESPN consistently holds its sports journalism to the same standards applied in good non-sports journalism when using anonymous sources. To my mind, Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback and not an experienced reporter, was less to blame for this ill-founded scoop than the senior College GameDay producers who should have advised him against going on air with such shaky information instead of convincing him it was his journalistic obligation to share with viewers what “a source” had told him. “Given that no deal is done until an agreement is signed, we could have tempered this one more than it was,” Doria said. “In hindsight, we should have said something like, ‘A source has told ESPN that Miles and Michigan have agreed on money and length of term, but no contract is signed, and Miles has to go to Michigan for a face-to-face interview with AD Bill Martin.’ ” That would have been better, but we have been given no reason to believe it would have been any more true. All we know for sure is that ESPN’s reputation as a reliable source of “scoops” has taken another blow. When viewers respond to the phrase “a source has told ESPN” with a “we’ll see” attitude, as many who write me say they now do, it undermines the efforts of ESPN’s entire staff of producers, editors and reporters.
A particularly disturbing revelation comes at the beginning of Schreiber’s piece:
… I call out ESPN for practices common to its cable news peers, such as bloated coverage of the moment’s hot-topic stories and the mad dash from scant information to voluminous opinion. Often, the questions I pose ESPN executives can be, and often are, answered with a version of “That’s just the way the 24/7 media is today.”
No one doubts that the bigwigs simply toe the modern line (if not define it) – it’s disturbing that they admit it so directly.
(By the way… Shrevenge?? No comments? Kudos? Shreveport + Revenge?! I think it’s my best title-pun yet!)