ESPN, Urban Meyer, Bernie Fine and the Longhorn Network

ESPN and the Issue of Responsible Journalism: Urban Meyer, Bernie Fine and The Longhorn Network

11/30/11 in NCAAF   |   Dan_B   |   1067 respect

ESPN, like its slogan says, is the world wide leader in sports. Fortunately or unfortunately, with that label comes a great responsibility--a responsibility that ESPN may, or may not be upholding.

Few sports fans would question ESPN's relevance in broadcasting games and providing commentary. However, some of its decisions and slants of coverage would make many first-semester journalism students cringe.

Much has been made of the network's "coverage" of the Mike Leach-Adam James-Craig James-Bruce Feldman saga, and while it remains a mystery to many how Craig James is still employed (and prominently!) by the station, that is another story for another day. Old news, if you will. 

Instead I'd like to look at three incidents that took place over the past few weeks that have gotten varying levels of media coverage to date. They have also made me, someone who grew up glued to ESPN and ESPN.com, question yet again the company's impartiality and decision making. 

Urban Meyer

I'm guessing you've heard, by now that Urban Meyer is the new coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He was hired on Nov. 28, but it was reported as early as Nov. 17 that he had accepted the job. However on Nov. 19 Meyer, who was employed by ESPN as a broadcaster, called the Nebraska-Michigan game. He was slated to call the Ohio State-Michigan game on Nov. 26 until ESPN first decided he would be better in the studio that day, and finally said that he asked off of the assignment.

When asked on the air during the Nov. 19 telecast about his status with Ohio State he said that there was "no truth" to those Ohio State rumors. And nine days later he is their coach.

When you testify in court you are told to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." If Meyer had been in court he would have perjured himself. Maybe he told the truth--but definitely not the whole truth. Doesn't ESPN's on-air talent owe viewers more than that? After all Meyer was broadcasting a game involving two of Ohio State's chief rivals! Why not pull him off the air until the rumors subsided or he (inevitably) took the job? 

Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch wrote a column on just this issue, and in it ESPN's programming folks defend their move--which makes this all the more disturbing.
 

The Longhorn Network

Like seemingly many others, the house at which I had Thanksgiving dinner was not blessed with the NFL Network, so my nightcap was not Ravens-49ers, but instead Texas-Texas A&M. 

As many of you may know, earlier this year ESPN launched the Longhorn Network with a 20-year, $300 million deal. The network's main programming is University of Texas sports. 

You may see where I'm going with this...

One of the great things ESPN does do for journalistic integrity is it maintains an ombudsman, who is a third-party employed for a finite period of time who is there to objectively evaluate the integrity of ESPN's coverage (we'll just ignore for now that one former ombudsman had allegedly made lots of money from ESPN prior to his employment). Currently ESPN's ombudsman services are being rendered by the Poynter Institute, a highly-respected journalism non-profit. 

In October, Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute wrote on ESPN.com about the issue of the Longhorn Network and ESPN coverage and came to this conclusion:
That makes the network financially vested in the success of a single school's athletic program.

Seems awfully disingenuous for the station to pass itself off as an impartial broadcaster of a game when one team winning helps the broadcasting company more than the other.

But actually, on the face I don't have a huge moral objection to ESPN covering Texas games on its family of networks. What did bother me as I watched the UT-A&M game was that ESPN advertised during breaks in the action for University of Texas basketball coverage on the Longhorn Network! While the announcers seemed to remain unbiased in coverage, I can't imagine being a Texas A&M fan watching that. I would think I was stuck watching Hawk Harrelson call a White Sox-Cubs game as a Cubs fan. No wonder A&M bolted for the SEC (but really, the Longhorn Network is why they absconded).

Bernie Fine

Yeah, I'm opening this can of worms. As you've likely read, former Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine is accused of molesting at least three young boys. 

Since 2003 ESPN has had in its possession a tape in which Fine's wife Laurie discusses with one of the victims the abuse he endured. ESPN freely admits having the tape and said it did not reveal the tape until this week because the story could not be corroborated

There are a few things seriously wrong here. 
1. As a graduate of journalism school myself, I understand that journalists don't tend to work with law enforcement, but instead they work parallel to law enforcement. That being said, this was not an investigation into political corruption or campaign finance violations or something like that. This was about child abuse and a predator that was still on the street. ESPN should not have played judge, jury and executioner with vital evidence. 
2. ESPN said it couldn't corroborate the story. This statement in and of itself reeks of arrogance. The implication is that if ESPN can't find corroboration, no one can. Is that not what the police are for? 
3. ESPN  said that it released the tape only after a voice recognition expert matched the voice on the tape to Laurie Fine. This was done after the story was corroborated. Why not try and match the voice eight years ago? By matching the voice to Laurie Fine ESPN would have its corroboration! ESPN's logic was entirely backwards here, and by hiding the tape under a pillow in Bristol, young boys in the Syracuse area were being put in danger.

So what is my conclusion? Would I like to ask some bigwigs at ESPN some questions? Of course, but I don't think they'd want to talk to little old me. Will I continue to rely on ESPN? Yes, I will. But will I continue to be skeptical of what it disseminates? Absolutely... and you should be too.   
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12/2/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

beerstudk wrote:
Agree to disagree I guess...  I think it's pretty ignorant to expect the media report on everything, especially something that can ruin a persons life, without having mutlitple reputable sources.  I for one would be very upset with humanity in general if all media outlets acted like TMZ..... but obviously some people think that type of journalism is perfectly acceptable otherwise TMZ wouldn't exist.

As for Urban Meyer, anyone that didn't think he would be the HC at Ohio State is an idiot!  People (even ESPN analysts) were talking about Meyer taking that job as soon as Tressel was fired and continued to talk about Meyer having that job when they named Fickel the interem HC.

 Well, you know, I didn't call you ignorant nor an idiot, even though we disagree.  

I'm done with this thread.

12/2/11   |   beerstudk   |   1538 respect

Here's an article I found on ESPN that was done by basically a media grading entity that says that ESPN was not neglegent in the Bernie Fine case, but could have done more digging.

http://espn.go.com/blog/poynterreview/post/_/id/187/espn-should-have-pressed-fine-allegations

12/2/11   |   beerstudk   |   1538 respect

Debi_L wrote:
 Great.  All I'm saying is I think ESPN was irresponsible, yet again.  I haven't even broached the subject of the police or the University, because this story is about ESPN and I was staying on topic.  I have LOTS to say about the police and University, but I won't do that here.  We haven't even touched on the Urban Meyer issue.

I don't like ESPN.  I think they are irresponsible in their reporting, and I've been saying that all through this thread. So, that's all I'm saying 

Agree to disagree I guess...  I think it's pretty ignorant to expect the media report on everything, especially something that can ruin a persons life, without having mutlitple reputable sources.  I for one would be very upset with humanity in general if all media outlets acted like TMZ..... but obviously some people think that type of journalism is perfectly acceptable otherwise TMZ wouldn't exist.

As for Urban Meyer, anyone that didn't think he would be the HC at Ohio State is an idiot!  People (even ESPN analysts) were talking about Meyer taking that job as soon as Tressel was fired and continued to talk about Meyer having that job when they named Fickel the interem HC.

12/2/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

beerstudk wrote:
First off.... if the allegations of Fine molesting kids is true, then he's a horrble human being and deserves to be tortured and shot in the middle of the street.  So really, our opinions of Fine are pretty similar.  I just don't agree with the whole "ESPN are a bunch of deusch bags because they don't run around like their hair is on fire and publish a story claiming that (Insert your favorite athlete) had an affair with another woman because some randon a$$hole called him 'Mother F@cker'".

Once again... ESPN had to be very, very, very careful with that story.  It came from ONE VERY unreliable source, the police didn't even feel the need to investigate it (so why aren't you guys bashing the police about it?), and the University knew about it at the same time ESPN did (so why aren't you guys bashing Syracuse as well?).  ESPN would have been retarded to run with that story because of the very real (at that time) possibility that the story was false.  That's all I'm sayin.

 Great.  All I'm saying is I think ESPN was irresponsible, yet again.  I haven't even broached the subject of the police or the University, because this story is about ESPN and I was staying on topic.  I have LOTS to say about the police and University, but I won't do that here.  We haven't even touched on the Urban Meyer issue.

I don't like ESPN.  I think they are irresponsible in their reporting, and I've been saying that all through this thread. So, that's all I'm saying 

12/2/11   |   beerstudk   |   1538 respect

Debi_L wrote:
 Okay, you obviously haven't read many of my posts, or you would know without a doubt that I hate ESPN.  I have never said otherwise.  Any opportunity I have to show another reason why I am in justified in my hate of ESPN, I will take.  

We obviously have different opinions of the Bernie Fine story, and that's fine.  I don't happen to believe that a victim's personality/character/etc. should be brought into question, if they truly are a victim.  That's like saying a woman deserves to be raped if she goes to a club wearing sexy clothing.  It just doesn't matter in my opinion.  Whatever the victim's background doesn't matter to me.  What matters to me is that Bernie Fine abused another human being and is only now being called on it.  ESPN knew about it and did nothing.  

First off.... if the allegations of Fine molesting kids is true, then he's a horrble human being and deserves to be tortured and shot in the middle of the street.  So really, our opinions of Fine are pretty similar.  I just don't agree with the whole "ESPN are a bunch of deusch bags because they don't run around like their hair is on fire and publish a story claiming that (Insert your favorite athlete) had an affair with another woman because some randon a$$hole called him 'Mother F@cker'".

Once again... ESPN had to be very, very, very careful with that story.  It came from ONE VERY unreliable source, the police didn't even feel the need to investigate it (so why aren't you guys bashing the police about it?), and the University knew about it at the same time ESPN did (so why aren't you guys bashing Syracuse as well?).  ESPN would have been retarded to run with that story because of the very real (at that time) possibility that the story was false.  That's all I'm sayin.

12/2/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

 Okay, you obviously haven't read many of my posts, or you would know without a doubt that I hate ESPN.  I have never said otherwise.  Any opportunity I have to show another reason why I am in justified in my hate of ESPN, I will take.  

We obviously have different opinions of the Bernie Fine story, and that's fine.  I don't happen to believe that a victim's personality/character/etc. should be brought into question, if they truly are a victim.  That's like saying a woman deserves to be raped if she goes to a club wearing sexy clothing.  It just doesn't matter in my opinion.  Whatever the victim's background doesn't matter to me.  What matters to me is that Bernie Fine abused another human being and is only now being called on it.  ESPN knew about it and did nothing.  

12/2/11   |   beerstudk   |   1538 respect

Debi_L wrote:
 They didn't even try to corroborate the story.  They ignored it and shuffled it to the back of a filing cabinet to only acknowledge they had the story when faced with the embarrassment of irrefutable proof.  Stories swirled round and round about Tiger Woods and his affairs.  That isn't sport either, but all kinds of Sports websites and magazines reported it....immediately.  I guess Bernie Fine just isn't as famous as Tiger Woods and touching young boys inappropriately isn't as sensational as shagging a beautiful woman.

Sorry, I stand by my belief that they are no leader in sports, and as Jess said, I'm just happy that there are other sports stations and websites gaining popularity.  It's unfortunate that there is coverage they have exclusivity to, because most of it sucks.

Lets be honest, there were several women that came forward IMMEDIATLY after Tiger and Elan had their very UN-happy Thanksgiving dinner.  Story corroborated by the fallout.  Plus, most of those women were only interested in the money the could get by spilling how good/bad Tiger is in the sack.  The Bernie Fine case had ONE GUY.... and he held on to the recorded phone call (which was his biggest peice of proof) until only recently, and who knows what that guys background is.  He could be a meth addict or giving handies for crack in allyways for all anyone knew at the time.  He wanted justice, other than that there's nothing for him to gain by coming forward other than shame and embarasment... COMPLETELY different set of circumstances!!

More than anything it sounds like you just hate ESPN and are taking this opprotunity to bash on them simply because of your hate for them.  Which by the way, is just as much irresponsible journalism as ESPN allegedly covering this story up (if that's really the case).

12/1/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

beerstudk wrote:
So what would happen if ESPN jumped on the Bernie Fine story without corroborating and the story ended up being false..... Can you say 'Multi-Million Dollar Deformation of Character Lawsuit'?  Fine, Boeheim and probably Syracuse University would have filed suit against ESPN, they were just protecting their a$$.

Fact of the matter, ESPN is the leader in SPORTS and a grown man touching little boys is not a SPORT unless you happen to live at a place like Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison.

I'm not defending ESPN sitting on a potentially horrible story or covering up the Leach/James sh!t show at Texas Tech.  But it's totally within their rights to cover their a$$ when they could take a potential PR hit or possible go bankrupt due to lawsuits.  How many people that write for this site are there that have personal sh!t that they don't want he general public to know, or tweak/disregard information to better illustrate their point?  I'm guessing that number is around 100%

 They didn't even try to corroborate the story.  They ignored it and shuffled it to the back of a filing cabinet to only acknowledge they had the story when faced with the embarrassment of irrefutable proof.  Stories swirled round and round about Tiger Woods and his affairs.  That isn't sport either, but all kinds of Sports websites and magazines reported it....immediately.  I guess Bernie Fine just isn't as famous as Tiger Woods and touching young boys inappropriately isn't as sensational as shagging a beautiful woman.

Sorry, I stand by my belief that they are no leader in sports, and as Jess said, I'm just happy that there are other sports stations and websites gaining popularity.  It's unfortunate that there is coverage they have exclusivity to, because most of it sucks.

12/1/11   |   jadamstait   |   23 respect

Jess wrote:
 I stopped watching ESPN years ago...right about the time they came out with NFL Network, NHL Network, MLB Network...

I had no idea just how bad it was, or how much the integrity was compromised. I just personally stopped liking them and was given alternatives, so I took them. This whole mess disgusts me - corroboration? Seriously? I'm glad ESPN's monopoly on sports is fading, thanks to other networks - I just wish those networks would be made as easily available to all fans as ESPN is.

Hi Jess you bet on all sports cool i just started only hockey for me right now

12/1/11   |   beerstudk   |   1538 respect

Debi_L wrote:
Oh I have soooooo been waiting for someone to do this story!!!! 

The idea that ESPN knew of the Bernie Fine matter since 2003 and didn't do anything about it, because they couldn't corroborate the story has been a thorn in my side from the day I first read it.  WHO THE HELL DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?  Is the career of ONE man that much more important than the young lives of several boys, now young men who will never be free of those memories?

I don't have a degree in journalism, but I am a parent, and a part time writer on this site, and one of those people who writes her opinion on other sites, and the one thing I have always embraced is the importance of publishing the truth, no matter what "important" person it might harm.  If it helps a child, i'm in it.

ESPN is no leader in sports, they are the loser in sports.  It's only unfortunate that the big companies keep giving them money to dish out the crap they do.  It's also unfortunate that the masses keep buying it.

So what would happen if ESPN jumped on the Bernie Fine story without corroborating and the story ended up being false..... Can you say 'Multi-Million Dollar Deformation of Character Lawsuit'?  Fine, Boeheim and probably Syracuse University would have filed suit against ESPN, they were just protecting their a$$.

Fact of the matter, ESPN is the leader in SPORTS and a grown man touching little boys is not a SPORT unless you happen to live at a place like Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison.

I'm not defending ESPN sitting on a potentially horrible story or covering up the Leach/James sh!t show at Texas Tech.  But it's totally within their rights to cover their a$$ when they could take a potential PR hit or possible go bankrupt due to lawsuits.  How many people that write for this site are there that have personal sh!t that they don't want he general public to know, or tweak/disregard information to better illustrate their point?  I'm guessing that number is around 100%

12/1/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

 One can (kind of) understand Syracuse, but as you said above, ESPN (like TSN in Canada) boasts that they are the "Leader in Sports".  Even our own FanIQ, in the Hotlink Submission page, tells that you will receive an additional 750 "Points" (no longer in effect) for finding a breaking news story before ESPN.  (I posted a hotlink yesterday and noticed that was still there LOL)

In any case, as a Leader in sports, they should be posting all news stories that are important to the sports world, not just pick and choose through them.

12/1/11   |   Dan_B   |   1067 respect

In fairness to ESPN, the Syracuse Post-Standard was also given the Bernie FIne tape (actually before it was given to ESPN) and chose not to make it public either. Here is an explanation of why they didn't publish it in 2003 (I don't necessarily agree, though I see, to some degree, where they are coming from) http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2011/11/why_the_post-standard_didnt_gi.html

12/1/11   |   Jess   |   34631 respect

 I stopped watching ESPN years ago...right about the time they came out with NFL Network, NHL Network, MLB Network...

I had no idea just how bad it was, or how much the integrity was compromised. I just personally stopped liking them and was given alternatives, so I took them. This whole mess disgusts me - corroboration? Seriously? I'm glad ESPN's monopoly on sports is fading, thanks to other networks - I just wish those networks would be made as easily available to all fans as ESPN is.

11/30/11   |   Debi_L   |   11848 respect

Oh I have soooooo been waiting for someone to do this story!!!! 

The idea that ESPN knew of the Bernie Fine matter since 2003 and didn't do anything about it, because they couldn't corroborate the story has been a thorn in my side from the day I first read it.  WHO THE HELL DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?  Is the career of ONE man that much more important than the young lives of several boys, now young men who will never be free of those memories?

I don't have a degree in journalism, but I am a parent, and a part time writer on this site, and one of those people who writes her opinion on other sites, and the one thing I have always embraced is the importance of publishing the truth, no matter what "important" person it might harm.  If it helps a child, i'm in it.

ESPN is no leader in sports, they are the loser in sports.  It's only unfortunate that the big companies keep giving them money to dish out the crap they do.  It's also unfortunate that the masses keep buying it.