There is only one thing media companies take less seriously than their ombudsman: the readers and/or viewers themselves.
So I had to chuckle through gritted teeth when ESPN's ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer, ripped off an eye-bleeding, 678-paragraph howitzer this week aimed at the very station that employs him over its laughable mishandling of the whole LeBron James affair.
Unfortunately, you'll remember that James took over ownership of the station for an hour one night recently to announce where he would be dribbling a basketball, and exhibiting his fine tattoos and jewelry.
James, of course, showed there's plenty of brains behind all that bling when he picked the sunny beaches and palm trees of Miami, instead of remaining in the grayish Midwest and in that awful place that has never won anything, Cleveland.
In his screed, Ohlmeyer fires sunshine all over a station whose journalistic ethics went dark about three decades ago. And the guy really does make one good point after another ...
In fact he couldn't stop himself from making good points because this single column will soon be bound into a book in the coming weeks called, "ESPN: So Rotten I Couldn't Stop Typing About It."
Soft irony, then, that the book will be published and sold by ESPN, because nobody laughs longer and harder at itself while skipping merrily to the bank than the Entertainment Sports Programming Network.
And because you are wasting precious time at work reading this offering,
I'll assume you won't be able to read Ohlmeyer's entire column/book, so I'll
boil it down for you in five words (I were a editor once): ESPN trades ethics for access.
There is a reason Entertainment is the first word in its name, and Sports a distant second. The folks at ESPN have never -- make that, never ever -- been interested in delivering reputable sports journalism. They are interested in putting on a show which attracts millions of viewers, which in turn attracts gobs of advertisers, which in turn attracts piles of money.
And how do you put on a good show? Why, with good actors, of course! And nobody, I mean, nobody, has better niche actors than ESPN.
By rushing around in a frenzy kissing the asses of every athlete it can get its fat lips on, while at the same time throwing several cameras in their face, ESPN gets more access to these performers than their immediate families.
And for many of the
pampered, attention-starved athletes it gets even better: When they are
no longer worthy of having their behinds kissed for their exploits on
the field of play, the station is only too happy to plop their
out-of-shape but well-kissed fannies in front of some camera, where they
are hailed as experts! Who says ex-jocks are stupid?
Oh, it's a wonderful deal, and everybody gets what they want -- except for the people that still have some grand delusion that what the station is doing is unethical and flat wrong.So ESPN keeps an ombudsman around so it can give the appearance it is bothered by what it is doing, even if it has no intention of stopping itself. Remember how Tony Soprano used sooth his tired soul by seeing that good-looking psychiatrist before heading over to the Bada Bing! to plot murders and sample the eye candy ... ?
Maybe the best part of Ohlmeyer's column is near the end when he quotes the ombudsman that was at the place before he was, Le Anne Schreiber.
Schreiber, too, seemed bothered by the lack of checks and balances where journalism is concerned at the place when she typed this:
"Clearly, ESPN's many layers of editors and producers are not all on the same page, not even about some basic principles that define the nature of a journalistic enterprise. Without a formal, written handbook of guidance and policy, there is not much chance they ever will be, and the price for that will be paid in avoidable suspensions, apologies and erosion of credibility."
Hey, did you see the ESPYs?