THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
The Walt Disney Company was put in an unusual position in the last couple of weeks. The so-called family friendly company that leads you to believe that the company-owned amusement parks in central Florida and in Anaheim, California are the happiest places on earth for families had to defend themselves when it surfaced that Disney's ESPN unit knew that Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was accused of child molestation in 2002.
ESPN walked away from the story.
In fairness, ESPN wasn't the only "news" organization that decided there was nothing to the allegations. The Syracuse Post-Standard, also to use a football term, "punted" on the story. For some reason neither "news" organization decided to do anything.
Syracuse police in 2002 also passed on an investigation by telling one of the accusers, Bobby Davis, that too much time had passed from when the alleged molestation had taken place and there was nothing they could do.
Why everyone turned a blind eye to the allegations needs to be investigated particularly by the authorities. It is easier to see why the "news" organizations took a knee. Someone hands over a tape and says this happened and it could topple a prized institution like Syracuse basketball. News organizations that partner with sports are very reticent to take on powerful sports organizations and unless someone wants to really follow up, nothing much will happen at news organizations.
The Syracuse newspaper probably didn't want to cross Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim. ESPN probably didn't want to poke around when Boeheim is a business associate.
ESPN is not anything more than a promotional vehicle for sports with the exception of "Outside the Lines."
"SportsCenter" is an absolute joke and that is buttressed by those silly commercials that have jocks in commercials promoting the show. That is a blatant conflict of interest. You cannot use subjects you cover to promote your newscast, although in the world of corporate media there are no rules as News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch proves daily on his FOX News Channel which either is an arm of the Republican Party or runs the Republican Party and yet has the fair and balanced slogan which people accepted as some sort of mantra cooked up in the Himalayans or an inscription in the tablets from Mount Sinai.
Disney through ESPN happens to be partners with Syracuse University in a myriad of relationships. Disney pays billions for the rights to college sports including football and basketball and Syracuse's teams pop up on ESPN cablecasts. Allegations of child molestation don't fit into either SportsCenter's or the National Collegiate Athletic Association's narrative. The accusations against Bernie Fine are just that: accusations. Yet someone in the Syracuse University hierarchy decided that Fine was too toxic to hang around Jim Boeheim's basketball program and fired him on Nov. 27.
Disney's ESPN unit decided there was nothing to report upon until very recently and finally broke the silence.
Disney also owns ABC which has a large news division and the question of why the managers who oversee the Disney operations didn't assign "news" producers to see if there any substance to the Fine child molestation allegations needs to be asked.
ABC does all sorts of cheesy things on the "20/20" program and the so-called news operation went after the Food Lion grocery chain in 1992 on the ABC "PrimeTime Live" show with ABC's resident superstar reporter Diane Sawyer accusing Food Lion of purposely selling tainted food.
In 1997, a Federal court jury in Greensboro, North Carolina found ABC guilty of deception in obtaining the story and awarded Food Lion $5.5 million in damages for the network's shoddy reporting.
Maybe Disney's ABC/ESPN reporting units should be folded up. Here's a great question for Disney President and CEO Robert Iger: Just what stories of importance has ABC News or ESPN broken of significance lately?
You would have to go back to 2006 to find Brian Ross's reporting on Florida House member, the Republican Mark Foley and his AOL instant messaging habit which included asking for explicit photos of some male pages. Foley resigned from his seat but ABC's Ross confronted Representative Foley which is what a journalist is supposed to do with evidence.
In 2011, ABC News is loaded with political operatives such as Diane Sawyer (Nixon White House), Chris Cuomo (brother of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo), George Stephanopoulos (Bill Clinton's political strategist and Clinton's White House Communication's Director) and George Will (Nixon and Ford White House) and lacks real journalists. That is a problem. Names allegedly sell not solidly credentialed journalists who can do investigative reporting.
ESPN, which has few real journalists, to use a hockey parlance, "went turtle" and didn't ask Fine directly about the charges. ESPN didn't go after a business partner and if Disney (which has been a major factor in college sports realignment as ESPN cable TV money along with other cable TV players including Murdoch have been influencing college presidents, chancellors and provosts in making new college conferences for the pursuit of a mega millions or mega billions jackpot) really wanted to do the journalism correctly, there was always ABC news.
ESPN is loaded with so-called sports journalists although few actually qualify as journalists. Bob Ley is one of the rare ESPN exceptions as is Jeremy Schaap. "SportsCenter" anchors are pathetically weak journalists and their main job is to narrate stale old game highlights. ESPN hires retired players and fired coaches to analyze games and will contract an outsider for a real story like the OJ Simpson trial in the mid-1990s.
The show that features "sports reporters" on Sunday is unwatchable. Mike Lupica somehow is respected by industry insiders but there is nothing on his resume that indicates any sort of journalism acumen and the same goes for his Sunday cohorts. The "Around the Horn" show is putrid and childish. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilpon are entertaining on "Pardon the Interruption" in a Larry David, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" way and will even bring up serious sports topics.
But journalism is not ESPN's forte and never will be. Disney has apologists at the call led by Colin Cowherd who is admittedly not a journalist but a talk show host. Cowherd spent part of his daily shows playing the role of a perfect corporate shill apologizing for ESPN's reluctance to report on the Fine allegations and sticking up for the decision makers who punted on investigating the accusations. Cowherd even apologized for Boeheim, claiming Boeheim didn't know anything, and from what he knew Boeheim wasn't a real hands-on guy.
Cowherd fit right into the New York Times columnist George Vescey's assertion that sportswriters are apologists. Cowherd is no writer and at best a mildly talented radio talk show host and TV presence, but he did fit the role of apologist perfectly.