Friday, July 24, 2009

ESPN's Roethlisberger News Blackout

This actually doesn't really surprise me except for how blatant and transparent it is:

The accusations of sexual assault contained in a civil lawsuit filed against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been widely reported in the sports and entertainment news media — except by ESPN.

The sports-media giant’s single exemption from its reporting blackout has been to let its ESPN Radio station in Pittsburgh update the case in news reports. But the station’s talk-show hosts are prohibited from discussing it…

...The ban on reporting the lawsuit was issued on ESPN’s internal newswire and e-mail system at 10:48 p.m. Eastern Monday, after the news began to break. Doria said ESPN’s caution was to protect Roethlisberger from the fallout of potentially false allegations, not to shield its TV partner, the N.F.L.

Just who do they think they're fooling by ignoring this story? If you're not much of a sports fan you may not have heard about it but ESPN's core audience eats, drinks and breathes sports and has obviously heard about the story through alternate media sources. And yes, of course it's because he's the quarterback of the current Super Bowl champions. If this is where the bar is set for the level of journalistic integrity at ESPN I'm pretty sure that Payton Peyton Manning could bomb a children's hospital and it wouldn't make that night's Sportcenter.

[Update: ESPN has apparently decided to cover the story after Reno law enforcement officials have announced that they will not investigate the accusations unless the woman files a criminal complaint against Roethlisberger. Now don't get me wrong: I like Ben Roethlisberger and I love NFL football; I wouldn't want to see any type of false accusations or lawsuits damage that sport. But this is news in the sporting world and ESPN had an obligation to report on it, regardless of their conflict of interest. Glad they finally came to their senses.]


Anonymous said...

The question of just how such a matter should be reported is very delicate. In the days of 'standards of truth', journalists would not report on accusations or scandal that did not impress them as credible. Such things were left to tabloids and gossip columns and journalists and sports casters didn't touch them unless they became credible news.

In today's media, this is no longer the case. Scandal drives consumption of product up and the majority of news outlets cover scandal as credible news in order to profit from that scandal. The credibility of the accusations is not always examined according to strict 'standards of truth' as was once required.

There are positive and negative qualities in both strategies. Much genuine truth did not get out in the 'standards of truth' days because of the difficulty of proving its credibility to the degree necessary to be broadcast or published. On the other hand, there is a lot of bullshit in the media passing for news today.

There are things about this particular circumstance (lack of a criminal complaint and the fact that the alleged assault went unreported for so long) that inspire a certain degree of skepticism about the allegations. However, it is equally possible that the alleged incident went unreported because of psychological trauma and the lawyer recommended against criminal charges on the notion that such an incident would be difficult to prove to the degree necessary to obtain a conviction and an acquittal might taint the civil case.

I'd like think ESPN may have been trying to exercise responsibility in their reporting until they had information they could consider real 'news.' However, it's equally possible they were trying to cover Big Ben's ass.

JBW said...

I've read that it was removing the news' status of not being included as part of the revenue stream for the network that has poisoned the media environment today, er. And ESPN not even mentioning this story would be similar to FOX News not mentioning the accusations of Rush Limbaugh's illegal pill shopping; there's a clear conflict of interest.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just too much of snob when it comes to news coverage. I would have thought it would be a news story when Roethlisberger was indicted. Until then, it's a suspicious lawsuit by a plaintiff who never pressed criminal charges after the event. The only real ways to cover THAT in any depth are gossip column nastiness, sleazing either the plaintiff herself or Roethlisberger, neither of which was warranted before the cops announced they were not going to take action without a criminal complaint. That, of course, was news.

It's still difficult to discuss the details of the story in depth without a lot of speculation better fitted to the Enquirer than ESPN. Such speculation would still involve smearing the plaintiff (who may be a victim), Roethlisberger (who is innocent until proven guilty), or both. There's not really any way to escape it. That isn't 'news', even if the allegations and the fact that the cops will not pursue without a criminal complaint are 'news.'

Clearly, I fall on the 'standards of truth' side of the journalistic ethics argument rather than the 'print everything people say' side. I do think such allegations bear investigation by journalists, but I don't think the results of such investigations should be published/broadcast until reporter and editor/producer have a reasonable belief they meet standards of truth.

Clearly, from the way you describe it, ESPN was not trying to act responsibly, they were trying to dodge a bullet. I agree with you that they shouldn't be allowed to do so.

But the rush to print or broadcast before the facts are verified is still something that undermines the credibility of journalism for a lot of people these days. Just as much as the desire to protect or attack celebrities and public figures.

one L bill said...

FWIW, it's Peyton Manning. I do believe you're showing your true colors in this post, sir.


JBW said...

Eh, it's still a girl's name either way you spell it.