I realize that I'm slowly getting older in many ways. One of the signs of this is that I'm actually old enough to remember when sports fans nationwide almost universally loved ESPN. This concept is completely foreign in today's world, and it's likely one of the things that separate me from any of the current undergraduates of my alma mater. Newsweek magazine/The Daily Beast's Nick Summers recently documented the WWL's rise from humble cable channel to sports kingmaker, which has disturbing implications for us all.
A dozen San Francisco 49ers are rehearsing their explosive movements on the grass, elephantine and precise, a sight that is astonishing to see. Fans are massing just above field level and screaming.
But not for the athletes. They’re hollering—"Steeeeeeeeeeeve!"—for the talent of ESPN. The cable-sports juggernaut has built a satellite set for its Monday Night Countdown pregame show off the 20-yard line, and nearby, four of its highly recognizable stars—Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Trent Dilfer, and Stuart Scott—are tossing a football before airtime. Young and Rice, both retired Hall of Fame 49ers, are local heroes; when Young, in cakey TV makeup, arcs a tight spiral to Rice, the Niner faithful go ape like it’s for real. "There’s more fans here than in the stands," murmurs a photographer.
It's understandable that before the game, fans may want to see a couple of legends of the very franchise they came out watch, but what is being described here is very clear: ESPN is the story. The game is the backdrop. It would escape notice if this was an isolated incident. Does anyone remember Craig James? Those that advocated for Mike Leach to be our coach following the termination of Rick Neuheisel surely do. Mr. James used his son who was on Leach's Texas Tech football team to lodge an exaggerated complaint about how Leach was handling his son's injury. Amplified through his position as an ESPN anchor and fully utilizing the bully pulpit it provides, the atmosphere around Leach became toxic so quickly that Texas Tech felt they had reason to let him go. Again, ESPN, their anchors, and their "personalities" are the story. Everyone else just tries to not get swept away in the flood.
To be fair, not all of ESPN can be tagged with James' zealotry.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines would later air a tough segment on Roethlisberger’s troubles, with inside-the-locker-room reporting that demonstrated that some corners of the ESPN kingdom are not beholden to anyone.
Roethlisberger's legal troubles surely do deserve scrutiny so long as he is/was an active member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and ESPN does seem to agree...as long as it doesn't cut into their bottom line:
None of this, of course, is mentioned on Dec. 19, as Roethlisberger’s Steelers prepare to take on the 49ers on Monday Night Football. Live broadcasts hinge on successfully souping up drama. All day long in San Francisco, the ESPN army had been prepping every conceivable (nonrape) subplot. Was Roethlisberger returning too soon from an injury? Could the 49ers’ rush defense make it 15 straight games without yielding a touchdown? What are the playoff seeding implications? The storylines were briskly disseminated at ESPN’s morning production meeting, which—with a nearly all-male crew of 40 in dress that ranges from shorts and flip-flops to business casual—is like the planning committee of a really excellent fraternity.
Potential criminal charges do not a hyped matchup make, and so jounalistic integrity in spurts, tucked away neatly after the money has been made and the ratings have been calculated, is the ESPN way. They'll follow this guideline right up until public outrage forces them to stop:
Much graver is the outrage over ESPN’s poor early coverage of the biggest sports story of 2011, the Penn State sexual-abuse scandal. As students rioted, ESPN had no cameras on the scene. When they did show up, commentators seemed more concerned with the impact of the news on recruiting and coach Joe Paterno’s legacy than on the alleged crimes.
The network eventually caught up—commentator Jay Bilas distinguished himself by calling the Penn State athletics program "a conspiracy of cowards" on SportsCenter. But the censure of ESPN mounted when a coach at Syracuse was fired later the same month for similar allegations, and ESPN revealed that for eight years it had sat on an incriminating audiotape of a conversation between the coach’s wife and his accuser.
Forget Might is Right. For ESPN, Hype Is Right:
To many fans, the lowest point was The Decision, an hourlong broadcast in July 2010 that capped months of feverish speculation about which NBA team would sign superstar LeBron James.
"The most troubling aspect of the whole ill-conceived mess was ESPN’s willingness to hand over an hour of primetime television to an egomaniacal athlete the network should be covering as a news story," wrote The Washington Post’s Leonard Shapiro. "Does this not-so-subtle form of checkbook journalism pass the smell test anywhere else but in Bristol, Conn.?"
So why the change? ESPN's fledgling early and even not-so-early years were marked by honest sports journalism usually reserved for more mainstream pedestrian topics. As is the case with most things now, you need to follow the money:
...it takes in even more from cable-subscriber fees—an average of $4.69 per household per month, according to research firm SNL Kagan. Last February, ESPN entered its 100 millionth American home. By comparison, the next costliest national network, TNT, takes in just $1.16 from about as many homes.
"ESPN, through ... sheer muscle, has been able to say to us, ‘You will carry this service on the lowest level subscription you offer, and you will make all of them pay for it,’" says Matt Polka, CEO of the American Cable Association, a trade group.
Hype draws viewers. Viewers mean big money, and ESPN is in the business of making its parent company Disney as much of it as possible.
Given our discussion yesterday over SOPA/PIPA and the Day the Internet Went Dark, I find it more imperative than ever to stress how all the things we need to prevent from happening are all interrelated. Outlets like BN and other independent sources provide the check on the ridiculous happenings in the sports world the way ESPN used to. Now that ESPN has become the number one purveyor of shoddy journalism, it's more important than ever to ensure that Big Media, like ESPN and Disney, aren't able to monopolize the discussion merely by being the only player in the game. And if there was any doubt left that this legislation isn't being crafted in good faith, I bring you this:
Turns out he wasn't the only one. California Senator Dianne Feinstein -- despite coming a bit late to the game in recognizing the concerns of the tech industry -- has been trying to make up for lost time by trying to "broker a peace" between the North and the South. We'd been hearing some rumors that Feinstein had actually been trying to set up just such a meeting -- given her role covering both Silicon Valley and Hollywood -- but that Hollywood was blocking all attempts, and it appears that's now been confirmed by reporter Zach Carter:
After that story ran, Feinstein attempted to broker a compromise, calling both tech companies and film studios.
Walt Disney Co. President and CEO Bob Iger declined the invitation on behalf of content providers. "Hollywood did not feel that a meeting with Silicon Valley would be productive at this time," said a spokesperson. The meeting took place with only tech companies present. Feinstein, once a reliable vote for the existing version of Protect IP, is now working hard to amend the bill, according to Senate Democratic aides.
Although yesterday's online protest was moderately successful, getting 19 senators to flip or reconsider their support, it must be noted that this is not over. Proponents of these bills will do anything to distract from its content, like Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who is one of the chief sponsors of SOPA, and who needlessly injects his thoughts on piracy into the discussion when he knows full well the objections have nothing to do with piracy. He has taken his duplicitious speech up a notch now that the pressure on him is increasing:
The Stop Online Piracy Act is a constitutional bill that protects free speech and America’s intellectual property. The First Amendment is not an excuse for illegal activity. Simply because the illegal activity occurs online does not mean that it is protected speech. Like online piracy, child pornography is a billion-dollar business operated online. It is also illegal. That’s why law enforcement officials are authorized to block access to child-porn sites.
You catch those weasel-words? Now, not only are opponents of this bill pirates, they are also child pornographers. That's the conclusion he wants you to draw. Those are the lengths to which Big Media and their puppets will go to bend the rest of us over so they can loot the wreckage of what was formerly the Internet. He should take notes from one of yesterday's switchers, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who seems to understand our concerns:
I share the concerns of America’s technology companies, industry leaders, and the many citizens who have voiced their concerns to my office. It is clear to me that this bill will inflict too heavy a burden on third-party non-infringing entities and could do serious harm to one of the last vestiges that is relatively free from government regulation, the Internet. When addressing intellectual property rights, Congress must be careful to also protect the freedom of speech and flow of information that the Internet provides.
It must be stated again that we at BN do not like to get political. In my opinion, nothing can turn a community on itself faster than injecting politics into it. However, BN, SBN, and many of the sites you use on a daily basis have recognized an existential threat being pushed by Dan Guerrero-type bureaucrats in Hollywood.
If you think I'm making too much of this, that's fine. Just don't come to me in the future when you're getting all your Bruin news from this guy: