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June 24, 2005 -- AMONG the sharpest moves ESPN ever made was to begin hiring (and residually co-opting and compromising) many of the biggest sportswriters from many of the biggest newspapers, a move that started to gather steam a few years ago.
The pay-rolling of these sportswriters as regular part-timers has essentially assured that ESPN, as it endeavored to change sports from athletics to an "attitude" — generally, a bad attitude — and as it endeavored to change ESPN from a network to a brand (with attitude), would not be butchered on a daily basis by many of the biggest sportswriters in many of the biggest newspapers.
Consider that in 2003, L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers, while moonlighting as a regular on ESPN's "Around The Horn," wrote some unkind words about the show in his column. While Simers was hired by ESPN for his wise guy-enriched attitude — the kind that ESPN favors — ESPN could not indulge Simers' turning ESPN into one of his targets. Simers was terminated.
The other newspaper writers on ESPN's payroll — presumably journalists — might have howled as one, in protest. They might have, but they didn't.
Thus, the chilling message was delivered. After all, while ESPN is highly rip-able, when was the last time you read ESPN being ripped — ripped, not tweaked — in a newspaper column authored by an ESPN part-timer?
Among the things that have, through the years, most infuriated non-compromised journalists is ESPN's eagerness to take credit for scoops and other work produced by newspaper folks throughout the country.
In its haste to promote, promote, promote itself, ESPN's "Bottom Line" inserts — almost every day and all day — would credit ESPN'ers, including ESPN's Web site and magazine staffers, as having delivered breaking news first.
Simply done — and this particular thing was done — a breaking story about the Sacramento Kings appears one morning in the Sacramento Bee. Later that afternoon, well after the story hits the AP newswire, ESPN reports the same story and credits one of its NBA reporters with the scoop.
In Pittsburgh, Pittsfield and Plattsburgh, the viewer is tacitly told that a dogged ESPN news hound has done it again. Another exclusive!
Still, ESPN has suffered enough scorn and ridicule for this disgusting practice that it recently has shown an inclination to change. Sort of.
We've obtained an ESPN-wide memorandum, dated June 15, that strongly suggests — and then again, doesn't — that ESPN cleanse its act when it comes to taking credit.
It reads, in part:
"The point here is to reinforce a real vigilance on our part that, [sic] that when we take credit for a story, we are as certain as we can possibly be that we are the first to report it."
Well, good . . . except that that segment of the memorandum concludes with:
"Again, there are a lot of people watching us, a lot of people who believe — erroneously — that we are too quick to take credit for reporting stories, and they are looking for any example that we are taking more credit than should be the case."
Whoa, wait a second, boss. If the people who believe that ESPN is too quick to take credit for the work of others are in error — if they "erroneously" believe that ESPN steals — then there would be no need "to reinforce a real vigilance on our part." If these claims of theft are wrong, what's there to improve upon?
In other words, ESPN's position is: We didn't do it and let's try not to do it again.
But the mere notion that ESPN is not guilty, as often charged, is preposterous. Heck, while co-anchoring "SportsCenter," Kenny Mayne, bless his heart, even saw fit to briefly lampoon ESPN's habit of taking undue credit when he credited ESPN for the scoop on the final score of a game.
This past Jan. 30, ESPN's Bottom Line repeatedly reported: "Sources tell ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the Browns will offer Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel their head coaching job after the Super Bowl."
Wow, quite a scoop. Most football fans read that self-congratulatory blurb, however, with a mix of derision and amusement. After all, most football fans, on Jan. 30, already knew that Crennel would be leaving the Pats for the Browns. They already had known it for a month.
I like this guy! He's one of the reasons I read the NY Post.