Friday, March 31, 2006

There's still a shred of journalistic integrity left at ESPN. Who knew?

From watching their numerous channels, you wouldn't think so, but the Worldwide Leader in Sports still has some employees with integrity on the payroll. The Sports Frog pointed to a NY Times piece on the consternation developing in the ESPN ranks caused by the upcoming Barry Bonds "Bonds on Bonds" reality show.

The gist of the article says that in a meeting between ESPN suits and the journalistic grunts that toil at at the WWLiS, the grunts aren't happy with the suits using a checkbook to get access to Bonds. There is also the disturbing fact if any "News" comes from those tapings, said news will be withheld till the airing of that show. That there is a conflict of interest is as obvious as Chris Berman's toupee.

So what was the suits' explanation? That "Bonds on Bonds" is a production of ESPN Original Entertainment, not a production of the news gathering side. In their minds, never the twain shall meet. Yeah, right. And Stuart Scott doesn't have a lazy eye...

What pops first into my mind is, if "Bonds on Bonds" is entertainment and not news, then it should be shown on an entertainment channel, not on ESPN. I know I'm railing at windmills, but ESPN has been on a slippery slope for several years. This is just the latest, and possibly worst, misstep they've taken.

If the WWLiS is going to continue to churn out schedule filler like their made for TV movies, scripted dramas, faux documentaries, game show like competitions, and reality shows, then just convert ESPN2 into an entertainment only channel. For that matter, just start a new network for that product, and call it ESPN3, ESPNE, ESPN Low Budget Manufactured Drama, ESPN Stoops Lower than FOX, ESPN Loses Their Integrity Here Daily. Whatever works...

There's not a thing wrong with ESPN's legitimate investigative or documentary style productions. Unfortunately, for every decent piece, such as "Through the Fire: The Sebastian Telfair Story," the entertainment division produces, they continue to pump out 10 times as much crap. They are inspid shows that rival FOX's lowering of the TV bar, such as "Stump the Schwab," "Knight School," or "The Season with Dick Butkus who then bailed on the high school team he "Coached" when he met his contractual obligations."

It's interesting to note that ESPN's one true investigative journalism show, "Behind the Lines," is buried on the schedule at 12:40 am. But we have that wonderful afternoon schlock block of "First and 10," "Jim Rome is Burning," "Around the Horn," and the only worthwhile show, "Pardon the Interruption." I still want to curse Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon for what they've wrought. Thanks to them, and ESPN desperately trying to recreate PTI's chemistry, Woody Paige, Skip Bayless, Jay Marrioti, and Bill Plaschke continue to polute the airwaves.

Up to this point, I've tried to tolerate the entertainment-ication of ESPN, especially Sports Center. Lord, have I tried... Even the most ardent ESPN supporter has to admit the mothership is critically ill, and getting worse. Actual news is taking more and more a back seat to manufactured bits, with no signs of getting better. The lowest SC reached in recent memory being the Stuart Scott poetry slam segment. On second thought, it's Kenny Mayne doing SC stories about his appearing on "Dancing with the Stars." No, it's Digger Phelps and his matching tie, pocket square, and highlighter. Wait, it's the segments with sportswriters, who have sold their credibility and souls to ESPN, yelling at each other. Wait, I know, it's loudmouthed former jocks spewing inanities instead of analysis. Who on earth thought these were good ideas? I'd really like to know, and ask, "What drugs are you taking, as I'd love to see thru those rose colored eyeballs."

At least viewers are beginning to vote with their remotes. "ESPN Hollywood?" Cancelled. ESPN Classics' "Classic Now?" Toast. "Quite Frankly with Stephan A. Smith" is still alive, but not exactly kicking. My worst fear is that the infotainment is slowly, but surely, creeping into the one legitimate reporting entity the WWLiS has left, ESPN News.

Reading the Times article gives a sports fan hope that maybe, just maybe, ESPN's journalistic side can be saved from the insidious entertainment schlockmeisters. Reporters such as Pedro Gomez, whom the WWLiS has had on the Bonds beat for years, let the suits know that what they are doing isn't right. Even more refreshing to note is, according to the Times, the reporters and analyists that cover baseball were among the most critical. As they should be. But is it too late to do any good?

Can the brouhaha over "Bonds on Bonds" save us from more ESPN Original Entertainment produced pap? Will Sports Center ever restore it's now highly tarnished luster? Will Stu Scott ever stop with his pandering to the hipsters? Will ESPN continue to cross the journalistic conflict of interest DMZ? My best guesses? Sad to say, no, no, no, and a resounding yes.

The Times reported that ESPN had a guest speaker at this gathering, old school journalist Mike Wallace. What did Wallace say when told that the WWLiS was going thru with the Bonds show, despite the protests of their reporters?

"You've got to be kidding."

Couldn't have said it bettter myself...

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