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Last word on ESPN's civil lawsuit policy

We really don’t want our coverage of the civil lawsuit filed against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to become an exercise in the bashing of ESPN.  We’ve got some friends who work there (maybe not as many after today), and we don’t generally believe that the network is evil or corrupt or otherwise nasty.

However, we do believe that the network is way too large for its own good, and that unless and until a true competitor emerges, it’s up to everyone else to point out those occasions when the emperor is riding both bareback and bareassed.

The handling of the Roethlisberger case makes us wonder whether there’s a complete firewall between the business functions of ESPN and its journalistic activities.  We say this because we’re convinced that the Roethlisberger story initially was ignored due to concerns that ESPN would be jeopardizing its access to the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, who also happens to play for the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America.

Though the “do not report” memo did not cite a reason for the directive to avoid the story, word initially began to emerge throughout the day (starting first at Jemele Hill’s Twitter page) that ESPN has a policy to not report civil complaints not accompanied by criminal proceedings.

Of course, if there truly were such a policy and if it were applied on an across-the-board basis, then there would have been no need for a “do not report” memo.  And any such memo surely would have reminded the recipients of the policy regarding civil complaints without criminal proceedings, right?

We challenged our Twitter followers to submit links to situations in which ESPN reported on civil cases in the absence of criminal proceedings, but we can now pull the plug on that effort.  There are, indeed, plenty of situations in which ESPN covered cases involving civil allegations but no criminal charges.  And our private discussions with some of the folks at ESPN reveal that the rule isn’t nearly as black-and-white as Jemele’s tweets suggest.

Instead, the rule is far more vague and malleable, with a variety of factors to be considered that, in the end, allow ESPN to do whatever it wants to do whenever it wants to do it.

Regardless of how ESPN came to its conclusion, it clearly swung the bat and missed on this one.  Everyone else has reported the Roethlisberger story.  Everyone.

And Dave Goldberg, the venerable NFL reporter at the Associated Press, had this to say on his Twitter page:  “Can u ignore an obvious story and call yourself the ‘worldwide leader?’ Arrogance has its own method, I guess.”

Still, ESPN has its defenders.  So far, however, they exclusively arise from within the ESPN machine.

For example, Dan LeBatard of 790 The Ticket in Miami, a frequent contributor to ESPN, took up for the network today.

God bless ‘em,” LeBatard said of ESPN’s position.

“[I]t’s only being reported in the blogosphere, irresponsibly, unfairly,” LeBatard added.  “. . . .  It’s not being reported in credible places.”

But that’s not correct.  Everyone but ESPN has picked this up.  Every Pittsburgh media outlet, every newspaper, every major web site, along with the Associated Press.

If the Associated Press sees fit to report the fact of the existence of the lawsuit, then it’s being reported in “credible places.”

The only credible place in which it isn’t being reported is on ESPN.  And that’s causing some in the media to wonder just how credible ESPN really is.

UPDATE:  Technically, ESPN is now acknowledging the report, albeit unwittingly.  As of this posting, the “Top Stories From ABC News” box on ESPN.com’s various pages includes the headline, “Woman:  Super Bowl QB Raped Me.”

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49 Responses to “Last word on ESPN's civil lawsuit policy”
  1. DarthPirate says: Jul 21, 2009 10:48 PM

    I don’t go to ESPN for sports news anymore. I go to places that specialize in individual sports. I don’t have time for ESPN’s crap, especially the way they cover football.
    I do go there for fantasy sports however.

  2. Hillbilly Coach says: Jul 21, 2009 10:51 PM

    Take that!

  3. NFLed says: Jul 21, 2009 10:51 PM

    It was on the ABC evening news tonight which has only about 7 stories per night, ABC which is associated with ESPN. Clearly this is a horrible decision by ESPN and there’s some bias at work.

  4. JPeezy says: Jul 21, 2009 10:54 PM

    Make no mistake Florio, ESPN has no problem giving negative coverage to the Steelers. They ran the story about a team doctor that had large quantities of HGH during the week of the AFC Championship Game despite the fact that the story was over 2 years old, a dead issue, and no connection was ever made to the team with the drugs.
    This is one instance that I support ESPN. Why further drag a persons name through the mud when it is highly likely that the allegations are false and made by a money grubber? The only national outlet giving the story more that a brief blurb is YOU!
    Low class….

  5. mastodon says: Jul 21, 2009 10:57 PM

    No mention of it on the Cowherd show today. He always says that ESPN doesn’t dictate what he says or ever tell him he can’t discuss a certain topic. I like Cowherd and really enjoy his show, but you have to wonder what is going on at ESPN.

  6. OneVoice says: Jul 21, 2009 10:58 PM

    It would appear that a very large reason they chose not to carry the story would be the fact that he sat front row at the ESPY’s and had the camera on him quite a bit. Wouldn’t want a scene at their own event.

  7. Angie says: Jul 21, 2009 11:01 PM

    As a fellow sportswriter, I have been put in this situation myself and felt it was my journalistic duty to report the news. Journalists, well good ones, do not make up stories or accuse anyone of anything, only report the facts. If the lawsuit was filed, that is a fact, report that. Don’t speculate if it’s valid or not, just report the facts. When a “trusted” source fails to do that, you have to really wonder.

  8. ashylarry says: Jul 21, 2009 11:02 PM

    So ESPN doesn’t do civil cases, but they were all over Randy Moss during SuperBowl week??????? HMMMMMMMMMM

  9. houskat says: Jul 21, 2009 11:04 PM

    Hey, I like ESPN,I would not be able to see Drag racing if not for ESPN and MNF also.
    Maybe O Mort baby will set’em straight…… :)

  10. SidVicious84 says: Jul 21, 2009 11:04 PM

    The Comical part of Le Batards statement is that he works for the Miami Herald and they have reported the Roethlisberger story. But I guess the paper he works for is not credible. I wonder how they feel about his statement.

  11. ashylarry says: Jul 21, 2009 11:04 PM

    Another theory here.. Big Ben was supposed to do a press conference today about Shaq’s show which is on ABC.. ABC owns ESPN. So they cancel the news conference and issue a no report order… just sayin…

  12. PackNcheese says: Jul 21, 2009 11:05 PM

    “who also happens to play for the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America.” Thats funny..I didn’t realize Roethlisberger played for the Green Bay Packers, the city owned team that has sold out their tickets year after year and has a stadium that John Madden calls the National Cathedrol of stadiums. The same team that has over 70,000 people on the season ticket waiting list. The same team that made the Vikqueens have to add a preseason game purchase to the purchase of a Viking/Packer game because more Packer fans were filling the stands than Viking fans.

  13. HarrisonHits says: Jul 21, 2009 11:08 PM

    ESPN has zero credibility, and is both corrupt and nasty. They are the worldwide joke of sportscasting. I haven’t watched them for at least a year and a half. The staff includes the worst apologists for every last bit of criminal or bad behavior by players.

  14. bishop23 says: Jul 21, 2009 11:08 PM

    “It’s not being reported in credible places”…yea like..those hacks over at the NFL Network..give me a break …this is shows a double standard on the part of espn…im glad this organization only reports sports bc they have serious issues with journalistic integrity and censorship..their decision had a lot to do with the influence of Rooneys, the status of the steelers,..and possibly the race of the accused..if this was Jamarcus Russel or a third string RB on the bengals it would be on ESPN..i thinks its embarassing on the part of espn

  15. MasterShake says: Jul 21, 2009 11:11 PM

    What does T.E. Winslow and ESPN have in common? They both got (getting) their balls busted. Keep kicking PFT! ESPN lost it’s way a long time ago. The only reason they went into business with ABC was to cloud the fact that they have strayed from what the majority of their original fanbase wanted. Their moto became SELL, SELL, SELL, instead of how they founded their business. Now, they’ve sold out. Whom do you think the next provider of sports will be? You seemed to imply something!

  16. PFTOMBUDSMAN says: Jul 21, 2009 11:13 PM

    C’mon Florio. Nobody really cares about what ESPN doesn’t report. We all read PFT, Deadspin, and all the links. ESPN’s limitations are fairly obvious.

  17. Jshalk123 says: Jul 21, 2009 11:18 PM

    I just don’t get how ESPN thinks they can just ignore this story. You could ignore the Farve story because it wasn’t an ongoing thing. It was brought up people talked about it for a week and then it was gone.
    This story is going to continue until the case is resolved one way or the other. How can you talk about the Steelers and Ben Reothlisberger and not ever mention will this lawsuit have an impact on his season? I wouldn’t doubt that if this was Pacman Jones, Mike Vick or Terrell Owens that this would be covered 24/7.
    And as far as civil lawsuits go… Weren’t they all over the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment scandal? They jumped all over the TO pill overdose thing, the Isiah Thomas suicide stuff. No problem jumping into those private civil matters.
    Another note. If you search Ben Roethlisberger on ESPN you receive cuts from 3 stories but no links.. looks like the AP ones with brief blurbs and pictures.

  18. The Wishbone says: Jul 21, 2009 11:19 PM

    “that’s causing some in the media to wonder just how credible ESPN really is.”
    Credible? Were they credible when they ran that Lebron/Kobe special? When the hell was ESPN credible?
    And don’t get me started on the Associated Press.

  19. VoxVeritas says: Jul 21, 2009 11:20 PM

    “who also happens to play for the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America”
    Naah, no bias at PFT. Remove the plank from your eye.

  20. slammers says: Jul 21, 2009 11:22 PM

    I think whats interesting is that Colin Cowherd referenced Florio and ProFootballTalk.com today with another story.
    I thought it was odd when he kept plugging the website today. He did it at least 3 times. I wonder if that was his way of back dooring the Roethlisberger story since he wasn’t allow to report on it during his show.

  21. TFBuckFutter says: Jul 21, 2009 11:23 PM

    Can someone explain why they think NOT reporting the story is, in any way, beneficial to them?
    It’s not like people aren’t going to find out about it (especially when the story hits CNN)…..so they just look inept and/or corrupt when they turn a blind-eye to a story with legs. Eventually they have to tuck their tail between their legs, and mention it (particularly if the thing turns out to be true)…..of course, they can always take their usual path, three months from now, of “Our own John Clayton has found out that Ben Roethlisberger raped a bitch” when all is said and done.

  22. Jay says: Jul 21, 2009 11:26 PM

    ESPN has always cherry pick what to report. Take the Patriots and the Rams walk through video. Ends up being a complete fabrication but they were all over it. All because they didnt like Belicheck.
    Thank you PFT for calling them out!!

  23. VoxVeritas says: Jul 21, 2009 11:26 PM

    “I didn’t realize Roethlisberger played for the Green Bay Packers, the city owned team that has sold out their tickets year after year and has a stadium that John Madden calls the National Cathedrol of stadiums. The same team that has over 70,000 people on the season ticket waiting list.”
    #1 – the city of Green Bay does not own the Green Bay Packers. Packers stockholders do.
    #2 – Who cares what John Madden thinks?
    #3 – What else is there do in the fall and winter in Green Bay? Go icefishing, eat at BertFarve’s steakhouse, kill and rape and eat (in that order) neighborhood kids, go watch the Packers lose.

  24. MagicDawg says: Jul 21, 2009 11:27 PM

    ESPN is really missing the boat on this one . They are really screwing the pooch .
    Doesn’t surprise me though . Florio has made me more aware than Trey Bingo and the rest of the set of NFL Live . Shame on them !!!!!

  25. ashylarry says: Jul 21, 2009 11:28 PM

    You mean like reporting civil suits is not important. I mean didn’t this same site mention all of Plax Burress civil suits in order to portray him as this out of control loon for the majority group?

  26. Ralph Gre Nader says: Jul 21, 2009 11:31 PM

    Jason Whitlock, Dan LeBetard, and Bob Ley…..
    The most credible minds to ever come out of the ESPN revolution….
    The whole network is becoming Hack infested

  27. Rob0729 says: Jul 21, 2009 11:43 PM

    God bless ESPN! They have no problem publishing a story by Mike Fish that states that Matt Walsh has incredibly damaging evidence against the Patriots eventhough Walsh refused to tell Fish what the evidence was or provided proof that the evidence even existed. But now their strategic partner is in hot water and they are treading lightly.
    I do say God bless ESPN because they are exposing themselves as the frauds they are.

  28. PatsRPerfection says: Jul 21, 2009 11:44 PM

    Don’t want this to become an “exercise in the bashing of ESPN”??? Why not?? I love bashing ESPN and John Tomase that fraud.
    I’ll reiterate, I love that there’s this website, the NFL network, Versus, and every other sports outlet out there that’s NOT ESPN.
    ESPN can be like a girl you dumped, after you embarrass her she talks to anyone who will listen and bashes you every chance she gets.
    The “World-wide leader” is tabloid garbage, that pushes its own agenda every chance it gets.
    Florio if you want to bash ESPN, I say please continue, I’m loving it, and what to contribute anyway I can.
    Screw ESPN and John Tomase.

  29. Darth Ringo says: Jul 21, 2009 11:50 PM

    “However, we do believe that the network is way too large for its own good…”
    … So says the website that recently merged with NBC-Microsoft-General Motors…
    I have no problem with PFT giving ESPN a black eye, but don’t pretend to be some maverick outsider anymore. The Fox News bashing gives it away, if nothing else..

  30. INVAIDUH says: Jul 21, 2009 11:54 PM

    10 yrs ago.. ESPN? Sure. Now? Meh.
    I can’t remember the last time I watched the
    morning loop.
    It’s the MTV of sports. It just sux now.
    And in other news…
    How don’t you loafs know that “Fantasy Football”
    is a cruel joke….On… Umm..You.
    Use the stats for football discussions with power
    points.
    Not Dungeons & Football….
    Have your mom slide a pizza under the door and
    come to your senses.

  31. phillyburdzfan says: Jul 22, 2009 12:02 AM

    “the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America.”
    Is this confirmation to the longtime readers that you “are who we thought you were?”

  32. dlcreed44 says: Jul 22, 2009 12:38 AM

    Worst Day in ESPN history

  33. Curzon417 says: Jul 22, 2009 12:44 AM

    Pot (pft) meet kettle (espn). both are baised and have their own agenda. Anyone reading this site or who watches esp of n knows this.
    All we as readers or watchers can do is keep an open mind and sift through the agenda each provides.

  34. PSU COWBOY says: Jul 22, 2009 12:58 AM

    Thanks Florio!
    I am done with the hacks over at ESPN. Journalistic integrity is damned over there…
    keep up the good work!

  35. darth_vincent says: Jul 22, 2009 1:22 AM

    listening to ESPN Radio out of Green Bay (wduz)… the top of the hour news from ABC mentioned this civil suit several times earlier today… Just how lame are you when your organization won’t report a story, but every newsbreak on your radio stations across the country does…

  36. Poo Flinging Monkey says: Jul 22, 2009 4:16 AM

    According to Google Trends, Ben Roethlisberger and Erin Andrews account for four of the top 20 most searched terms. Not newsworthy? They’ve abandoned the most basic tenets of journalism.
    Their responsibility is to report the (sports related) news, and they’re not doing it.

  37. ncoolong says: Jul 22, 2009 6:01 AM

    As a Steelers fan and a sports writer, this story has me oddly/sadly/justifiably capitvated. It’s an immensely rich subject for the new Ombudsman, and I’m very interested in his response.
    More of the issue as far as PFT is concerned is the constant ESPN bashing (despite your thinly stated desire to not do that). I do not see at all why a civil trial for something like this is not newsworthy and I don’t agree with ESPN’s allegedly stated stance to not report it.
    As the leading media outlet covering the story, why would you care at all that ESPN isn’t covering it? It seems to me your constant reminders to your audience that ESPN isn’t covering the biggest story of the off-season hurts your well-earned credibility. Cover the story, enjoy breaking news over an outlet that has one million reporters, just don’t act as if we want to sit and discuss why ESPN wants to hurt its own reputation even more.
    As a side note, it seems the perfect time for Brett Favre to announce he’s playing for the Vikings.
    p.s. Steeler Nation is far bigger than any reaches of Green Bay, “PackNCheese.” Just accept it.

  38. Just JTO says: Jul 22, 2009 7:04 AM

    ESPN can’t do anything bad against Big Ben. After all, he saved their employees from a fire at the Bristol office, remember?

  39. thedude says: Jul 22, 2009 7:32 AM

    if it was a Bengal player that was involved in this, you can guarantee it would have been reported.

  40. lifelong says: Jul 22, 2009 7:42 AM

    I think it’s a bit hypocritical to criticize ESPN for failing to report something that is clearly newsworthy because of some non-existent, nebulous policy while at the same time bashing Florio for reporting the clearly newsworthy fact that ESPN (the largest sports media company ever) is trying to cover up this story.

  41. Emmet50 says: Jul 22, 2009 8:38 AM

    Its pretty funny that ESPN thinks that Steeler fans will stop watching because they report the facts about their quarterback. If there truly are many fans like that, i’d be shocked. Also, do fans really care if don’t hear Roethlisberger trot out tired old cliches every single interview? Most athletes are incredibly dull and Big Ben is no different. Espn is being too paranoid

  42. LeeB says: Jul 22, 2009 8:44 AM

    Steeler fans have no objectivity in this story whatsoever and should refrain from cluttering the conversetion with their post and hype that their guy could not have possibly done it.
    The fact is that he may be innocent or guilty but they can’t handle the latter. I just hate to hear only one side of the argument.
    And Lebatard is a mysogynist pretending he loves women. I quit listening to him a long time ago. If ESPN doesn’t get on board soon, at least to say there is a story out there without having an opinion on it. I am about to remove them from my favorite bookmark.
    BTW: You folks need to read on rape and the complexities of it. Some women keep a rape bottled up inside for years without uttering a word. No cops, no doctors, nothing. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It is truly a horrible thing to happen. It’s not sex, it’s not lovemaking. It is a vile violent act and a crime. Steeler fans need to deal with the possibility their guy made a terrible mistake.

  43. schiver says: Jul 22, 2009 9:06 AM

    The link above goes to a different story. I went to ESPN’s home page and there is still no report of the story. Incredible.

  44. TheDPR says: Jul 22, 2009 9:23 AM

    “quarterback, who also happens to play for the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America.”
    I have to correct you here, Mike. Ben doesn’t play for the Eagles.

  45. Phyxsius says: Jul 22, 2009 10:29 AM

    Dan Patrick is saying on his radio show that ESPN just picks and chooses which civil lawsuits they want to publicize.

  46. ZombieRevolution says: Jul 22, 2009 10:42 AM

    “We really don’t want our coverage…become an exercise in the bashing of ESPN. …we don’t generally believe that the network is evil or corrupt or otherwise nasty.”
    Why hide behind the “We” Florio, everyone knows in this case it’s shoulbd be “I” How many inches did your nose grow when you wrote this piece?

  47. mborz says: Jul 22, 2009 10:52 AM

    I’m sorry Mike, but I think you went overboard with the ESPN angle. I can’t help but picturing it this way:
    1. You (rightfully) get credited with breaking a huge story.
    2. You can’t wait to see how ESPN breaks the story, since they’ve been known to not properly credit story-breakers in the past. If they do it this time, you’ve got ‘em! And if they do properly credit you, it’s huge cred points! Either way, you’re set.
    3. You wait and wait. And wait longer. Sigh. By not running the story, ESPN robs you of your huge “payday”.
    4. Your emotions lead you on somewhat of an “inadvertent crusade”, going on and on about ESPN far more than you probably should have.
    At this point, I’m not sure which is worse, ESPN’s decision not to run the story, or your non-stop covering of their decision.
    It’s not that I disagree with your view about it. But I think you would have come off better had you waited for the next series instead of throwing a fit on the sidelines.

  48. texasPHINSfan says: Jul 22, 2009 12:19 PM

    ESPN has always sucked. selective reporting, heavy bias…. i’m not surprised about this lastest deal. They’re the self-proclaimed “leader” in sports. No one outside of Bristol actually thinks that.

  49. tom coughlin's coat holder says: Jul 22, 2009 1:56 PM

    in the afternoon i like to watch pardon the interuption. when dan lebatard fills in for the other asshole kornholio,i have to turn it off,lebatard is the biggest douche to walk this earth.he’s so overboard on being politically correct,it leaves me with a gag reflex.
    attn:vox,i concede the cowboys are the most followed team in the u.s. of a ..

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