ESPN finally fills its ombudsman vacuum

More than five months after the last ESPN ombudsman signed off, a new ombudsman is on the job in Bristol.

As previously announced, veteran television executive Don Ohlymeyer now has the gig.

And, as expected, ESPN’s non-coverage of the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault suit represents the focal point of Ohlmeyer’s first effort.

Ultimately, Ohlmeyer concludes that ESPN got it wrong.

“[T]he more I thought about it, the more that mantra rang in my ears:  ‘Serve the audience,'” Ohlmeyer writes.  “Even if ESPN judged that it should not report the
Roethlisberger suit, not acknowledging a sports story that’s blanketing
the airways requires an explanation to your viewers, listeners and
readers.  And in today’s world they are owed that explanation right away
— to do otherwise is just plain irresponsible.  It forces your audience
to ask why the story was omitted.  It forces them to manufacture a
motive.  [Editor’s note:  Or, possibly, to correctly identify one.  More on that later.]  And it ultimately forces them to question your credibility.”

Ohlmeyer explains that, instead of sending out a statement to news organizations asking why ESPN had opted for silence regarding the publicly-filed civil complaint, ESPN should have acknowledged the situation directly to its viewers, with a message like this:  “Many media outlets are reporting on a legal situation involving
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.  We have chosen not to report
the details of the story at this point — doing so would not comply
with our standards.  A further explanation can be found on”

We agree.

Also, Ohlmeyer provided ESPN news director Vince Doria an opportunity to answer a list of written inquiries, which apparently (and unfofrtunately) did not entail any follow-up questions.

And there’s one specific area in which Doria’s answers cried out for more questions.

As to the issue that ESPN was trying to protect Roethlisberger, Doria said this:  “We’ve done a number of tough stories on the NFL over the years.  We did
a series questioning the league’s handling of the concussion issue.  More stories on the lack of funding on the retired players experiencing
physical and emotional difficulties.  The Pacman Jones situation,
Michael Vick, Brandon Marshall, Spygate.  None of these stories put the
individuals or the NFL in a good light.  Anyone who contends we shy away
from stories that are critical of the NFL isn’t paying attention.”

Um, fail.

The point that we and others made wasn’t that ESPN shies away from criticizing all NFL players or teams.  The point was that ESPN had chosen to protect Roethlisberger, who has always been accessible and available to ESPN, by for example filming a SportsCenter commercial, showing up at the on-field set after the Super Bowl win, and taking time to be interviewed live from Lake Tahoe during the golf tournament at which he was served with the lawsuit that ESPN initially ignored.  (Roethlisberger also appears on Shaquille O’Neal’s new reality show, which debuts tonight on ESPN’s sister network, ABC, at 9:00 p.m. ET.  We suggest America’s Got Talent instead, on NBC.)

So it’s disingenuous, in our view, for Doria to explain that ESPN wasn’t trying to protect Roethlisberger by pointing to the fact that ESPN has attacked others, such as a high-profile Patriots team coached by a man who isn’t known for apply his lips to Bristol’s (or anyone’s) butt.

(There’s also a possibility that ESPN was protecting its relationship with Harrah’s, the employer of the plaintiff and all of the defendants not named Roethlisberger.  Coincidentally, SportsBusiness Daily reported today that ESPN and Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment have announced a seven-year deal for ESPN to continue to broadcast the World Series of Poker.  A month ago, a report regarding the suit against Harrah’s employees could have complicated the negotiations.)

Bottom line?  We agree with Ohlymeyer’s conclusion as to ESPN’s error, but we would have preferred to see a more probing interrogation of Doria, especially in response to the flimsy argument that ESPN couldn’t have been protecting Roethlisberger because it has gone after other NFL players.  Indeed, Ohlmeyer seems to believe that the speculation about motives was the erroneous product of a lack of information, without delving into the tougher question of whether ESPN actually was trying to preserve its relationship with Roethlisberger and/or Harrah’s.

19 responses to “ESPN finally fills its ombudsman vacuum

  1. “Um, fail.”
    What are you, 13 years old?
    Isn’t there another Favre story to report or something.

  2. Can’t bring myself to read a story this long… (a non-football story I might add)…
    Looks more like a legal briefing
    It’s a TV network for Pete’s sake.

  3. i believe the word you were looking for is ‘VACUUM’. how the hell can you use the word ‘ombudsman’ and misspell vacuum in the same sentence?
    the article is utterly pointless – who doesn’t know that ESPN (and really every news outlet) reports what they want?
    wow, SURPRISE SURPRISE! i had no freaking idea.

  4. In a nutshell ESPN is to “unbiased” sports reporting what Fox News, MSNBC and Comedy Central are to unbiased news reporting. And, that is not intended as a compliment to any of the above, so please do not take it that way.

  5. So in other words, it’s business as usual in that pompous-ass filled jackass-haven known as espn.
    Except for my team’s games, I haven’t watched it in over 18 months and I do not miss it one bit. I cannot see why anyone would waste their time on such useless programing.

  6. # tj.52 says: August 18, 2009 3:31 PM
    So in other words, it’s business as usual in that pompous-ass filled jackass-haven known as espn.
    Except for my team’s games, I haven’t watched it in over 18 months and I do not miss it one bit. I cannot see why anyone would waste their time on such useless programing.
    Second this.
    (I also watch the college lacrosse championships and world cup.)

  7. I’m…light headed…I feel like I’m going to black out from reading this…aggghhhhh!!!

  8. This just in…Don Ohlmeyer has been fired by ESPN. The Sports leader refused to comment, because it’s a non-story!

  9. Totally agree with TJ.52, ESPN really doesn’t show anything worth the time to spend on it. I do enjoy the X games and the occasionally WSOP because nothing else is on, but you can get sports news and scores from so many outlets now that there one major claim to viewership * Sports-center * which covers just about everything under the sun and sports, really has lost it’s flair. Have probably only watched 1 hour of ESPN in the last year and don’t plan on watching anymore anytime soon, and don’t feel deprived of my sports fix one bit.

  10. When is PFT getting an omsbudsman? Certainly hard to take criticism of others seriously until then.

  11. Here’s the bottom line for me with ESPN. They have lost CREDIBILITY with me. They have chosen to protect a player who may have raped a women and thus have destroyed the equity that they had been built up over the years. DERELICTION of duty is now how I see ESPN.
    TJ52 is correct when he states that ESPN programming stinks. If it is not about my team (playing), I don’t watch ESPN. I don’t listen on the radio or read their publications. I am not going to serve (support) an organiztion that is unwilling to serve me or the public.
    What a joke that organization has become.

  12. This article is a joke and it is really what is wrong with ” the media ” as it is now. I applaud ESPN for not taking the story to heart at this point because there was no proof that anything had happened. A respectable news organization should have all the facts and makes sure a story has legs before a news agency of any type starts reporting it as fact and ruin people’s lives. If Ben did do something that was illegal and there is proof that he did … then is fine to throw his ass in the fire like Vick got… but until then… why is it so important for media outlets to try thier best to ruin someone and a reputation before even knowing what had happened. It goes to show that when money is involved that it doesnt matter what is said or who tries to do the respectable thing. GUILTY until proven innocent shouldnt be the way the world works. Thank you ESPN at least using judgement here

  13. WHywerule: You forgot to mention how insanely biased CNN can be.
    ESPN: We have a drinking game at my college. When baseball is on ESPn you have to scream New York, Boston, Chicago, or LA. Whomever chose a city not on ESPN has to chug a beer. Sunday night was the first time all four of us had to drink. What a sham, they’ve devolved from a sports news reporting station to a company that’s main business is marketing the four major sports outlets that show them the most profit.
    Also, ombudsman, why does no one care about the ESPN College football contracts? It’s a MAJOR conflict of interest.

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