ESPN hangs one of its own

500x_spikedstory

Picked up the New York Times this morning, found my eyes darting for yet another excellent Richard Sandomir column—this one titled JAMES IS THE STORY, EVEN WHEN ESPN DOESN’T WANT IT. The piece concerns an ESPN.com article by Arash Markazi that appeared on the site a few days ago before—Whoooooosh!—mysteriously vanishing. Because Deadspin is Deadspin (and thank God for it, especially in this case), A.J. Daulerio found a copy of the mythical piece and ran it. To surmize: Markazi spent a few crazy hours with LeBron in Las Vegas, and it turns out—gasp!—he’s a self-centered anus who likes naked women and wearing sunglasses indoors.

Anyhow, there was much internet chatter on why the story was pulled. Many guessed that James’ people complained enough for ESPN—his new corporate pimp—to remove it. But that was just an educated stab.

Today, Sandomir tried getting to the bottom of things. He spoke with Rob King, the ESPN.com editor in chief, who—in no uncertain terms—sold his writer out and blamed him for everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Markazi, according to King, didn’t tell James or James’ people that they were being quoted. Markazi, according to King, didn’t even tell people he was a reporter. Markazi, according to King, never broke out a pen or notepad. Instead, he texted himself quotes and moments from the night’s activities.

Let’s be clear: It sounds like Arash Markazi did a ridiculously terrible job here, in that he pretended to be something (a regular party guest) that he wasn’t. Were he just observing, fine. But to quote people—probably not so cool.

That being said, Rob King is so wrong, it’s making my eyes burn and my head spin. You have a problem with Markazi’s reporting? You call the dude into your office (or use the phone, if it’s too far) and read him the riot act. You scream and curse and threaten. Hell, maybe you suspend him. Maybe you even fire him. All fine. What you don’t do—what you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever do—is sell him out to the New York Times or any other media outlet. If Sandomir calls, you say, “Sorry, but we’re handling this one inside. No disrespect intended.” Case closed.

Whether it’s fun or terrible, deserved or unjustified, the great editors stand up for their writers. I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have some lions in my corner (specifically, Catherine Mayhew and Neal Scarbrough at The Tennessean and Bill Colson at SI) who didn’t cower at the threat of controversy; who didn’t instinctively rush to save their own skin at the hint of controversey.

Rob King is the head of ESPN.com. It is his ship. He is the captain, and when stuff like this happens, real captains take the blame. They accept responsibility and never name names.

Much like a baseball manager with too much loyalty to the team owner, I can assure you that, around ESPN.com’s newsroom, King’s reputation has taken a humongous hit.

He deserves it.

14 thoughts on “ESPN hangs one of its own”

  1. How the hell was Markazi allowed inside James’ posse in the first place? From what the article says, a person needed to go through an army of bodyguards to reach King Lebron. My guess is Lebron’s people knew Markazi was a reporter, and then when the story came out (a story that makes Lebron look like a huge douchebag), they contacted ESPN, and ESPN did what ESPN does.

  2. So, King Rob believed King James & his people?

    1) Markazi had the story. People were quoted. You can go ask bartendars or doormen or whoever worked the party/night and you’ll get some confirmation.

    2) This makes ESPN’s ombudsman Dick Olmeyer’s self serving hypocritical criticism of his network’s “The Decision” even more self serving and hypocritical.

    3) If LeBron James is trying to make people hate him, he’s doing a darn good Barry Bonds job of doing it.

    Have a nice weekend

  3. There was no way they didn’t know he was a reporter. They just let some regular old party guest pal around them all night? Please.

  4. Jeff, completely agree with you. Excellent take. ESPN has really damaged its brand over LeBron. First with the decision, where even respectable guys like Wilbon basically bowed down before The King and failed to ask any remotely compelling questions. Now this BS about pulling the story and hanging their writer out to dry. ESPN is so clearly in LeBron’s pocket that I wonder how far this preferential treatment has really gone. Word around the NBA and media is that the Cavs management swept a number of stories under the rug over the last 7 years. I wonder how many ESPN knew about but quashed. Great piece Jeff. The World Wide Leader is not a bastion of journalistic integrity but a corporation that will protect that which gives them profit.

  5. Also, I think Stringer Bell (awesome) is absolutely right. Also, LeBron was in PUBLIC!!!!!!! It’s not like the reporter was behind some closed door.

  6. Here’s what confuses me about this story: Arash has covered the NBA for half a dozen years. He covers the Lakers. He has interviewed LeBron before. He sees Lamar Odom on a weekly basis. They knew he was a reporter; they knew who he was. Maybe he didn’t make it clear that he was going to write a story about it, but wasn’t there a time when that was irrelevant? If you are around a reporter, you expect your time together could be, uhm, reported.

  7. Jeff,

    I wonder if you’re agreeing with King here that Markazi shouldn’t have written the story?

    Like Stringer B said, how did Markazi get close enough to LeBron without his entourage knowing exactly who he is. And like Bill said, the guy has covered the NBA for six years, which is almost as long as James has been in the league.

    These are the types of stories that we should be after. This is the type of story that made you a well-known name in the industry. Imagine how pissed you would have been if Rocker’s people canned your story?

    As readers we need less PR-spinned BS claptraps. This article wasn’t terribly interesting, nor was it damning (James likes seeing naked ladies, who doesn’t?) but it was real.

    I honestly don’t know who has had a worse summer PR-wise, ESPN or LeBron James.

  8. I concur with the general concensus of the comments here. A regular Vegas tourist would not get the access to LeBron and his posse that this guy got. I thought this reporter had a hell of an interesting story, that offered a refreshingly honest take on the life of someone like LeBron. It is a shame that ESPN cares more about protecting LeBron’s falsely earned reputation that they helped create than they do about good journalism.

  9. As a source of news…as a journalistic entity…as an arbiter of what’s important in the world of sports, or anything else…as an unbiased broadcaster of live sports…ESPN and its countless talking heads at all levels of media, be it print, internet, TV, or radio have absolutely no credibility anymore. None.

  10. Mr. Bear & Mr. Rabbit were both taking dumps in the woods.

    Mr. Bear says to Mr. Rabbit, “Do you have problems with shit clinging to your fur?”

    “Why, no” says Mr. Rabbit.

    So Mr. Bear takes Mr. Rabbit & wipes his ass with him.

    You figure out who is who in this analogy of the LeBrön fiasco.

  11. Another excellent post, Jeff, but one wrinkle for me. Personally, I’m not sure Arash did such a bad job, though it sounds like he could have been more forthcoming about who he was, why he was there and what he intended to do. But if he was as wrong as you say, then why should he not be criticized publicly for it, even by his boss? This is a news story, newsy enough for Deadspin and Jeff Pearlman and Richard Sandomir to write about it. If Don Ohlmeyer had gotten those quotes from Arash’s editor, would you have objected? Seems to me that if we in the fourth estate (or is it fifth estate? I always forget) are going to play judge, jury and God all the time, we should be able to deal with the same kind of scrutiny.

  12. By the by, Caligula of the Cuyahoga was a marvelous turn of phrase. It’s a shame it only sees the light of day due to shady circumstances.

Leave a Reply